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Percelle Ascott is onto a winner

Producer, actor, entrepreneur... Over the past decade, Percelle Ascott has established himself as one of the most influential figures in British youth culture. He tells us what’s coming next

Percelle Ascott has a plan. It’s a very good plan and I hope he can pull it off. The origins of this plan date back to the very beginning of Ascott’s career; back to his drama teacher Mrs Beattie encouraging her teenage student to take acting seriously as
a subject and a possible vocation.  

Two years later, with Mrs Beattie’s help, young Percy got into BRIT school. There he met his friend and future business partner Joivan Wade and the rest isn’t so much history but a present and future that’s still being shaped. For Ascott, the immediate present is I Came By, a Netflix thriller in which he plays a graffiti artist alongside George MacKay and Hugh Bonneville. 

It would be unfair to Ascott’s drive and talent to give Mrs Beattie sole responsibility for his success. But she played a part, a crucial part, and over the years Ascott has never quite got around to reaching out to her.

So here’s the plan: he will hold an exclusive screening of the film on 30 August and Mrs Beattie will be the guest of honour. A car will pick her up and on her arrival her former student will be waiting to thank her. 

“Fingers crossed she’s free,” grins Ascott. “Imagine if she’s on holiday!” 

For a school teacher in August, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. Anyway, I’m checking with him before the magazine goes to press and you will discover the outcome at the end of this article. Worse case scenario,I guess they can always rearrange. 

Percelle Ascott

Mrs Beattie should certainly be proud of Ascott. He’s – well, he’s done a lot in his 29 years. An awful lot. There’s Mandem on the Wall, the YouTube series about three teenagers – played by Ascott, Wade, and Dee Kaate – sitting on a wall in South London. That grew into the Wall of Comedy which grew into the Wall of Entertainment, an online platform which has become one of the top 20 on the internet, racking up more than five billion views and helped launch the careers of Yung Filly, Mo Gilligan and Chunkz, to name but three.  

 The list only grows. Viral rap series Shiro’s Story, which Ascott co-produced and starred in. A lead role in Netflix supernatural drama The Innocents. Partnerships with Channel 4, Pretty Little Thing and Footasylum – “we’ve grown the YouTube channel from six thousand subscribers to 1.5 million,” says Ascott of the last one. (It’s actually 1.98 million by the time we to press.) “That channel now for young people, they don’t even see them as a clothing brand anymore – that’s become almost their TV channel to watch content on.”

The walls of his office are covered in Post-it notes denoting all the various projects and ideas for future ones.  Ascott and Wade now employ a team of 20 to bring those projects and ideas to life. This Friday afternoon, however, it’s only me and Ascott – everyone else is either holidaying or working from home. (Or in the case of Wade, filming Doom Patrol in Atlanta.) 

Ascott only just got back from holiday himself – a friend’s wedding in Uganda. The trip was an opportunity for rest and rejuvenation. “It was my first time back in Africa since I was five years old,” says Ascott, who spent the first years of his life in Zimbabwe before moving to aged three. 

Bridgerton star Regé-Jean Page also moved to London from Zimbabwe at a young age. He told me that his new schoolmates would ask whether electricity and telephones existed back in Harare. “Yeah, we had electricity,” Page would reply. “You had to turn it off at night, otherwise it attracted the lions…”

Ascott bursts out laughing on hearing this. His Uganda group had never visited Africa before. “It was nice to see them see Africa and go, ‘OK, it’s not just what you might see in some donation advert on TV.’” 

Percelle Ascott

I interviewed Page in a pub garden during the summer of 2020. Then Bridgerton aired and his Instagram following exploded from a few thousand to a few million. (We asked Page if he might reshare the interview, and he very kindly obliged. It did better the second time round.) A year earlier, when I interviewed Joivan Wade, the most popular Wall of Entertainment video had 55m views; today it has nearly 86m. (Like life, the internet comes at you fast.) 

