Britain’s youngest social media ‘influencer’
Mum cruelly branded a ‘psycho’ by internet trolls for making her adorable toddler an Instagram star: Little Ralphie has earned his family thousands as Britain’s youngest social media ‘influencer’
- Ralphie Waplington, one, is a mini Instagram star who has 19,000 followers
- Toddler has earned parents Stacey and Adam thousands’ worth of freebies
- But Stacey, 28, from Essex, has faced a torrent of abuse from trolls online
- Comments on her posts have vilified her for exploiting Ralphie at a young age
Ralphie Waplington with mother Stacey. The one-year-old is a model, and Britain’s youngest social media ‘influencer’ — a mini Instagram star with 19,000 followers
You’ll never see a photo of little Ralphie Waplington gurning in a mud-splattered T-shirt with grazed knees and a blob of ice cream on his nose.
Instead, he’s likely to be wearing a pristine monogrammed sweatshirt, co-ordinating pants and an expression of cherubic innocence few toddlers sustain for more than a second.
Ralphie, who is about to turn two, has a cute button nose, blue saucer eyes and neatly-barbered blond hair.
He’s also a model, and Britain’s youngest social media ‘influencer’ — a mini Instagram star with 19,000 followers — who has earned thousands’ worth of freebies (and a steady little income besides) from the carefully curated photos his mum Stacey Woodhams posts daily on his account.
Stacey cultivates her son’s online image so assiduously that friends and family are forbidden from uploading snaps of Ralphie onto their own social media accounts unless she has approved them first.
‘I have a brief from the brands I represent and I make a promise to them,’ she explains, ‘So I wouldn’t post a photo of Ralphie not looking immaculate.’
‘We don’t “ban” our friends and family from posting photos of Ralphie; we just ask them to get our approval first,’ adds Adam Waplington, Stacey’s fiancé and Ralphie’s dad.
Ralphie has earned thousands’ worth of freebies (and a steady little income besides) from the carefully curated photos his mum Stacey Woodhams posts daily on his account
‘People don’t want to see bad photos. And a messy, snotty-nosed kid will not sell the product.
‘But we can’t win,’ he sighs. ‘If he looked scruffy we’d be criticised for that, too.’
Sweet-faced Ralphie has, as a result of his mum’s talent for displaying winsome snaps of him, accrued a stash of goodies including eight pushchairs, a cot, a bed, high chairs, 200 outfits, toys and a panoply of different bags: ‘Hold-alls, rucksacks, a tote bag, changing bags. Lots of bags!’ says Stacey.
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There have also been trips to theme parks, meals out, salon treatments; even a king-size mattress for Stacey and Adam’s beautifully accoutred bedroom.
The spotless flat they share with their son in Brentwood, Essex — a symphony of tasteful, co-ordinated monochromes — is too small to accommodate all the goodies, some of which are now stored at their parents’ homes.
And though she is clearly an adoring mum, poor Stacey, 28, has faced a torrent of vituperation from trolls who have vilified her for exploiting Ralphie.
‘I’ve been called a “fruitcake” and a “psycho”,’ she says. ‘I’ve also been told I’m an “unloving mum”, that my son will grow up not to trust me, and that I don’t deserve to be on this planet.
Adam and Stacey Waplington with Ralphie. The toddler has, as a result of his mum’s talent for displaying winsome snaps of him, accrued a stash of goodies
‘Someone else said I was psychologically abusing my child and infringing his human rights. Another threatened to phone social services.
‘We’ve stopped reading the comments now. A young girl I knew committed suicide because of the bullying she suffered on social media and it shouldn’t be allowed.’
She adds: ‘I don’t know why people are so cruel. It makes me feel sick, awful and I’ve suffered from anxiety attacks. I want to know: why are they judging me? The whole family has been hurt. People can be very brutal.’
To the troll who said she had ‘stolen’ his childhood, she counters: ‘I love being a mum and Ralphie is the most contented, confident, laidback child who enjoys life to the utmost.
‘He doesn’t even realise he’s being photographed. It takes a couple of seconds to take a snap on my phone.
‘I get up every morning with the aim of giving him the best life possible. And I portray him with dignity and take great pains to protect his security.
‘I certainly never get him to pose. And I couldn’t make him sit or smile on demand even if I wanted to. I just let him play in his natural environment.
‘But of course if we went out, say, to a farm, I’d photograph him before he got dirty at the start of the day, not at the end when he was covered in mud.
Ralphie posing in a personalised tracksuit. For some brands pay them up to £375 per post for endorsing their products and a portion of the money from this goes into a savings account for him
‘But we all do that, don’t we? I wouldn’t post a picture of myself with frizzy hair and smeared make-up at the end of a night out. I’d want to be looking my best. And there are thousands of mums with Instagram accounts for their children. It just happens that ours is going well.’
Indeed it is. For some brands pay them up to £375 per post for endorsing their products and a portion of the money from this — together with the proceeds of his modelling — goes into a savings account for him.
Adam, an area manager for a wholesale food company, does not believe it is remotely exploitative.
‘It’s no different from a parent putting a kid in a dance show or beauty pageant, or an advert. And lots of mums take their kids to castings for different film roles.’
Sleeping on a merino throw. While she regards the regular updating of Ralphie’s social media account as a job, as well as posting pictures, she writes little homilies on their daily activities
Stacey points out, too, that although Ralphie does modelling jobs for clothing companies such as Next, these are kept to a minimum.
‘I prefer to do the social media rather than modelling shoots because I like him to be in his natural environment,’ she says. ‘And we’d never take him to a shoot if he was tired or not feeling himself.’
While she regards the regular updating of Ralphie’s social media account as a job, as well as posting pictures, she writes little homilies on their daily activities: ‘Truly blessed and thankful to all our followers, friends and support!’ she trills in countless posts.
