Social media parody queen Celeste Barber on unexpected fame and where she draws the line

She has over six million Instagram followers and Reese Witherspoon on speed dial. But who is Celeste Barber?
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A glamourous woman reclines against the kitchen bench, clad in a skin tight designer dress as shiny and brightly coloured as the jewels that drip from her fingers.

Preparing a festive meal for the household, she pouts for our cameras before languidly reaching for a nearby packet of chips, holding them elegantly aloft … and pouring the lot decadently into her open mouth.

Delicately picking stray crisps from her heaving cleavage, she furtively pops them into her mouth, chewing frantically before breaking into a raucous chuckle and yelling “Christmas!” delightedly.

Welcome to the world of Celeste Barber, where fashion meets physical comedy in the social media age.

Less than five years ago, Celeste was an under the radar Aussie actor and comedian who, over the course of her career, had appeared in series including All Saints and Home and Away.

Today, however, the 37-year-old mum of two and stepmother to two more is fast becoming as world famous as the women she parodies on her Instagram account.

Gwyneth Paltrow, Cindy Crawford, Rosie Huntington Whitely and, of course, the entire Kardashian clan are just a few A-listers who have seen their high glamour posts and videos hilariously recreated by Celeste in a far less picture perfect style.

Those comical snaps have launched her into sell-out US tours, a televised comedy special, a collaboration with fashion designer Tom Ford for his 2019 Spring/Summer show, a best-selling autobiography and now a children’s book.

“In short, I take inappropriate half-naked photos of myself and put them online,” she simply sums up the job, which has now become so intensive she’s hired a full-time assistant.

“It’s a bit of a dig at celebrity culture. I do parodies of quite famous photos. I like taking the mickey out of myself so I always thought it would be funny to see what it looked like when a normal person did fancy people things.”

It all started, Celeste tells The Weekly, when she and her older sister Olivia were laughing at pictures of celebrities and models posing in what, for most people, would be implausible situations.

Some were bent like finely tuned contortionists into ridiculous yoga poses; others used household objects to mask their obvious nudity and one – posted by social media queen Kim Kardashian – had her oiled up and underwear clad while lounging atop an inexplicable pile of dirt.

The pair was in stitches and it sparked an idea in Celeste’s head. What, she mused, would it look like if a regular person tried to emulate these scenarios?

Challenge accepted, she thought. And soon a photograph of Celeste lying on a dirt pile in a pair of granny panties and a slightly grubby bra, juxtaposed against the Kim Kardashian original, broke the proverbial internet, gaining her over 10,000 followers in a single day and swiftly launching her to instant Insta-fame.

“I’m an overnight sensation 15 years in the making, that’s how I see it,” she laughs.

“I’m very grateful that it’s gone as well as it has. The people I parody are on board and they’re very kind. And, let’s face it, no one looks worse in those photos than I do.

“The way I look has never been the most interesting part of me and I’ve always known that. That’s why I see social media stuff and go, ‘Okay, cool, that’s never going to be me and that’s fine.’ I’m lucky. I want to see stuff that’s funny and I know I’m good at funny. I’m happy to be good at what I know I’m good at.”

While many worry about the effect social media has on body positivity, Celeste has found herself an unwitting poster girl for those looking for better role models online. It’s a perk of the job she relishes, if not one she set out meaning to provide.

And it’s definitely formed the genesis for her latest project, a children’s book called Celeste The Giraffe Loves To Laugh, which she’s dedicated to her two sons Lou, eight, and Buddy, five.

The story of a giraffe with a knack for comedy who twists herself into knots trying to be like others, the book has a very simple message for its readers: It’s okay to be who you are.

“I really like the idea of staying true to yourself,” Celeste says of the book, which features illustrations from Macca The Alpaca creator Matt Cosgrove.

“It so hard, especially for kids, not to be like, ‘Oh, he’s good at soccer and I’m not so I guess I’d better try.’ You need to find your own vibe and whatever you are good at is whatever you are good at. And that’s enough. Who you are and what you do is enough. It doesn’t mean don’t try other things, but it’s okay not to be like everyone else.”

That message came through loud and clear for Celeste when she was a child herself, growing up in Terranora, a small coastal town on the far north coast of New South Wales.

The youngest of two daughters to cabinet maker Nev and interior designer Kath Barber, Celeste spent weekends at the beach, holidays at her grandmother’s farm and took drama and dancing lessons after school.

“I’ve got ADD so as a kid I was very full on. But I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 16 so there was a lot of ‘arrrrggh’ in my house,” she says, flinging her arms in the air while semi-roaring to illustrate the chaos.

“My mum and dad are incredible and they always just said, ‘Oh, she’s just full on. She’s just loud. It’s a lot and it’s annoying sometimes but that’s how she’s always been.’ It wasn’t until school was starting to obviously get very difficult for me (that I was medicated for it).

