Southsea's The Bearded Explorer quits plumbing and takes TikTok and YouTube by storm

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The Bearded Explorer has racked up millions of views on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, and now he’s leaving behind a life of plumbing in search of new, and sometimes eerie, adventures.

Colin Smith, known on social media as The Bearded Explorer, became a TikTok viral sensation overnight and has now been able to abandon his job as a plumber to go full-time as an urban explorer.

‘I got 23,000 followers overnight,’ says Colin, who lives at Southsea.

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‘I couldn't believe it, I looked at my phone the next morning and actually screenshot it, I thought “that's a lot of people”,’ says Colin.

Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, otherwise known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full time urban explorer.

Picture: Sarah Standing (260822-2197)Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, otherwise known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full time urban explorer.

Picture: Sarah Standing (260822-2197)
Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, otherwise known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full time urban explorer. Picture: Sarah Standing (260822-2197)

Colin, 37, who has now amassed an impressive following of almost 55,000 on TikTok and has worked up a whopping 145,000 subscribers on YouTube, explores abandoned and derelict sites all over the world.

‘My YouTube has got over 21 million total views now, which is crazy,’ he says.

His TikTok, which the explorer only set up a month ago after a friend suggested it and he initially dismissed it as something else to ‘get lost in’, has recently run-up more than four million views on a video exploring a luxurious and unused £8m mansion – rumoured to be Johnny Depp’s.

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Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, otherwise known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full time urban explorer.

Picture: Sarah Standing (260822-9002)Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, otherwise known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full time urban explorer.

Picture: Sarah Standing (260822-9002)
Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, otherwise known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full time urban explorer. Picture: Sarah Standing (260822-9002)

‘I’m monetised on TikTok already which I managed to do in two weeks, it takes some people ages. It’s purely because I’ve got so many people following me now and I've got those views.

‘I’m not a millionaire by any means, but it’s enough to keep me doing what I'm doing and enjoying it comfortably,’ he adds.

Having first started filming, editing and uploading videos on YouTube five years ago as a ‘hobby’, Colin says subscribers and views were low, but it didn’t worry him.

‘I've always been fascinated by derelict places and creepy things like that.’

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Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, otherwise known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full time urban explorer.

Picture: Sarah Standing (260822-2290)Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, otherwise known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full time urban explorer.

Picture: Sarah Standing (260822-2290)
Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, otherwise known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full time urban explorer. Picture: Sarah Standing (260822-2290)

‘I started doing photography, and after that I started doing YouTube videos. It's just exploded.’

While progress was slow and steady, after a while Colin was able to monetise his videos and he realised a year-and-a-half ago that what was once a hobby, could become a full-time job.

‘It got to the point the money was just climbing and climbing and I thought Jesus it’s going to overtake my plumbing job sooner or later, and it did.

‘That’s when I decided that I was going to give up plumbing and do YouTube full-time.

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Now, under his alias The Bearded Explorer, Colin explores not only the UK but an array of countries from Mexico, Bali, Thailand to Singapore and all over Europe - daring to go where no one else will.

‘It’s crazy because it's a hobby for me at the end of the day, it means that I get to do my hobby as a job, it's perfect,’ he says.

Colin, now a father to two-year-old Olive and Maddy, nine, has lived in Portsmouth all his life and as a child growing up in the city, he would scout out various derelict sites and buildings to investigate, which first sparked his interest in urban exploring.

A quarry at Queen Elizabeth Country Park, an abandoned factory and wasteland near Fratton Park and the tunnels at Portsdown Hill were just a few of his regular spots.

‘There’s so much history just in Portsmouth,’ he says.

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The former gamer recalls one from his childhood, Silent City, in which his character was left to walk around an abandoned city.

‘It gave me that eerie feeling of “I don’t know if I like this or not” but I found I did, I loved it,’ he says.

‘Actually doing it in real life, it’s a different feeling, you kind of get addicted to it. It’s really surreal when you’re walking around these places on your own.’

Colin soon realised that his own fascination with derelict and abandoned settings was echoed by many as his online content became more and more popular and he grew a community of urban explorers, who share interesting sites between them.

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At first I thought there can't be that many people that are interested in it, but actually there’s a lot,’ he says.

‘I used to do all the research myself, I spent so much time browsing google earth, trying to look for things that were overgrown. It was so time consuming.

‘Now I have people sending me places from all over,’ he adds.

Over at least five years Colin has had run-ins with law enforcement and security and has visited countless dangerous and eerie sites which the rest of the world have chosen to leave behind.

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‘I actually walked up a staircase once that wasn’t actually connected to anything, it was almost floating in the air,’ he says.

‘It is quite dangerous what I do, well very dangerous, but you know to get a good video!’

Colin’s eldest, Maddy, has been to a few of the local less hazardous sites with her dad, and hopes she can follow in his footsteps as an urban explorer.

‘She absolutely loves it, she always says “daddy when I’m older can I come to these places with you” and I say hmmm, maybe.’

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During one experience, which gives him ‘goosebumps’ to this day, exploring an abandoned hospital which had been empty since the 1980s, Colin came across something he still cannot put a name to – and even caught it on camera.

‘I’d walked around and filmed the whole video, I was literally doing one last b-roll shot of me walking up the corridor, I looked up and I heard something. Then I saw this figure of someone standing in front of me and it just disappeared.’

‘I ran out of there like a little girl, screaming and I didn’t realise I’d actually got it on camera.’

There’s new opportunities coming up all the time for Colin who is currently the only UK based urban explorer to be verified on Instagram, including an upcoming sponsorship deal with Hays Travel which could lead to even more travel to far-flung destinations for the explorer.

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‘There’s so much stuff here in the UK – really I don’t need to go anywhere but it’s nice to have a change of scenery and experience different cultures,’ he says.

‘I filmed a hotel called the ghost palace in Bali, and an old theme park which was cool. The security over there is easily bribed, you just flash a few notes at them and they’re like yeah come in we’ll give you a drink and look after you,’ he says.

However, strict rules on breaking and entering in the UK has led Colin to a few close shaves with police, all of which – in true Bearded Explorer style – he caught on camera.

‘There are ways that you can do this without being in trouble. I have been caught by the police a couple of times. As soon as they know how you do it – we don’t break in, we don’t cause damage – they let you go.

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‘I even had a couple of policemen stop me as I was walking out asking “what was your YouTube channel? We’ll have to have a watch”,’says Colin.

But unlike other urban explorers, he’s respectful of each and every ‘time capsule’ he comes across. ‘You hear stories of people going to places when I know there’s no way in, and you just know they’ve forced entry. It’s just not worth spoiling my reputation for the sake of one video.’

But for The Bearded Explorer, it’s more than just a job – it’s a passion.

‘I’ll never stop doing it, even if it flopped and the views went down, I’d still do it.’