When we do a celebrity voice advertising campaign in radio, this is how it usually works…

A business wants to advertise. We come up with an idea. We think, “Hey! You know who the perfect person to voice this campaign would be?” We contact their agent and get a quote. We pitch it to the client. They love it. We book the studio time with the celeb in question, giving ourselves plenty of time to nail down the scripts, and we get to work.

But that’s not how it happened in this case.

Fairyhill Hotel on the Gower Peninsula in south Wales was relaunching and wanted a brand new campaign to reflect the new identity. Nigel (the owner) and Shakira (the marketing bod) came into the station to have a chat about it. That chat went something like this: “We’ve got Joanna Lumley booked into a studio in Soho next week. We need a campaign.”

The campaign consisted of six 30-second scripts and a whole bunch of taglines to cover pretty much any eventuality. Cue a week of coming into work early and staying late in order to get them done, as well as all the other campaigns I was working on.

I told my mother I was working on a campaign to the voiced by the one and only Joanna Lumley and that I’d be going up to London for the recording session, and she asked me a really bizarre question. She said, “How are you going to cope with that?”

How was I going to cope? It’s not like I was going to be coming under sniper fire or anything. Weird.

Anyway, come the day of the recording session and we still weren’t 100% happy with the scripts. Shakira, Nigel and myself worked on them all the way to London on the train, finishing off the last one as we were pulling into Paddington Station. Before jumping into a taxi, Shakira emailed them on to the studio to be printed out in time for our session.

We arrived and took a seat in reception. At 1pm, right on schedule, Joanna Lumley arrived. Before we commenced with the recording we enjoyed a bit of chitchat and Joanna treated us to a history lesson from her time growing up in Kashmir. What a day!

The campaign was in the style of the classic M&S ads so we had Joanna going into pornographic detail about the sumptuous dishes served at the new Fairyhill. She said voicing all those scripts about food made her hungry, but that was okay because I’d brought a bag of Welsh cakes along for her. I brought some for the producer too. He said he hadn’t had a Welsh cake since his university days in Aberystwyth, so he was very grateful. I had a bag for the receptionist as well. Welsh cakes all round.

We got the session done just in time and Joanna left at 2pm on the dot. What a pro. Then myself, Nigel and Shakira headed out for a celebratory lunch in old London town. Joanna had been just as lovely and charming as we’d always imagined and we knew that the commercials were going to sound amazing.

Later, Nigel and I got the train back to Swansea (Shakira was staying over). We were in the buffet car when who should come staggering in from first class but actor Toby Jones. He appeared to be very drunk. Nevertheless, this was not preventing him from buying some more booze. If he hadn’t been quite so sozzled I would have introduced myself and said hello as I, in a very loose sense, had worked with him once before. I was an extra in Captain America: The First Avenger in which he played Doctor Zola.

So, it may have been a fraught week of long hours and little sleep but I didn’t care. I love the unpredictability and mania of my job. The only thing that mattered was that the campaign was a success and got people talking. For months afterward, whenever I told people who I worked for, they’d invariably ask: “Is that really Joanna Lumley on the Fairyhill ads?”

It sure was.

Published by Richard E. Rock

Cat-loving, headbanging author of the dark and fantastical.

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