Chat With An Expat: Meet Nicki Storey of the Positano Diaries on YouTube
Is Positano on your bucket list and are you ‘doing it for the gram’? We certainly hope not since Live in Italy Magazine wants to get you off the beaten path and immerse yourself in the real Italy. Nicki Storey, creator of the Positano Diaries, set out to do that (unknowingly) over a decade ago. She’s hoping that you’ll scrap the bucket list and replace your fancy dress with comfy clothes and walking shoes. Pause in Positano with Nicki and have a real look at those hidden gems and get to know the people who live there. Searching for a simpler life too? Nicki can show you the way…
Where were you born?
I was born in Wimbledon where the tennis championships are. I lived in Surrey which is just southwest of London and it took only 25 minutes from train from the center of London, but it was very countryside-ish. It was like a classic, quintessential English countryside area: very nice, lovely. And then I went back with them every summer.
When did you first go to Italy?
Yes, so basically when I was twelve, the parents of one of my best friends from school, invited me to come on their holiday in Positano and I am with them and we stayed at the Sirenuse Hotel. We had an absolutely amazing time! Positano is so small that the beach area does not have any roads, so it’s very safe for kids. You have a lot more freedom than you would especially growing up around London, so were free to run around the beach area and we absolutely loved it from the minute we went there.
Over the years, I made friends with a lot of the local kids and just really felt at home here right from the beginning. I think I cried the first time I left.
Did you ever vacation in Positano with your own family?
No. They’ve visited me here (since moving here), but we never all went as a family.
Did you study Italian when you lived in England?
Just a little bit: probably about one lesson per week for one school year. I learned the language from being here and immersing myself: reading children’s books and having the radio on all the time. And slowly, like a jigsaw puzzle, it all fitted together and I started understanding things. It took about nine months until I felt that I was fluent. Since I never took lessons while I was here, writing Italian is still so bad. I have to ask my daughter to correct my emails before I send them.
How many years have you been with Carlo?
We’ve been together for 21 years.
Is living 500 steps from the road a workout?
It is a workout, but it’s not really a complete one. I know that my lungs are in really good condition because at a health check a few years ago, they told me that I have the lungs of a twenty year old. But in general, you tend to walk the steps very slowly so you are not as fit as you think you may be.
I discovered this a couple of years ago when back in England for the winter and decided to take some classes at the local gym. I went in there convinced that I would be so good at spinning, yoga and Pilates, but was the worst at every class! It was quite embarrassing! The steps may be a good cardio workout, but it needs to be balanced with other things.
How do older people handle all of the step climbing?
It’s hard for them depending on where they live in town. For instance, my father in law is really housebound now. He can’t really handle the 300 steps from his house to the road and unfortunately, is stuck at home. It is very limiting when you get older depending on how fit and healthy you are. It’s just the way it is here and these people haven’t known any other way of living, so it’s perfectly normal for them.
Prior to the pandemic you traveled back regularly to England.
Yes, in the winter I’d pretty much go back every month for a week or so. Often in the winter you can get a flight from Naples to London for less than the cost of a train ticket from Naples to Rome. Unfortunately now, it’s been over a year that I haven’t been back and I can’t wait to go see my Dad and brothers again. It’s a shame because it was nice to have that little break from here and also get back to my roots for some time and see friends and family that I don’t see very often.
How did Holly find you?
About eight years ago, we were renovating this house that we are in now. It had been abandoned for about thirteen years since nobody wanted to live here because of the amount of steps. So we decided that we could handle it, but it did need a lot of work. While we were painting, sanding and doing all of the renovations, Carlo went up to the road to get something. He called to tell me that there was a little dog in the car park and it was following him. He was wondering what to do, so I told him that it was probably a stray and to let it follow him. When he returned, I put out a bit of tuna and water for her. We left the gate home and figured that she’d leave the next day.
The next evening, Carlo called to say: “this little doggy is still here and it’s been following me all day. I’m ready to come home now. What should I do?” I said, “just see if it follows you” and she followed him all the way down to the center of town and he brought her in. She was filthy! I didn’t know if she’d bite me, so very carefully I put her in the bath and she was as good as gold. She slept on the sofa and the next day when I came up here, she’d be always touching my leg every time I took a step. She stayed attached to my leg the rest of the day and has never left us since.
