Dubai born but Derry bred, Craig Thompson is not an average 22-year-old.
The sparkling red Ferrari he arrives in is your first clue. The second is the ‘Craig Thompson Stadium’ sign high above his head at the entrance to City of Derry Rugby Club’s recently renamed Judges Road ground.
Mini-Ladd - as Craig is more widely known to his more than 4 MILLION YouTube subscribers - is the Derry success story that Derry doesn’t know about.
The Los Angeles based millionaire, whose mother hails from Claudy, moved to Eglinton as a child and counts the Oak Leaf county as his home. Central to that belief is the rugby club which helped Craig first feel at home when he arrived in Ireland as a nervous 10-year-old.
“City of Derry Rugby Club is like a second home to me,” explains the YouTube star, “They were, and still are, a common denominator for me and that’s the reason I wanted to help the club.”
‘Help’ seems an understated way of describing the lucrative 10-year sponsorship deal Craig agreed with the local club recently. It’s a six figure sum Derry are hoping can rejuvenate the club in a difficult financial climate.
“With all the different places I go to, I kind of adjust,” he adds, “It is like a primal instinct (laughs). No matter where I go in the world, I adjust. My dad is English but my mum is from Claudy, born and raised, and that’s the main reason we all moved back to Derry when we did.
“All mum’s family live around Derry so it was moving back to ‘home roots’ and Eglinton is where the whole YouTube journey began for me.”
And what a journey it’s been for the former Foyle College student who once had trials with Ulster Under 17s until a back injury called time on a promising career in the front row.
“I have good memories. I didn’t have many friends at first with it being a new country, a new place, but everyone was very welcoming but I was always ‘That guy with the weird accent’.
“My family were always big into rugby so they pushed me to play sports as a way of getting into the local scene. That why I found myself coming to Judges Road a lot and I fell in love with the game.
“I played Firsts rugby for a few years at Foyle but I suffered a back injury which basically ruined any chance I had. From there, I started the whole YouTube thing. YouTube was always a passion of mine.”
May 2011 was Craig’s ‘Eureka’ moment, the date he launched his channel via the then still fledgling broadcast medium. Initially his goal was to accumulate 100 subscribers within three months. He failed. However the 96 he managed convinced him he had a talent he could develop.
It took nerve on the young entrepreneur’s part and he smiles when he thinks back to the look on his professors’ faces in 2013 when he informed them he was dropping out on Hertforshire University two weeks in to a music production degree.
“YouTube started out as a bit of fun but after doing it for a while, I realised I had a little knack for it and starting to think, ‘What if I did this?’ or ‘Perhaps I could try that’ etc.
“I was on about 80,000 subscribers at the time and I was making maybe $100 a month, if even. I was telling my parents this was what I wanted to do even though I didn’t have the financial backing but my mum and dad believed in me and I believed in myself because I had conjured up connections with other YouTubers, and other sponsors.
“It was at the point where I was in a position to give it a shot and thought ‘if it works, great’ but I’m blessed every day that it did.
“I never expected it to blow up to the size that it has. Even thinking about it now still blows my mind.
“Whenever I got my first pay-cheque from which I was able to pay off parts of my car, pay for petrol or pay for better equipment, that’s when I started to get an inkling that it could work.
“That was a few months after dropping out of university but from there it has escalated more than I ever could have imagined until where we are today.”
A conversation with his former bank manager and City of Derry stalwart, Ian Stone, brought about Mini-Ladd’s recent triumphant return which he jokingly described as “his big reveal” but the deal which will benefit City of Derry over the next 10 years is no laughing matter.
“I asked a question, ‘How is City of Derry going?’ and Ian told me they were doing okay but could use a bit of help. I wanted to know how I could help, if there was a way I could give back.
“My family is still very rooted in Derry. I wanted to give back to something that means a lot to me and to the area in which I have enjoyed some of the best years of my life in.
“This is a proud moment but it’s also like I’m waiting to wake up from this weird dream that the least four years of my life have been.
”When I look around at that ‘Craig Thompson Stadium’ sign, I realise what’s going on and that I’m living the life I’ve always wanted to live. It’s surreal but I just want to go with the flow.”
So will the ‘Green and Black’ be making an appearance on Mini-Ladd’s channel?
“Of course. I have been making a vlog while I was here, so stay tuned!”
City of Derry, it seems, has gone global.