When you work in radio advertising, as I do, there’s a certain kind of horror that descends on you whenever a client says: “…and I’d like my niece to voice my ads.”
Just to clarify, it’s not just nieces voicing commercials we fear. It could be any relative/friend/acquaintance of the client. Ads should always be voiced by professional voice over artists, or at the very least by the clients themselves, if they’re outgoing and confident enough. But in this particular case it happened to be a niece.
The business in question was a day nursery, and the instant those words left the owner’s lips I felt my whole body slump. Oh, here we go, I thought. How am I going to let him down gently?
“So, does your niece have any experience in acting?” I asked.
“I should say so,” the client replied. “She’s Joanna Page.”
Wait up. You don’t mean THAT Joanna Page? Joanna Page of Gavin and Stacey and Love, Actually fame?
“Yes. THAT Joanna Page.”
My heart didn’t so much skip a beat as sprint up to the top of a large hill and yell for joy.
By this point we were well into December and Christmas was threatening to put the brakes on commercial production, so I had to move fast. The client gave me her number and told me she was expecting a call. So I called and she answered in the only way Joanna Page could, with a chirpy “Hiya!”
I asked where she was based, expecting her to answer “London”. “London”, she replied. I asked when she was free. She gave me a date and I said I’d book a studio and we’d do the voice over session via ISDN.
To the uninitiated, ISDN is a broadcast quality line that allows us to record VO artists remotely. So I could book her into a studio in London and direct and record from my little studio in Swansea. Easy peasy.
However, there was a problem. But then, when there’s no problem there’s no story, so let’s all be grateful. The problem was that our ISDN kit was being ripped out and replaced on the one day she was free. What were the odds?
I had two options. Option one was to trust another producer/engineer to produce the session for me. I wasn’t keen on this as only I knew how I wanted my scripts to sound. I wouldn’t even be able to listen in via phone because there’s no signal in the studios because of the soundproofing.
Option two was to get in my car and zoom up to London to produce the ads myself. So that’s what I did. But in the meantime, there was the matter of the scripts. I worked fast and bashed out a few that capitalised on Joanna’s uber-bubbly public persona (try saying that three times) and got them approved by the client. I also had a few tag lines and station links for her to record. I was all set.
I didn’t actually drive INTO London. That would have been crazy. Instead, I drove to Reading, parked up and got on the train. So much more convenient. I had ‘borrowed’ a studio from TalkSport and by the time I got there Joanna was waiting for me in the canteen. We had a little bit of a chat and then one of the engineers came up to show us to our studio. Heads turned as we were led through the sales office.
Yes. That really was Joanna Page. Her of Gavin and Stacey and Love, Actually fame?
Needless to say, she was a little bundle of Christmassy joy and the voice over session was a blast. When we were done I gave her a Christmas prezzie from my station and a bag of Welsh cakes from me. I never go anywhere without Welsh cakes. Then we wandered outside as her husband was due to pick her up. He turned out to be none other than actor and VO artist James Thornton, best known for starring in Emmerdale.
Then I got the train back to Reading, jumped in my car, aimed it in the direction of Swansea and was back in work that afternoon. There wasn’t much of the afternoon left by that point, but one likes to show willing. It had been a monumentally tiring day with about six hours spent on the road. But it had also been a very rewarding one. The ads sounded ace, and that’s all that matters.
In radio no two days are ever the same, and this was definitely one of the most memorable. On the plus side, to this day, whenever a client says they have a relative who can voice their ads for them, I no longer feel a sense of horror fall over me.