This is why I don’t really need to put a lead on her when we walk around town because I can feel because she brushes up my ankle the whole time. She has that terror that I think a lot of abandoned dogs do where they don’t want to let you out of their sight.
Small Town Life
Positano has been host to a lot of foreign residents for many, many years. Going back to the 1900’s, there were a lot of artists and writers that would come here and spend years here. It’s something that locals have always been used to. Positano has roughly 3,800 residents and definitely a few hundred foreigners. A real mixture: English, Australian, American, Venezuelan, Colombian, Brazilian, Polish, Russian, Germans, Swiss, everything!
It’s nice in the sense that you never feel lonely here. It’s not like in a city where you can go out and not know anybody. Here you step outside and know everybody. There’s always somebody to talk to, ask advice, or just hang out and pass time with. I really appreciate that. It’s a really nice thing to have here, but then again there is that thing about being a foreigner and never being 100% accepted. I think that most people will find that wherever they live in the world if it’s not the country that they were born in.
Pretty much every time I go out (even just walking around the village) someone will say to me, “Oh I thought you were a tourist.” It’s just a little reminder that you are never going to be one of us type of thing. So that happens, but it’s all part of it. It’s not really a problem.
Are you a famous in Positano?
No, not at all! I’d say more than half of the people wouldn’t even know about my videos. Even though I’ve been here for so long (22 years), people in shops and cafes will greet me in English. The only time they figure out who I am is when I say that I’m Skye’s mum.
Do you need to ask for permission before filming a business?
I pretty much ask for permission when I go in somewhere. There are certain restaurants and cafes that know exactly what I do and they are perfectly happy for me to film, or not and I just respect their decision.
Do you feel that you’ve influenced people’s perception of Positano?
About 10 to 14 years ago, I found a blog post online written by someone who had visited and wrote, “Positano is a tourist built town and people don’t really live there. They only come in to work there and serve tourists and then they all leave.” I thought to myself: how many people come away with this opinion? That really upset me talking about Positano like here it’s some place like Disneyworld. It was then that I knew I I had to do everything I could to try and change people’s opinion.
Over the last few years with the rise of Instagram, I’ve noticed that a lot of people come here with what I call a ‘Positano Bucket List’. Every single person has exactly the same things on this list. It’s more important to them to check off those 4 or 5 recommended things. There’s thousands of people doing the same things and then they’re gone after about 3 or 4 nights. I always think, “what do they really see?”
For example I’ve gotten up at dawn to go kayaking and I see people queuing up at the end of the beach in their best fancy dresses to get that classic photo of themselves on the beach with the town behind them. It’s funny, but it’s upsetting.
They’ve missed out on so many things…
Positano has become so oversaturated with tourists all wanting to do the same thing and get the same shot, just to say that they’ve been here. They’ve missed out on so many things. This is why in the last couple of years, I upped my game on YouTube and tried to start showing so many more things to do around the coast than the beach and the Path of the Gods.
What is your audience’s response?
I think it’s really nice when I get feedback from people saying, “I did this because you showed me in a video and I really enjoyed it.” But, the best compliment I get is when someone from Positano tells me, “I think you know more about this area than we do.”
I really do go out there and ask people if they know about any caves, castles or new pathway.
During the pandemic did you start discovering things that you had not known before?
A few things, yes. During the pandemic, it was very strict here so we weren’t really allowed to go more than 200 meters from our house. So, I suddenly got on a creative streak. I don’t know how. It just happened from being stuck here we found so many more things to do close to home.
For example, right outside my house there’s a valley and very steep streambed. During lockdown we climbed down and explored it. It was this incredible Jurassic valley–just beautiful! It was though hard to discover new places because, especially last year, nothing was open and we couldn’t go anywhere.
Once we got out of the lockdown situation, we did start trying to make the most of visiting other places like Amalfi and Ravello. Because of the pandemic my viewer numbers suddenly grew. Because Italy went into lockdown before anywhere else in the world, I felt like producing more. With nothing much else to do at the time, I started making two videos a week. For example, the history of the town and all sorts of things. Many were DIY at home!
