It might be hard to believe, but Celeste Barber isn't always a fan of social media. Despite having an impressive 9.5 million followers on Instagram and sold-out stage shows, the comedian doesn't buy into the influencer life or claim to be one. But her presence on social media has challenged not only how we view celebrity culture, but ourselves.
Ironically, Celeste is now an internet star herself, but one who values the audience she relates to most: us. She's both a media sensation and simple girl next door.
With a laugh she acknowledges that "social media is the devil", yet a powerful platform at the same time. Her way to cut through the noise was with humour.
"I knew I was onto something before I was getting recognition for it," Celeste, who has become an advocate for body positivity, says of her success. "I know funny."
Celeste isn't just funny, she's a phenomenon. For years, women around the world have followed her every cyber-move or gathered in theatres to see variations of their own lives played out in hilarious manner. Her tongue-in-cheek parodies of the rich and famous landed her on magazine covers and in A-list circles. Then she scored her own Netflix series, Wellmania.
Some might think Celeste's rise to stardom was rapid, but in reality it's been 20 years of hustle. As we sit down with her to discuss her first-ever TV WEEK Logie Award nomination and "true love" of acting, you can hear the pride in her voice.
The 41-year-old is nominated for Most Popular Actress, with Wellmania also up for Most Popular Comedy.
"A long time ago, I saw [former Home And Away star] Tammin Sursok flicking through a copy of TV WEEK at the newsagent in Balmain [in Sydney]. She had just been nominated for a Logie and I thought to myself, 'How cool is that?'" Celeste recalls.
"Now, I'm nominated. I'm thrilled this has happened. I'm 41 years old and have been part of this industry for two decades. I'm very proud of the Australian industry and don't take this lightly."
As a "tough kid" growing up with ADHD on the far north coast of NSW, Celeste says she hasn't always been popular, but will "eat it up on the night, for sure!"
To many Australians, Celeste was a familiar face long before fame. From 2005 to 2009, she played paramedic Bree Matthews in long-running hospital drama All Saints.
"That show has the biggest place in my heart," she says. "Those people are like family to me and they're all so talented," she says. "Virginia Gay [who is nominated this year in the Most Outstanding Actress category for After The Verdict] is one of my closest friends."
Celeste didn't cross paths with All Saints' lead Georgie Parker, who left the show two weeks before she started. Recently, however, Georgie has voiced her desire to see the show return. If it did, Celeste would "absolutely" sign on.
"Go, Georgie – let's fire it up!" she says. "It would be amazing."
After All Saints ended, Celeste felt pressure to find another role. She was in her twenties, struggling to fit the mould of "pretty, flirty and fun – because that's what was written for women back then", while some of her friends continued to find success.
"I just wasn't right for the parts," she says. "Then I had children and, of course, the industry and society at large said, 'OK, thanks for your time – you're done!'"
With the internet growing, and Celeste and her sister Olivia seeing the "ridiculous" levels of perfection celebrities were showcasing, they asked close friend and fellow actress Harriet Dyer for help in raising her profile on social media.
"I wanted people to see what I could do," Celeste explains. Harriet laughs at how life has changed.
"We've been friends for a long time," the Colin From Accounts star says. "We worked at a box office in Sydney selling tickets together. Years later, I had a few thousand followers and I re-posted her things and told everyone to get on board because she would be huge... and she is."
Celeste's biggest supporter is husband Api Robin, who she affectionately nicknames "Hot Husband" on Instagram. They've been together for 20 years and been married since 2013. They are parents to sons Lou, 12, and nine-year-old Buddy, as well as Api's two daughters from a previous relationship.
"I have no interest doing this on my own without him," she says of Api and her family. "We navigate it together. Actually, he gets recognised in the street more than I do! People just think I'm Ricki-Lee's [Coulter] cousin or something!"
Being part of the social media landscape as both active contributors and followers has been a huge lesson in resilience for Celeste and Api, but also a teaching moment for their kids.
"Social media can trap you, but I always say to my children that you're not being forced to stare at your phone," she says. "If you're not feeling good, unfollow an account or throw your phone in the ocean. You have the power."
The same applies to her own life in the public eye.
"The good outweighs the bad," she says. "I know my intention, which is to make people laugh and cut through the bulls* of the body-shaming industry. People don't have to like it, but I can't control that."
For every negative comment she receives, there are cheers from those inspired by her bold comedy. Celeste admits she's not perfect – but that's precisely the point.
"I have to live my life and I'll f* up along the way and be flawed, but I appreciate that, on the whole, it's taken in the way it's intended and for people to feel seen and not take themselves so seriously," she says. "Comedy is my currency.
"I genuinely have love and respect for my audience," she says. "I know what it takes for them to buy a ticket and come to a show, or even to watch Wellmania – it's a commitment and it means the world to me."
From a small-town kid to Australia's comedy queen, we wonder if Celeste always knew where her life would end up. In a way, she says, she did. Perhaps she just needed a little positive thinking – or better yet, the world did.
"I knew exactly where I wanted to be, it just didn't happen in the traditional sense," she says with a smile. "But it's everything I hoped for."
The 2023 TV WEEK Logie Awards will be held on Sunday, July 30. Don't forget to cast your vote here.