“I couldn’t just sit, couldn’t sit still, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t retain any information. I couldn’t listen. It was really hard so mum and dad got me tested for ADD and I was diagnosed positive. I remember mum said to the doctor, ‘We are happy to medicate her but not if she changes who she is – because she is loud and she is full-on and that’s what we like. So put her on drugs if it’s going to help school, but not if it changes who she is.’ And it did, it totally changed my life.”

Her newfound ability to concentrate only furthered Celeste’s determination to become an entertainer. It was something, she says, she always wanted to do, although she struggles to recall the time that first made itself clear to her.

“If anything, it’s a memory that Mum reminds me of,” she says. “Mum said there was a time I did a dance concert and I came off and said, ‘They loved me!’ and went to run back on. I was three.

“I have a really supportive family and I’m lucky and grateful that I always knew I wanted to act or perform or do comedy. I think a lot of my confidence comes through that.”

Not that having a career plan meant she didn’t have to do some other jobs along the way. One of those was bartending in a pub in Sydney’s Balmain, the less-than-salubrious sounding DiCK’s Hotel.

It was here she met her future husband Api Robin, an arborist who had wandered in for an after-work drink. The pair locked eyes and that was that.

“That moment was so great that I annoy myself because I reckon if I heard someone else saying it I’d be like, ‘Oh shut up!'” she chuckles. It is still clearly an epic love story.

“I smiled and freaked out and that was it for me. I went, ‘Oh God, I’m screwed.’ He’s banging hot but it was just a connection instantly and he’s the same. He’s like, ‘You smiled and your eyes blew my mind.’ It was so awesome.”

Celeste was 21, Api 30 and the father of two young daughters Sara and Kia, then two and four, now 18 and 20 respectively. When Celeste and Api married in Bali after 10 years together, the girls were name-checked in their vows.

“I thanked them for making space for me because I really feel like they did, which I appreciate,” she says of navigating the path to stepparent. “It’s nice. The girls are so supportive. They came to my show in Sydney and they were both crying. They were like, ‘We are so proud.’ It was amazing.”

Also unquestionably proud is Api, who was a regular feature on her early Instagram posts and videos, earning himself the moniker #HotHusband in the process.

“He’s the most fantastic human being in the whole land. I’m just obsessed with him,” she gushes, adding that Api has “retired” now from her feed – necessarily due to a work schedule which has seen her fly to the US eight times this year alone, while Api has become the primary carer to their boys.

“He takes it all in his stride and he’s really supportive and excited by how well I’m doing because he knows what I do really makes up who I am. He just gets on with it.”

It’s been a big year for Celeste and her family, and as we speak she’s preparing for a break so they can spend some uninterrupted time together over the Christmas holidays.

After living with her parents in her hometown for a year while searching for a place of their own, they’ve now settled into a new house down the road. And, despite her growing success in the US, there are no plans to uproot for a new life in LA.

“You know, kids are resilient, everyone always says that and it’s true, but only to a point,” she explains.

“Like, eight year olds, Lou’s like, ‘I want to go and play soccer with my friends.’ And so he should. So that’s why we live where we do now and I can just fly. That’s the dream: Live where we do, work in America.”

And the work is certainly flowing in. Although, says Celeste, she’s not saying “yes” to everything – she wants to make sure it’s all the right fit for both her and her family.

“I believe your career is defined by what you say no to,” she says, “but that’s also quite a smug thing for me to say because I have become quite successful.”

One thing she continues to say no to is the increasing opportunity to walk down every A-list studded red carpet in town. In fact, she visibly shudders at the thought of being swept into the celebrity maelstrom.

“I’m lucky that now, when I am in that fancy celebrity land or whatever, I am just myself. I don’t change to fit in,” she says.

“Because the intention has always been the same: to keep working, to keep creating, to keep doing things. Not to be famous. Yuck! I have absolutely no interest in that.”

She’s also very clear to say no to anything that doesn’t fit her “brand” – a word she loathes, yet which also perfectly sums up the space she finds herself working in.

“People think, ‘Oh well, she’ll do anything’ and that’s not the case,” Celeste explains of the hazard of parody pictures being her stock in trade.

“This is a very well-curated career and I have guidelines.”

Those guidelines very much include what happens on shoots. While she’s thoroughly enjoyed her day hamming it up with The Weekly, that sense of fun and respect hasn’t been included on every set, Celeste says, saying she’s been asked on occasion by male photographers to pose in a way that’s “really inappropriate”.

Such as? “Some photographer once asked me take off my top,” she recalls with more than a hint of anger.

“I said to him, ‘Are you going to take your top off too? No? Well take the f**king photo then, let’s go.’ The thought of a 15-year-old model on set somewhere going through that terrifies me. It doesn’t happen all the time but it’s happened a few times in my experience, and I don’t take photos all the time.”

As a mum of two young boys, as well as a social media phenomenon, it’s inevitable the question of how she’ll navigate social media use when they come of age comes up as we close our interview. The answer, when it comes, is a typically Celeste response.

“I don’t know how I will tackle that,” she muses. “Nervously with wine, I think.”

For more great reads get your copy of the latest issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, on sale now.

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