What links Alison Hammond, Chanel the lost African grey parrot, Nigella Lawson’s electric oven, a woman on a shed roof asking “Did someone say beveragino?”, Natalie Cassidy, “OK dot com”, and Kat Slater? If you’re rereading that question for the 10th time, chances are you’ve yet to fully immerse yourself in the leopard print and prosecco world of the hun, a very British subculture that’s sweeping the internet quicker than you can calligraph “It’s wine o’clock somewhere” on to a piece of driftwood. Resonating chiefly with women and gay men, celebrating the naff and deifying soap actors, reality TV icons and female pop stars, hun culture mixes nostalgia, camp humour and irony-laced national pride. If US social media influencers are preened, puckered and always on sponsored holidays, huns are sloppy, sarcastic and off on their “holibobs”.
A huge source of lockdown escapism, hun culture’s biggest exponents are Instagram accounts such as Loveofhuns (650k followers) and Hunsnet (205k followers), while its famous acolytes range from Joe Lycett to Lily Allen to Katy Perry. Rather than using memes that feel malicious, or rely on twisted black humour, in a world on fire, a hun meme is playful, riffing on the yassification of the everyday (celebrating a pack of prosecco-flavoured Pasta’n’Sauce, for example), or showcasing a niche celebrity doing something instantly relatable. As the phenomenon has spread, its subjects have started to revel in their hun status, warming to its inclusive sense of humour. “It’s laughing with rather than laughing at,” explains Hunsnet founder Gareth Howells who, as well as diversifying his brand with merchandise, brunch events and a podcast, has also written a beginners’ guide to hun. “It’s a safe space between straight culture and LGBTQ+ culture. If the straights get banter, then the huns get this.”
Hun culture can be traced back to late 2012 and a parody Twitter account called @uokhun. This handle was a play on the deliciously disingenuous phrase utilised by everyone’s aunt on Facebook and usually sealed with an “x”. (Sample musing: “Im not attention seeking am I? #hatersgonnahate”.) It inspired Howells to start Hunsnet in 2017 (“It was exactly my humour”), and was a catalyst in the success of one of the first Instagram hun accounts, the now-defunct Hunofficial. (Launched in 2014, the account closed two years later following a misguided post defending music producer Dr Luke.)
Denise Welch isn’t clear what makes her a hun, then mentions a WhatsApp manicure group she uses called Nails and Nibbles
“I started Hunofficial as a way to promote my queer pop club night Hi Hun,” explains James Kingsley-Scott. He thinks the account’s rapid success was all down to timing, with the uokhun Twitter account slowly trickling into the mainstream via former Radio 1 DJ Nick Grimshaw, who would often use the phrase on his show. The result? “An avalanche of hun.”
The “primary huns” Kingsley-Scott posted about early on remain popular today: actor Natalie Cassidy, singer Kerry Katona, and broadcasters Vanessa Feltz and Anthea Turner. “You can narrow down the definition of a hun to a trier,” he says. “She’s going to put on the little black dress and do it up with all the glitz and glam. It’s a ‘Feel the fear but hun it anyway’ attitude.” Howells agrees, citing his personal top-tier huns as musician Lisa Scott-Lee, broadcaster Ruth Langsford and reality TV star Gemma Collins. “We root for the underdog,” he says. “If people have put the effort in and it hasn’t paid off, we’ll still support you and make it work in a different way.”
All the women featured on the various hun accounts have huge gay followings, with most of them post-ironically elevated to “icon” status thanks to their mix of glitz, glamour and grit. “It’s about living boldly,” says Kingsley-Scott. “It’s truly like, ‘Fuck you, I’m going to hun.’ That’s a very gay sensibility – being out, loud and proud.” For Howell, Hunsnet is about putting women on a pedestal and “celebrating them unashamedly”. So while actor and Loose Women panellist Denise Welch, who features across Loveofhuns and Hunsnet on a regular basis, isn’t entirely clear about what makes her a hun (though during our interview she mentions a WhatsApp friend group she uses to organise group manicures called Nails and Nibbles, which is peak hun), she is certain of one thing. “If I was trying to explain hun culture, I would say: ‘Well, the gays love it.’” She laughs. “And they love me. I’ve always been a bit of a gay icon.”
If I’m a hun person, I’m not aware of it. But if I am, I am
It’s the same with Kim Woodburn, whose somewhat testy appearances on hun culture mainstays Celebrity Big Brother and I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here have elevated her to problematic hun status. “I am a total gay icon, my dear,” she tells me during a somewhat baffling 10-minute phone conversation. “I think [gay people] are remarkable. If you fancy making love to someone from the same sex there’s nothing you can do about it.” How does she feel about being hailed as a hun? “If I’m a hun person, I’m not aware of it. But if I am, then I am.”