“The Positano Diaries” on YouTube
Your first published video on YouTube was made on June 24, 2006 and was called “Robocop Dancing”. How did the idea come about did you know then that you wanted to make regular video content?
I was literally using YouTube as a hard drive and somewhere to store my videos. It didn’t occur to me that people were going to watch them. Peter Weller (the actor in Robocop) has a house in Positano. I happened to be in a friend’s hotel and stepped out right when they (the wedding party) came out of the church. They had all of these musicians and dancers and I started filming it. At the time, it didn’t really occur to me that I was putting videos there for people to see.
What we realized, looking back at old videos from 2011 to 2012, that I was vlogging before it was really a ‘thing’. The funny thing was that this winter we looked through some old video cassettes from my Dad’s house and we found a video of me making a vlog when I was 16 years old! And that was before the internet even existed.
For some reason I’ve always made videos. I would pick up my Dad’s camera and go around making videos about my school and my day etc. I always documented what I was doing and I never knew what I was doing it for. It’s funny now to look back and see that.
Family background in television production.
The whole family was in the TV production industry. My Dad was a cameraman who turned floor and production manager and mum a vision mixer and my brother worked for NBC News I think, or Reuters. I was brought up in a TV studio from the minute I was born. I think it was naturally part of me to do something that was connected to this industry in some way. Before I came here, I was working in the TV industry as a makeup artist.
Has your experience as a makeup artist such as understanding lighting helped you with your videos?
Really, I think my Dad has been my biggest help because he’s watched every single video that I’ve ever made and will guide me through it. He’ll phone me up and tell me what I did wrong; if I held the camera or moved wrong; how to avoid the lighting during this, etc. He will very patiently teach me every little step of what I’m doing and how do it could be better. Like where I should have put a fade in or a cross dissolve; how to get the audio right; or block a reflection.
He’s just always there telling me what to do. I’m obviously always wanting to please my Dad like a good girl, so I listen to him!
Do you ever go back to old videos and cringe at what you did wrong?
I rarely go back and look at an old video unless I think that I have to use a part of one. Not for any particular reason: I just don’t think I have to time to think about looking at old videos.
How many videos do you post per week?
Until about two weeks ago I made two videos a week, but I stopped because there isn’t any time off. It was just constant and there’s no one else who can do it for me, so I dropped back. Every now and then, if I can get an extra one out I will, but I’m not going to kill myself to do it.
When did you start taking YouTube seriously as a potential second career?
As you’ve seen, I’ve been randomly uploading videos on and off for years and making videos was like a diary. In 2019 I was uploading one video per month. Then at the beginning of 2020, I decided to challenge myself and make YouTube work for me by building it up, getting a following, and making better videos. I’d forget about it, if nothing is happened in about six mopnths.
I rebranded my channel and gave it the name, “Positano Diaries” and developed the logo. Originally, I was getting about 4,000 views per video, but then by March everything changed when we went into lockdown. Suddenly overnight, I was getting 20,000 views! Lots of people started writing saying, “we can’t come to Italy but we’re glad that we can see what’s happening there. Thank you for doing this.” Since it was working, I just kept going and then obviously, it kept slowly building.
Then in December (2020), I put out a video that went viral. It has brought in over 60,000 new followers. It was a bit of a panic day because we needed to make a video and the weather was terrible. We decided to make a video about doing the grocery shopping. We did quite a big shop and of course, had to film ourselves bringing it down the 500 steps to the house. I think right now it’s had over 1.4M views! If I knew that would have happened, I could have done it so much better. I would have dressed nicer and done my hair better. I would have made more of an effort, but you just never know.
From that video, I started earning a bit of money because of the amount of people who came in after that video. It was great to start earning something I lost almost all of my makeup work during the pandemic I went from 80 weddings in a summer period to last year when I only did three. You can’t survive on three weddings. So, I was very grateful that I had this opportunity to earn something and it has pretty much kept us going. Even now this year, I have ten weddings which is nothing compared to before.
Is Positano Diaries solely your project?
So, Carlo flies the drone. That’s his thing and I don’t even want to get into that: I don’t think I’m coordinated enough. I do everything else. Every now and then, he’ll get his phone and record a bit and tell me that’s he’s made a video, but I do everything else. I’ve had people laugh at me and say that it’s not a proper job. It’s a lot of work, especially after. We film on a camera, or maybe a GoPro; a drone; or phones. Then, I’ve got to pull all of that footage together. It takes a good ten hours or so and then there’s choosing music.
