Colin Smith, known on social media as The Bearded Explorer, became an overnight viral TikTok sensation and has now been able to quit his job as a plumber to pursue full-time as an urban explorer.
“I got 23,000 followers overnight,” says Colin, who lives in Southsea.
“I couldn’t believe it, I looked at my phone the next morning and actually took a screenshot of it, I was like, ‘that’s a lot of people,'” says Colin.
Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, also known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full-time urban explorer. Image: Sarah standing (260822-2197)
Colin, 37, who has now amassed an impressive following of nearly 55,000 on TikTok and a whopping 145,000 subscribers on YouTube, explores abandoned and derelict websites around the world.
“My YouTube now has over 21 million total views, which is crazy,” he says.
His TikTok, which the discoverer set up just a month ago after a friend suggested it and he initially dismissed it as something else to “get lost in,” recently garnered more than four million views for a video that a luxurious and unused hotel is exploring £8million mansion – allegedly Johnny Depp’s.
Gosport women open the first Menopause Café in the region, driven by their own structure …Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, also known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full-time urban explorer. Image: Sarah standing (260822-9002)
“I’m already monetized on TikTok which I did in two weeks, some people take ages. It’s simply because so many people are following me now and I have these views.
“I’m by no means a millionaire, but it’s enough to do what I do and enjoy it comfortably,” he adds.
Colin started filming, editing and uploading videos to YouTube five years ago as a “hobby”. Subscribers and views were low, Colin says, but that didn’t worry him.
“I’ve always been fascinated by run down places and creepy things like that.”
Colin Smith (37) from Southsea, also known as The Bearded Explorer, is now a full-time urban explorer. Image: Sarah standing (260822-2290)
“I started taking photos and after that I started making YouTube videos. It just exploded.”
While progress has been slow and steady, after a while Colin was able to monetize his videos and a year and a half ago he realized what was once a hobby could become a full-time job.
“It got to the point where the money just went up and up and I thought, God, sooner or later it was going to overtake my plumbing job, and it did.
“That’s when I decided to quit plumbing and pursue YouTube full-time.
Now, under his alias The Bearded Explorer, Colin is exploring not just Britain but a range of countries from Mexico, Bali, Thailand to Singapore and across Europe – daring to go where no one else wants to go.
“It’s crazy because at the end of the day it’s a hobby for me, it means I can turn my hobby into a job, it’s perfect,” he says.
Colin, now a father to Olive, two, and Maddy, nine, has lived in Portsmouth all his life and as a child growing up in the city he explored various derelict sites and buildings to investigate, which first sparked his interest in urban exploration .
A quarry in 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 locations.
“There’s so much history in Portsmouth,” he says.
The former player recalls one from his childhood, Silent City, in which his character was left to walk through an abandoned city.
“It gave me this creepy feeling of ‘I don’t know if I like this or not,’ but I found I liked it, I loved it,” he says.
“Actually it’s a different feeling doing it in real life, you kind of get addicted to it. It’s really surreal when you walk around these places alone.”
Colin soon found that his own fascination with derelict and abandoned environments was embraced by many as his online content grew in popularity and he built a community of urban explorers sharing interesting websites.
At first I thought there couldn’t be that many people interested in it, but actually there are a lot,” he says.
“I used to do all the research myself, I spent so much time trawling Google Earth looking for things that were overgrown. It was so time consuming.
“Now I have people sending me places from everywhere,” he adds.
For at least five years, Colin has had run-ins with law enforcement and security forces, visiting countless dangerous and spooky places that the rest of the world has left behind.
“I actually walked up a flight of stairs that wasn’t actually connected to anything, it was almost floating in mid-air,” he says.
“It’s pretty dangerous what I’m doing, well, very dangerous, but you know how to get a good video!”
Colin’s eldest, Maddy, has been to some of the less dangerous places in the area with her father and hopes she can follow in his footsteps as an urban explorer.
“She absolutely loves it, she’s always like, ‘Dad, when I’m older I can come with you to those places,’ and I’m like, hmmm, maybe.”
In an experience that still gives him goosebumps to this day, Colin stumbled upon something he still can’t name while exploring an abandoned hospital that had stood empty since the 1980s – and even caught it on camera.
“I was walking around filming the whole video, I literally took one final b-roll of myself walking down the corridor, I looked up and heard something. Then I saw this figure of someone standing in front of me and it just disappeared.”
“I ran away screaming like a little girl, not realizing I actually had it on camera.”
Opportunities keep coming up for Colin, who is currently the only UK-based urban explorer verified on Instagram, including a forthcoming sponsorship deal with Hays Travel which could lead to even more trips to far-flung destinations for the explorer.
“There’s so much stuff here in the UK – I really don’t have to go anywhere, but it’s nice to have a change of scenery and learn about other cultures,” he says.
“I filmed a hotel called Ghost Palace in Bali and an old theme park that was cool. The security over there is easy to bribe, you just show them some slips of paper and they say, “Yeah, come in, we’ll get you a drink and take care of you,” he says.
However, strict rules on burglary and entry into the UK have led to Colin having a few close encounters with the police, which – in true Bearded Explorer style – he caught on camera.
“There are ways you can do this without getting into trouble. I got caught by the police a couple of times. Once they know how you do it – we don’t break in, we don’t do any damage – they let you go.
“I even got stopped by a couple of cops when I went out and asked, ‘What was your YouTube channel? We must have a watch,” says Colin.
But unlike other urban explorers, he treats every single “time capsule” he encounters with respect. “You hear stories of people going places that I know there’s no way in, and you just know they’ve gained entry. It’s just not worth ruining my reputation for a video.”
But for The Bearded Explorer it’s more than just a job – it’s a passion.
“I will never stop doing it, even if it flopped and views went down I would still do it.”