She says she would never sacrifice time with her son to work on his account.
‘I write my blogs when he’s asleep. And there’s never an instance when he’s made to play ball, to pose for a photo,’ she insists. It’s all natural. He’s just enjoying his day.
‘People think we’re earning lots from it. We’re not,’ adds Adam, 29. ‘It’s not all the brands that pay us £375.’
Neither does Stacey like the term ‘freebies’. ‘I work really hard for the products we’re given,’ she says.
‘Nobody says, “Here you are. Enjoy!” Someone commented that we could have given one of Ralphie’s eight pushchairs away, but we have briefs from the companies that supply them.
The one-year-old getting a haircut. Stacey doesn’t like the term ‘freebies’. ‘I work really hard for the products we’re given,’ she says
‘You’re expected to upload, say, five photos over three months, then you might post a little video.
‘We have to test drive them, too. We have one for off-roading that we took to Center Parcs and another smoother ride that we use to go to the shops.
‘And of course we have to keep them clean. And the whole point of collaborations (Stacey favours this term over ‘freebies’) is that you put the products through their paces.’
On the afternoon I visit it’s been a busy day for little Ralphie. He’s had an early start: he and his parents appeared on breakfast TV that morning, where, far from sitting sedately on the studio sofa, he pottered off to play with some coloured baubles and examine the camera monitors.
But he is the most docile of toddlers. He doesn’t rampage, grizzle or distribute the cheesy pasta he eats for tea over the tray of his tasteful grey baby chair (another donation from a ‘collaborator’.)
Rather he munches away politely, occasionally pausing — when Stacey gives him a cue — to identify a colour. ‘Pink!’ he announces as she holds up a toy car.
Posing in a Christmas sleigh. When Ralphie was just a week old, Stacey opened an Instagram account in his name, posting a photo of him, ‘just lying in his cot looking beautiful and angelic’
But there isn’t a lot of scope for him to practise his colour palette: their home is decorated tastefully in 50 shades of Stacey’s signature greys.
The hall is floored in ash-hued wood; the walls in white and fashionable Marengo grey and a cloud-coloured Merino throw is neatly folded over their bed.
I remark that it’s a very orderly house. ‘We take a pride in our home. We’re tidy people!’ she says, and Ralphie, with his wardrobe of cute bespoke outfits, is the tidiest of little boys.
Stacey and Adam met via mutual friends 11 years ago and got engaged last Christmas.
Their son, the family’s first grandchild, was born, by Caesarean, in December 2016, ‘and people were always saying, “He’s absolutely gorgeous! He should be a model,”’ recalls Stacey.
Ralphie posing in a tracksuit. Among the clothes Stacey bought him was a dinky tracksuit, personalised with his initials and handmade in Yorkshire by a company called Forever Sewing
But even before Ralphie came into the world she had opened an email account dedicated to him, charting her thoughts about her pregnancy, her delight at the impending birth, and sending photos to it.
Then, when her son was just a week old, she opened an Instagram account in his name, posting a photo of him, ‘just lying in his cot looking beautiful and angelic’.
To begin with, only family and friends followed Stacey’s daily bulletins of her photogenic little boy.
‘It saved us having to send photos separately to everyone,’ she explains. But within a month 1,000 people were checking in to watch his progress.
‘And I started to think: “Can I channel this into something positive for him?”’ Stacey remembers.
She did not set out to make him an ‘influencer’ — ‘I didn’t actually know what one was,’ she says —but before she knew it, Ralphie had become one.
Among the clothes Stacey bought him was a dinky tracksuit, personalised with his initials and handmade in Yorkshire by a company called Forever Sewing. And, having posted a winning photo of Ralphie modelling it, she was invited to become a ‘collaborator’.
And, as his army of followers accrued, so did the invitations to promote other products.
Stacey did not set out to make him an ‘influencer’ — ‘I didn’t actually know what one was,’ she says —but before she knew it, Ralphie had become one
Ralphie was helping to shape the tastes of a legion of adoring followers.
As the success of her son’s account has grown, so Stacey —who is chatty, effervescent, enterprising and utterly determined —has been invited to give advice to others.
‘People have said, “How can we become influencers?” or, “We really like the look of your page and the products you work with,” and that inspired me to start workshops for people to learn about it,’ she explains.
In tandem with this, she runs her own small business from home, Mummas Prints, selling personalised baubles, cards, T- shirts (again the monochrome theme predominates.)
All of which, she points out, means she can spend as much time as possible with her son.
‘It’s a business. But instead of leaving the house and going to work in an office, I’m working from home and Ralphie reaps the rewards — plus I get to spend all day with him.’
She posts her photos at strategic times — ensuring she maximises the number of ‘likes’ they accrue — sometimes uploading them at 2am when frazzled mums of sleepless babies are likely to be scrolling through their phones in search of cute toddler photos.
It seems churlish to suggest that Ralphie, who is indisputably the sweetest of two-year-olds, has never given his consent to become a social media star.
Indeed, he might one day turn into a truculent teenager who is thoroughly embarrassed by his mum’s steely determination to advertise his cuteness to the world on a daily basis.
But I ask what would happen if he objected to his social media presence.
‘We hope he’ll be proud of what we’ve done,’ says Stacey.
‘We’ve created a little cv for him, a portfolio. Life’s tough for young people and if, as parents, you can provide a helping hand, you’d do it, wouldn’t you?’ adds Adam.
‘We’re putting money by in his savings account and what we don’t put away will go into outings and holidays so he can enjoy his childhood.’
‘But the day he says, “I don’t want you to do this any more, Mum,”’ puts in Stacey, ‘is the day when it all stops.’
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