Louis Cole stares mischievously at the camera, introducing viewers to his latest YouTube video. A nervous smile reveals the contents of his mouth is alive. “This week,” he mumbles, a six-legged escapee scuttling from his lips, “I'm going to be eating three, live, Madagascan hissing cockroaches,” the second and third crawling over his tongue, hanging from his teeth and nose, before tumbling to the ground.
His fans call him Bear Grylls' long-lost brother. PETA liken him to Fred West. He's ate a live scorpion, raw sheep brain and drank a smoothie made of mice. His videos are rapidly approaching two million views and he's on the verge of landing his very own TV series. But the Food for Louis star doesn't want anyone to get the wrong impression of him.
“Sometimes it's not too great, trying to convince people I'm not a complete freak,” Louis says. “There was an article written in my local paper, with a response from PETA. They made an outrageous claim saying that people who display cruelty to animals – which is what they're claiming I am doing, which I massively contest because I'm just eating them – often end up being violent towards humans.
“They listed serial killers, saying they were cruel to animals before moving onto humans. The article's title is: Animal campaigners say scorpion-eater should take phycological test.”
Louis is a seasoned consumer of creepy-crawlies; munching bugs long before PETA became aware of him, before anyone even thought to put a camera in front of him. What started as a dare among mates has quickly grown into a global internet sensation.
We try and do as much research as possible. But with the tarantula, for instance, research would suggest I shouldn't have eaten it live. But we kind of thought: 'It's a bit of a gamble, but let's just do it.'
“It's always been an ongoing joke, them getting me to eat random things. Then we started filming a few things on our phones. Five months ago, we were just sitting around one evening and thought: 'Why don't we put some of these videos on YouTube and see how people react?'
“I didn't really think it was going to get as big as it has. The last couple of weeks, I've been talking to a couple of TV companies that want to take it further and do a TV series. I'm considering a few options at the moment, but I'm just going with the flow. It's exciting that I could take this and do a TV show on it.”
Louis remembers one of those early dares: a huge, brown garden slug, which was “absolutely disgusting”. The first proper Food for Louis video – shaky footage recorded on a phone – shows him chasing, catching and eating a spider. “That,” he says “was the start of the channel.”
He's uploaded 14 videos since then, showing him eating a wasp, 660 live worms, 21 live locusts and drinking a whole bottle of wasabi sauce, among others. Some he quite enjoyed; other's he didn't. But what's the worst thing he's ever eaten?
“It's close between the cockroaches and the mice. The cockroaches had the most vile taste to them, but drinking the blended mice, with all the hair and stuff in it, that made me wretch the most.
“Compared to the other ones, the taste of the locusts and the scorpion was alright. It wasn't the taste that was off-putting, it was the live wriggling and the texture – the crunching and stuff. But the taste was beautiful, I'd eat it again.”
His next video, a Halloween special, finds him tackling his most shocking – and painful – meal yet: a live tarantula.
“Tarantulas have poisonous hairs on them that they fire when they're being attacked. Luckily, it didn't do anything serious but it did leave my whole mouth stinging for a bit afterwards.”
I don't know where the line is, but eating a live mammal just seems different to eating insects and arachnids.
He appears flippant, but Louis and his team research all his stunts meticulously before recording them – ensuring they don't pose any dangerous side-effects or long-term health risks … They research them meticulously, and then quickly dismiss their findings should they get in the way of an entertaining video.
“We try and do as much research as possible. But with the tarantula, for instance, research would suggest I shouldn't have eaten it live. But we kind of thought: 'It's a bit of a gamble, but let's just do it.'
“It's weird, none of the live animals I've eaten have given me a dodgy stomach. The things that's left me with the dodgiest stomach has been eating the raw sheep brain. I suffered the day after with that one, but all the other things were fine.
“I don't know if I'd stop if I got sick – I'd probably just avoid eating whatever I'd eaten.”
When he's not eating animals, Louis runs a mobile youth project – BoomBus.co.uk – from his double-decker bus, working with youths affected by gang culture. He finds that his videos help him build a rapport with the kids he meets, who often catch creatures for him to eat – which he's always more than happy to do. Others don't find it so entertaining.
Aside from complaints from animal rights campaigners, Louis' mum and sister are also concerned about the health and ethical issues surrounding his eating habits. But he says he knows his limits.
“I saw a guy on YouTube eating a live mouse, and I think that's a step too far for me. I don't think people would appreciate seeing that. I don't know where the line is, but eating a live mammal just seems different to eating insects and arachnids.”
It's not just mammals he refuses to eat. Louis' super-stomach has its very own Kryptonite: cheese.
“I'm not a big fan of strong cheese. I really don't like goat's cheese, blue cheese, I steer clear of that. I think it's disgusting."
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