Balancing Work and Home
I have to look after everything else as well. I’ve got animals to feed, chickens to clean out, wash loads to do. We’ve got a whole garden to look after—watering, canning, etc. There’s a lot of stuff going on.
Your house has enabled a kind of Zero Kilometer lifestyle right?
The land has always been in the family and it has been farmed. Carlo’s father has always come up here and he bought the land to grow his own food. Our choice was to live here for more space. When we lived in an apartment in the town center, we didn’t even have a balcony. I felt very trapped there because we couldn’t change anything. It didn’t feel like home because it wasn’t ours. When we eventually moved up here and had free range to do whatever we wanted with this place, it was a dream come true.
I have embraced growing food in our own garden because who really want to buy a five kilo sack of potatoes and haul it down 500 steps? It makes more sense to grow your own. During the pandemic, it was a very nice sense of peacefulness because we knew that we could live for quite some time on what had stored and preserved and were growing g. If it came down to it, we’re pretty well set up here.
It’s important to know where your food comes from.
I think it’s very important that people nowadays know where their food comes from. It’s important to know (for example) that potatoes grow in the ground; kiwis on vines in clusters; and pineapples in bushes out of the ground. A lot of people don’t know these things. I’ve had a couple of comments from people who are disgusted that I’ve eaten food that I’ve dug up from the ground!
There’s no fast food in this area. The nearest McDonalds is in Pompei–over an hour’s drive away. There isn’t a fast food culture here, so if you want something you make it. You can’t buy soup here, you make it. Most people here make jam if they have the means to and everything is seasonal.
Do you plan your YouTube stories?
I don’t plan anything unless it’s something like Elisabeth saying, “we’re going out on a boat tonight. Do you want to come?” It’s grab the camera and go because something interesting might happen. Sometimes when I get back, I have to do a bit of research and add in a voiceover and a few more things because I wasn’t prepared.
When Carlo first started preparing videos, we tried to get him to speak English and I quickly realized that he was uncomfortable doing so. Then I received comments saying that it was so lovely to hear Carlo speak Italian. I think it was also an unusual thing to have a bilingual YouTube channel so, we tried it with both languages. It also makes things easier when we’re filming with someone else who only speaks Italian.
Only 2% of my audience is Italian and they’ll ask in the comments why I don’t have Italian subtitles in Italian or speak in Italian. Because they are only 2% of my audience, I don’t think it’s fair to the other 98%, to have videos in Italian.
The majority of my audience is from English speaking countries. The largest following is from the United States, then the UK and then Australia, and Canada.
You do a lot to help support small businesses. How do you decide what businesses to feature?
It works both ways. If they let me do a tour, that’s video content for me and it’s good exposure for me. It’s as simple as that. I am trying to show parts of my everyday life, so if I’m going to visit my friend Marta who makes her own soaps and body oils, I want to show that because I think it’s fascinating.
Now over the last few months, people are starting to reach out and ask me if I want to come and make a video with them. I say yes to almost everybody, but it’s just a matter of me organizing time and getting to do it.
What types of businesses or products would you endorse (if anything)?
First of all, I have never asked anyone for money from anyone who I’ve filmed. That’s not what I am about. We’ve all been through the whole lockdown and loss of work together. If I can help little local family businesses with their products, business or B&B, I will because and it doesn’t cost them anything. I don’t do sponsored posts for various reasons. One because I don’t think I’ve ever been approached from a proper company. I’ve just had really dodgy offers like I got an offer to do a sponsored post for sex toys! It just hasn’t come to me. No one has offered anything that looks serious.
I’ve always said that you’re not going to catch me saying at the beginning of a video, “and today’s video is sponsored by…” It’s not what I’m about. I want to highlight local businesses and artisans because that’s what Positano is about. It’s not something that I’m searching for or even considering in the near future.
How much time do you spend managing social media?
We’ve come up with sort of a system. Carlo deals with most of the YouTube comments. When a video comes out, I’ll sit for about an hour and reply to as many comments that are coming in, but then I have to stop and cook dinner. Family comes first.