Does Ascott know his most successful video? “I do. Is it our leopard one?” It is – ‘Leopard Prank In Camden Town’, a collaboration with National Geographic for Big Cat Week in which a concealed anthropomorphic leopard snarls at surprised pedestrians. He’s surprised when I tell him the most recent number, having stopped keeping track a while back. (Unlike the internet, life is short.)

“It went viral in India or something,” notes Ascott. “It’s a funny video but we didn’t think it was that funny. We actually thought something had broken [with the views]. The news channels in India picked it up and everyone believed that it was a real leopard in London.” Another shout of laughter.

The hour with Ascott is among the more relaxed interviews I’ve done for this magazine. It helps that we’ve met before – while I was profiling Wade – and that we’re both South Londoners of similar ages. His father owned a furniture shop in Brixton. “He was like an entrepreneur,” says Ascott of the old man. “He’d do all these crazy things, like Only Fools and Horses. So I remember being around my dad all the time – I always wanted to have my own company one day… I just wanted to just be like him.” 

Time with Ascott passes pretty easily. He radiates positivity and good humour while still coming across as someone who takes his work seriously, cares about it. To prepare for I Came By, Ascott and MacKay took a crash course in street art: messaging several practitioners – there’s a WhatsApp group – touring skateparks and underpasses, even devising their own tags. MacKay’s was ‘Loon’. Ascott? ‘P’. Next time you pass through the Westway, see if you can spot them. 

Ascott discovered acting aged 11, playing Mowgli in a production of The Jungle Book. He attended BRIT school – thanks, Mrs Beattie! – and there he met Joivan Wade and formed a friendship that would shape both their lives. “We didn’t actually like each other,” says Ascott of their early encounters. “You work so hard to get to that school. And everyone is very different.” Percy and Joivan initially viewed each other as competition. “We just didn’t speak. And because we didn’t talk, we didn’t realise how similar we were.”  

Wade has a (slightly) more charitable recollection: “The first time I met Percy, I thought, ‘who is this baby-faced guy with these big hands and feet?’ He had a very particular style and wasn’t the coolest cat, but one thing I noticed was that he was himself.” 

Ascott: “Two months down the line in our first year, we did this Shakespeare play. We both got cast as the leads in Much Ado About Nothing.”       

Wade: “We initially bonded over our ability to work harder than everyone else in the room and our dedication to our craft. Doing whatever it took to make it happen. 

Ascott: “Joivan was like, ‘do you wanna do some extra rehearsals after class?’ Yeah, let’s do it – we were taking it really, really seriously. And in those rehearsals we just got on so well. Mine and his work ethic, it just synergized from such a young age. We did the play and stuff. We got really cool feedback from everybody. And from that point on, me and him hit it off.

Wade: “That was when I knew he was someone that was going to mean more to me than just being a co-star, but a best friend and business partner.” 

After BRIT school, the pair signed to the same agency, landed the odd role, and worked retail jobs: Ascott in Clapham’s River Island, Wade in Croydon Topman. In 2012, “we both decided to quit our jobs at the same time and just put all of our energy into this web series. At the time, no one believed that the internet and creating content would be what it is today.” 

Percelle Ascott

The web series was Mandem on the Wall, created with a young comedian, Dee Kaate, who they met at a variety show. The trio put their own money into it, learned on the job, pooled their resources in times of financial hardship. Income from other gigs such as Casualty (Wade) or Wizards vs Aliens (Ascott) went straight into Mandem

“It took us, like, 30 days to film one episode,” recalls Ascott. “Nowadays influencers or YouTubers spend an hour or two filming something and then they release it online. They’ve got all the editing software and they’ve got Instagram to promote the content. We didn’t have any of that. We were shooting our content as if it was TV episodes.”

He spent his weeks filming Wizards vs Aliens in Cardiff, then travelled back to London on the weekends for Mandem. A fulfilling existence but far from an easy one: “We weren’t making any money for five years.” However the popularity of the first episode convinced the team that they were onto a winner. 

