Successful people from world leaders to #blessed Instagrammers all tend to have one thing in common – behind the scenes there’s a supportive man or woman helping to make them look good. Sometimes quite literally, as in the case of the patient partners who’ve become unofficial photographers of their other halve’s lives, taking hundreds of near-identical pictures in the hope that one of them will be good enough to warrant a post and translate into vital likes. This selfless snapper is the ‘Instagram boyfriend/girlfriend’, a uniquely modern phenomenon.
Whether they’re holding back hordes of tourists, bending over backwards off the side of a boat or climbing on tables to get those important ‘what I ate’ shots, Instagram partners, bless them, do their utmost for the perfect shot of their wannabe beloved. But what if you’re single? Or – unthinkable – your beau can’t be persuaded to be your personal paparazzo? How are you supposed to create the illusion that your life is far more glamorous than it actually is?
Well, you simply hire a boyfriend. No, not like that. Rome tour company Roma Experience has launched a package that allows people to rent an Instagram boyfriend for the day and I went to try it, to see if I could find love. Social love, that is. The Insta Boyfriend Rome Private Tour provides a professional photographer and driver for a three-hour photoshoot at Rome’s most iconic locations. At €599, it doesn’t come cheap, but could an on-call photographer really result in extra likes on my feed?
My boyfriend for the afternoon is Victor. About five inches shorter and 15 years older than me, he’s not my usual type, but he knows his way around a camera and that’s the most important thing. It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon and the city is swarming with people. How will we get the beautiful shots I crave? Will I get to see the sights? Does it matter as long as I look good on camera?
I meet Victor and his assistant, Anna, at the Trevi Fountain. Yes, that same old fountain that attracts 1,200 visitors every hour. Gulp. How we’re going to conduct a photoshoot among all the tourists jostling to get their selfies I don’t know.
“We just be patient,” Victor says with a smile. It must be said, having an entourage complete with professional camera and reflector certainly helps, as the other tourists stop snapping to stare at us for a moment – some take pictures of us instead – trying to work out if I’m someone important. I may not be, but I am a) happy to play the part and b) quick enough to swoop in and claim my spot in front of the fountain. But it’s still difficult to get any shots without other tourists in my frame. It’s vital on Instagram to look like you’re the only person there, even at the Trevi Fountain.
Next up, we’re whisked out of the madness to the (equally busy) Spanish Steps. Victor suggests I climb on to the wall, which I duly do, and then attempt to recline elegantly in front of the beautiful view – a classic Instagrammer pose that no one ever does in real life. Oh, and this pretty, artfully displayed bag? A prop. My actual bag – a less eye-catching but very practical backpack containing all my necessary clobber – is being carried by Anna. I nearly fall backwards off the wall and plummet to my death, but we get the shots just before someone comes over and tells me I’m not allowed to be up here. Presumably because it would be very easy to fall backwards off it and plummet to your death.
Victor wants a shot of me gracefully walking down the Spanish Steps, but we have to wait about 10 minutes for a pause in the endless stream of tourists. Along with running a hand through one’s hair and standing on tiptoes, a mid-walk shot is vintage influencer. (Why do they do it? Where are they going? I still don’t know.) But it turns out looking good while walking is harder than you’d think. After my first attempts, Victor asks me to try one more time, but “walk more like a royal”. I don’t manage it.
By now my cheeks are actually starting to hurt from all the smiling. I try to look more candid, before swiftly deciding I can’t pull off candid. “I love your face,” Victor says. “Very beautiful eyes, beautiful smile.” Smooth, Victor. I have the genius idea to buy a gelato, because it would complete the ‘influencer in Rome’ look (definitely not just because I want a gelato). Naturally, I choose flavours based on which colours would look best, not taste best.
This lifestyle is demanding for the person in front of the lens, not just behind it, I’m beginning to realise. So, who are the people who actually hire an Instagram boyfriend? “Sometimes influencers,” Victor tells me. “Some people just want nice visuals, and to enjoy the views and make memories.” After all, if you didn’t post it, did it even really happen? My photos are emailed to me a few days after my shoot and they’re lovely. Most importantly, they rake in the likes when I upload them. Sure, I feel like I need to go back to Rome to see all the beautiful sights properly, but at least I won’t need to take any more pictures when I do.