Has she been on any of the sites? “If you’re asking: do I use social media where I let people know all my business? I don’t do that. ‘I’m going to the hairdresser, I’ve had my nails done’ – who cares? They’ll moan when people are nasty to them, but no wonder when you put rubbish like that on the internet. They need to get a life. Most people are a bunch of scum today. They’re ill-mannered and ignorant.”
Woodburn’s forthright attitude, mixed with collective nostalgia for her How Clean Is Your House? TV reality show heyday, puts her at the heart of hun culture. Repurposed and recontextualised early 00s clips from Big Brother or EastEnders abound across its Instagram accounts, while very niche, very gay-friendly cultural reference points such as Nadine Coyle lying about her age on Irish Popstars in 2001 are valorised.
“It’s the stuff we were all tapping into at the start of social media,” explains hun stan Jack Rooke, whose excellent Channel 4 sitcom Big Boys, set in 2013, is full of nods to the culture, including a pet goldfish named after his favourite presenter, Alison Hammond. “It focuses on a more innocent time when we were all just tweeting about Alexandra Burke snotting on Beyoncé [on The X Factor in 2008].” For Rooke, the retro playfulness of hun culture stands in contrast to the seriousness of Twitter, and life, in 2022. “I think a lot of hun culture is like, ‘Lol, look at this.’ But we’re laughing with you. You just don’t need to take it that seriously – it’s coming from a position of love and camaraderie. It’s an extension of friendship.” Welch agrees: “I always take my work very seriously, but I don’t take myself very seriously. If you do, you can never be a proper hun.”
Welch, 64, is one of a number of older women to feature in the wider huniverse, where experience, durability and well-earned wisdom is currency. “These feel like women who have popped round for a cup of tea,” Rooke says. “They feel accessible. But I actually think [what these sites are doing] is cooler than that, because for a long time we have had an industry that has ignored women of a certain age. That has literally removed them from television, or removed them from popular culture, in this very strange belief that they are no longer relevant. I like the fact that hun culture is like, ‘No, we’re still celebrating these women – they’re not past it, they’re not invisible.’ My mum would always say that she wasn’t represented on telly apart from on Loose Women.”
These are often women, or soap characters, who have endured highs and lows. “I think if you’re older and a survivor and still remaining relevant in whatever way, that makes you a hun,” says Welch, who first became aware of Loveofhuns via her rockstar son, the 1975’s Matty Healy. “Especially those like me who have had a journey with alcoholism and drugs.” Just as attitudes towards tabloid culture shifted in the aftermath of such things as the phone-hacking scandal, the past treatment of female celebrities is now being seen in a new light. “I support hun culture,” says Rooke, “because it’s like, ‘No, we’re going to celebrate these women that 15 years ago would just be constantly slagged off in the press.’”
As hun culture grows, its parameters are also evolving. So, while it’s still built around what Rooke calls “good time girls”, he also believes there’s room for some straight men, too. “I firmly believe Martin Lewis is a hun,” he says. “I sometimes see Ben Shephard as a hun, because you have to be to present a show like Tipping Point.” Perhaps it’s the spray tan, I suggest. “Ben Shephard is a definite hun,” agrees Howells. “David Dickinson is a hun. Peter Andre. Duncan James from Blue. Me.”
Perhaps the purest thing about the best huns, be they famous or not, is their lack of awareness vis-a-vis their hun prowess. The danger now, of course, is that as the phenomenon bleeds further into the mainstream like a spilled glass of Kylie Minogue’s own-brand rosé on a B&M rug, that purity will be sullied. It’s a concern that’s troubled Rooke, too. “There are degrees of hun to me, and the true huns are the ones that don’t know that they are,” he says. “If you’re the next tier down, you probably do know and you’ll play to the fans. But if you really want to be a hun, then you fall down the scale because that’s not chic.”
Rooke, like everyone associated with the world of huns, is keen to see the culture expand and adapt. Allowing its disciples the space to live, to laugh and to love. But there’s one pervasive, drink-based element he feels needs changing in order to become that bit more inclusive. “I think to reduce huns down to prosecco eliminates a lot of the older generation that are still brandy, voddy, gin girls,” he says earnestly. “There are an awful lot of people not doing prosecco because for them it means heartburn and acid reflux.” Making sure everyone is OK? That’s top-tier hun right there x.
• The Hundamental Guide to Life: Learn to Live, Love & Laugh Like a True Hun by Gareth Howells is out on 18 August, published by Welbeck.