Then after dinner, Carlo takes over and in the morning I spend about a half an hour going through the Instagram. I’ve got a bit of a phobia about comments. If I do get a particularly bad one, it will ruin my day. I’m not as strong as I should be and I get very easily upset by them so I sometimes need to take a complete break from that.
If I’m out doing stuff, I am very aware that I am with people so I rarely check my phone unless everyone else is doing it. I have a very strict no phones at the dinner table rule as well. There’s a balance between the amount of time that is spent with friends (off camera) and filming.
When did you feel at home in Italy?
I think when we moved into this house. Although I was here 13 years before, it never felt like home because we were renting. The word ‘home’ is very important because that is my space and exactly how I want it to be. As soon as we made the decision to move here, I knew that I’d found my home.
In 2013 interview, you said that you wanted to go back to England. Do you still feel that way?
Yes, all of the time! Not so much now though. I think that 2013 must have been on the cusp of when we moved here. Being in the house has definitely changed my perspective because now I’m settled here. Honestly, if I was to go back and live fulltime in England, I don’t know how it would be. I’ve been here for nearly all of my adult life. I left my parent’s house to come live here, so I’ve never lived in England as an adult.
Also, everything changes. My memories of England are living in my parent’s old house and all of my friends being there. Most of my friends have since moved away. So, the question is where would I go if not back to that town?
I’m now used to the Italian way of life. It’s a big novelty for me to go to England and it’s overwhelming as well. If I go into a big town or into London and wander around the shops, I found it incredibly overwhelming because there are so many things to choose from. Whereas here, if you want something particular, you have to order it online and then wait for however long it takes to arrive. For example, I ordered myself a pair of sandals at the end of June and they still haven’t arrive yet and we’re near the beginning of August. Now I’m thinking will I get to use them this summer? If I was in England, I’d probably buy two or three pairs.
Do you feel Italian?
I vividly remember going into a supermarket in England and I picked up a type of vegetable and turned to a lady and asked, “what would you do with this?” She looked at me as if I was absolutely mad. Whereas here, they’d be all crowding around giving me their recipes!
What do you miss about England?
Just the convenience of being able to get things done immediately. Sometimes I think that it would easier if I was in England because I could go and get it done quickly. Here we have a 20 minute hike up the mountain to get the car and then you have to get out of the coastal area because of all of the traffic and tourist buses. It’s just a big production to go anywhere and do anything.
What do we do here is go down to the beach for a swim; or hike in the mountains; or choose some new plants for the garden. It’s very rare that we go wander around shops and buy things.
What is your personal definition of an expat?
For me an expat is somebody (and this is so silly) in Singapore 150 years ago wearing a long white flowing dress and a big sunhat; sipping on a gin and tonic and fanning her face! I think it’s an antiquated word. It’s not a word that I would freely use myself. It’s obviously someone who has left one country to go live in another one. I’d say like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys—someone who in between places and never fixed in one place.
I think that’s how I sometimes feel. I’m a Lost Boy just floating in the middle.
Is there any place in Italy that you want to explore?
I’ve never been down to the very point of the boot. I’ve explored a lot of Italy, but never to places like Lecce. I was very lucky because I worked on two series of a British TV cooking show and we did one season in northern Italy and one in southern Italy. So, I’ve covered quite a bit of the country. Strangely enough I’ve never been to Milan: probably the only major city that I haven’t been to.
It’s been a tough year, but can you tell us despite the challenges, what are you thankful for?
I’m thankful for my friends who I consider my family here, like Elisabeth. We’ve all supported each other throughout this time. It’s very important because we haven’t been able to be with our real families. Elisabeth is from Austria and Jackie is from Australia. During lockdown, we had video calls every day. Some days, somebody might cry and the rest of us will cheer them. We looked after each other. So, I am very thankful for that group of friends here. And I’m really grateful for internet because it would have been a different story without it.
I am also very grateful for all of the comments and people telling me how the videos make them feel or, for example, helped them through a bad patch–like chemotherapy or a family member dying. Getting messages like that means so much and that’s what has made me continue making videos. Sometimes I think, “what am I doing? Or who am I to make these videos for?” Then you get these nice messages and I think if I’m only helping just three or four people in a difficult situation, then I’ll do it for them.