Barbara “Babs” Costello, a mother of four and grandmother of eight, did not envision becoming a social media sensation in her 70s. But with 276.3K followers on TikTok, as well as a strong presence on YouTube and Instagram, Costello is a TikTok superstar.
Costello’s rise to fame began about a year ago. She went to visit her daughter Liz and her two grandkids in March 2020. Costello says, “It was the beginning of the pandemic, and schools were going remote. I decided to stay and help Liz (pregnant then with her third child) with the kids during what we thought would be a two-week lockdown.”
Liz, a social media presence herself (she runs the parenting site Mrs. Nipple), suggested that Costello do a video for TikTok. “I had heard about the app from my grandkids,” Costello says, “and thought it was for dance videos. Even though I love to dance, I told Liz there was no way I was publicly dancing on TikTok. My daughter said, ‘You are not going to dance — you are going to do a cooking show and share your recipes.’ ”
Although Costello isn’t a formally trained chef, she has always enjoyed cooking for her family. With a bit of coaxing from Liz, she agreed to film a video of her making a simple marinated chicken.
To Costello’s surprise, the video was a hit! She attributes the initial appeal to timing. “It was the beginning of the pandemic when most people were in lockdown and craving family connection,” Costello explains. “In the comments, viewers wrote, ‘You remind me of my mom or my grandmother.’ They found my presence and my recipes comforting in a time that they were missing their own extended family members.”
Costello thought that one video would be the end of her TikTok adventures. But after the initial success, Liz insisted they film another cooking video. This time, Costello decided to showcase her overnight breakfast casserole (see accompanying recipe). The audience literally ate it up, and @brunchwithbabs was a hit!
Prior to becoming a TikTok star, Costello’s focus was on her roles as a wife (she and her husband have been married for 51 years), mother and grandmother. In addition, Costello had been a schoolteacher for many years and founded her own preschool in Connecticut — which she sold several years ago. Costello believes that all the time she spent teaching little kids is part of why she is so at ease and engaging in her videos. “You have to be energetic and animated with preschool kids, or you will lose their attention.”
Costello admits that getting the hang of TikTok took some time. “You have under a minute to get your point across, so that can be a bit of a challenge,” she explains. But that is part of why Costello enjoys it so much. She says, “I love that at my age, I am learning new skills. I have found a wonderful community on TikTok. So many people are on the app, looking for information and sharing their knowledge.”
Unlike some cooks who prefer to keep family recipes a secret, Costello is thrilled to have an audience to which she can pass down her recipes and cooking hacks. “I love having an opportunity to teach people something and to share recipes that my own family has enjoyed with an audience,” she says.
In addition to connecting with other creators and fans, Costello has found TikTok to be an ideal way to connect to her own family — especially Liz, whom she continues to work with, and her grandchildren. Costello says, “I think if I was their mom or dad, they might be a little embarrassed, as many kids are of their parents. But because I am their grandma, they think the fame is pretty cool.” Her grandson showed some of her videos to his friends and proudly said, “Babs is my Nonna!” And “now they all follow me,” she laughs. Her granddaughters have been happy to lend a hand in content creation. “Last week, one of my granddaughters called and said, ‘Nonna, ice cream is trending! You should do something about ice cream.’ Of course, I took her advice!”
Costello is enjoying her newfound fame. In addition to being featured several times on The Drew Barrymore Show, people have recognized her out in public. She recalls, “Recently I was at the supermarket and customers asked, ‘Are you Babs?’ I was wearing a mask, so I was surprised they knew it was me. … They said I have a distinctive voice.”
While the notoriety is great no matter how famous she gets, family remains her number one focus. “It's fun to be a celebrity at my age,” Costello says, “but when I pick up the kids at school, I am still grandma!”
Overnight Breakfast Casserole
“This recipe has been in my family for many years. My kids and grandkids insist I make it for every family holiday,” says Barbara “Babs” Costello.
5 eggs, beaten slightly
5 slices (or 3/4 loaf) challah, cubed
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 pound browned sausage, ham or bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups milk
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Refrigerate overnight. Bake uncovered at 350°F for 45 minutes.
Makes: 4 servings