A YEAR ago, if you wanted to get a celebrity to wish your mum a happy birthday you had to have friends who knew them – or run into them in the supermarket.
But now, everyone from Snoop Dogg to Tiger King’s Carole Baskin will record a message for you on Cameo – charging anything from hundreds of pounds to less than the price of a takeaway curry to record a personalised video.
And behind the company isn’t a huge Hollywood big-shot with celeb pals on speed-dial – it’s a Brit from Brighton.
Martin Blencowe is 34, and left the UK when he was 18 to move to America for university.
A 100m and 200m champion runner at school, he was accepted to University Of Southern California to study political science – but his dreams of running in the Olympics were shattered after he got injured.
After a few “tough” years of drifting between jobs in the US – he was a movie extra, then a producer – he became a sports agent.
While he was working for Miami Dolphins player Cassius Marsh, Blencowe says he was trying to think of ways to extend the NFL player’s career.
He considered “meet-ups, like playing a round of golf with a celebrity” but “but the video message was the easiest to do.”
He adds: “NFL players have around three years of playing, it’s such a physical sport, they don’t make much money as you think they make.
"I have a background in film, so I thought if I can get these football players and make them into celebrities then that is a great way to enhance their brand and make them money for the rest of their lives.”
He met Cameo’s co-founders, Steven Galanis and former Vine star and comedian Devon Townsend, showed them the video Marsh had recorded and, Blencowe says, “that was it – we made a business out of that and it’s been a wild journey”.
Cameo launched in 2017.
Now, he says, out-of-work actors and musicians who would normally have been making money by touring and on film sets are turning to the app while in lockdown – and fans, stuck at home, are paying for the messages in their millions (literally: before the pandemic, stars had recorded over one million videos for the app).
Earlier this year, Coronation Street star Sally Ann Matthews hit out at Cameo after co-star Simon Gregson signed up to sell birthday messages for £30 – saying celebs should be grateful for fans’ support and “you should never pay for an autograph (or a video message come to that)”.
Simon’s wife Emma Gleave quickly hit back in a series of deleted tweets – saying “Wow!!!! Nothing like sticking together with your work colleagues!”
But Blencowe denies accusations of mercenary stars monetising their fans – insisting: “A lot of people do free messages on Cameo – if someone has requested something like ‘my friend has cancer’, we’ll do that for free.
“Not all of these messages are being charged, at the end of the day not all celebrities are rich.
“Especially at this time everybody is being impacted financially, not all of this money just goes in their pocket.
"We’re a digital version of what they’ve been doing anyway – I do encourage via social media, if you can do it for free then do please do it for free.
“[Marvel star] Zachary Levi joined to raise money for charity.
"We’ve seen a great list of talent join for a couple of days to raise money for charity.
“Some people are quite private so it may not be for them but you can raise £20,000 easily in one day.
"Sarah Jessica Parker came on for one day to raise money for New York City Ballet.”
'New ways to make money'
He adds that while most celebrities are approached to be on the site, he also gets referrals from stars who bring in their mates – for instance, Harry Potter star Tom Felton joined after he was introduced to Blencowe by Jay from The Inbetweeners actor James Buckley.
“Also, some celebs are using this to pay their mortgage – people are trying to find new ways to make money to support their families,” says Blencowe.
“We have people who can make over a million dollars, we have a lot of people in the few hundred thousand range.”
Cameo makes money by taking 25% of the fee for the video – and is expected to turn over $100m this year.
And it’s not just the higher priced stars who are raking it in – the less well known celebs who are “very good at Cameo” also make a lot of money.
“The A-listers pull in demand very quickly, but people can make a lot more money if they lower their price.”
In June this year, The Sun revealed James Buckley had made £100,000 through Cameo – even charging Oldham Council £34 for a message.
Floyd Mayweather is one of the most expensive stars on the app at £829 per message – twice what you’d pay for a video from Mike Tyson.
Bizarrely, US actor Michael Rapaport is reportedly Cameo’s highest earner – making £224,000 and charging fans £195 for a video – and Caitlyn Jenner is the most expensive to get a message from, asking for a huge £1,871 per shout-out.
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