“Back then,” notes Ascott, “to achieve a hundred thousand views on YouTube was crazy. Unless you were KSI, and not many people understood what he was doing. No-one was achieving those types of views. A hundred thousand views was like a million today.”  

Things started to happen. The boys were cast as leads in the E4 show Youngers. Wade did a couple of episodes of Doctor Who – Ascott would follow suit a few years later. Even more thrillingly, a live performance of Mandem packed out the Hackney Empire. The brand was strong, with a dedicated online following. But it wasn’t enough. 

One night in 2015, Wade phoned Ascott: “Look, I’ve got this crazy idea.” 

“Ah, man,” sighed Ascott. “What is it?” 

“You’ve got to trust me,” replied Wade. “I feel like we should change everything overnight. We should change from Mandem on the Wall to this thing called The Wall of Comedy.” 

View on Instagram

The new online platform would showcase the talents of all the other young actors and comedians who had yet to be discovered. It would offer the exposure that Ascott and Wade had to fight for at the start of their own journey. “We could have easily given up because it was so hard, but we didn’t,” says Ascott. “Imagine if other people were trying to do the same thing as us, they could give up because they didn’t have the same support.” 

They found Yung Filly through Snapchat, created the YouTube series ‘Asking Awkward Questions’ that showcased the comedian’s charm and quick wit. “He’s gone and surpassed everyone’s expectations. He’s so talented, man. I’m so proud to just be a small part of the journey for him.”   

That was just the start. “Me and Joivan were inviting everybody we felt was talented – from Chunkz to Michael Dapaah to Mo the Comedian. Everybody. We were trying to meet up with them, tell them about what we were doing. Try to build a scene, basically. Look at what grime music did back then – we were trying to do the same thing with comedy.”

I mention the late Jamal Edwards, an early supporter of Mandem. “It meant so much to us because Jamal had always been that pioneer, you know? So to get his blessing was like, OK, we’re doing something right.” Edwards was an inspiration, professionally and also personally. “Everyone has got something beautiful to say about him. He used to champion people that he didn’t need to – it was no value exchange. He just did it because he believed in someone. That’s why we want to emulate the same kind of thing that Jamal was trying to do.” 

The recently established Wall of Productions will cover TV and film. Ascott continues to balance his burgeoning acting career with running an even-more burgeoning business. One question – how the hell does he find the time? He laughs. “I don’t, man! I’m like the worst person that comes to juggling my work life and personal life.” 

Wade disagrees. “He cares so much for people and his team. He’s always putting the team first and continues to be a big brother to everyone in the room. He thinks of others before himself and I believe this is key in business. The most important thing to you as a business owner is the business, but the most important thing to the business is its people, and Percy makes that known.” 

The older sibling comparison is apt: Ascott has two younger sisters and three brothers on his father’s side. (His parents split when he was seven and remain good friends.) “I was like an only child for so many years. And now I’m like a big brother-slash-dad in a way to my siblings. It’s really cool.” Weekends are spent with his sisters or playing for his football team, The Wall FC. Unwinding, basically. And maybe the odd trip to the dancefloor as well. 

“What people don’t know about Percy is he is a mover and shaker,” Wade tells me with no little relish. “Man, if you catch this guy on the dance floor, he will out-wiggle and jiggle you any day of the week. Don’t let him do the worm! Oh boy! He annoyingly grabs all the attention when he’s in the room. But can you blame him? Look at the kid. When they’re ready to cast the black Tarzan, he’s your guy!”

Perhaps Wade and Ascott will make the Tarzan movie themselves – “The next decade for us is gonna be films,” Ascott tells me. Creating their own productions, building a network of talent across the industry.  

“I would love to be in a position where the next ten years, we’re all around the world, creating global content.” (There’s a reason their WhatsApp group is called Monopoly.) “We’re so passionate about what we’ve built. We just wanna be a part of the storytelling and building the scene.” 

The storytelling will continue, and the scene will only grow bigger. And yes – Mrs Beattie was free. 

I Came By is currently streaming on Netflix.

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