After an early career in musical theatre, I fulfilled a childhood ambition of becoming a professional show off and ran away to Butlin’s. As a Redcoat, all my dreams came true at once. Being paid to entertain, socialise and be the loudest version of me possible.
Redcoat life threw up many surprises and I quickly discovered new talents and skills. The main one being a compère and Voice of God. I eventually moved on from Butlin’s and went back into training studying stage management, technical theatre and design which included sound design & audio production.
Although I moved on and journeyed along a different career path, I have always retained my love for live announcing and presenting and continued to do the occasional gig. I suppose that moving into voiceover was a natural progression to this. Although the live element was largely lost, it felt like home to me and I soon found my comfort zone in corporate reads, lifestyle narration, promos, radio commercials and imaging.
Shortly after quitting my 9-5 job to work in voiceover full time, a chance opportunity arose to become a presenter on my local radio. Unbelievably, I had never really considered presenting before this, even though it was a pas passion and I have been voicing for radio for ages. I jumped at the chance of course, but it turned out that this was to be the beginning of an unexpected but thrilling challenge.
As a voiceover, the script is everything and I didn’t realise how much I had become reliant on the words on the page.
The first show I started to present on air was a 1-hour weekly specialist music programme featuring music, news and reviews from stage and screen. Although it was live, it was perfect for me because I had full production control which meant that I could pretty much script it. Safety net intact, happy days! I absolutely loved my new job, it brought back all the passion I feel during live announcing. But it also rapidly became apparent that I had become a slave to the script. That safety net was gradually starting to smother me and I had to find a way to tear through it.
Soon after acknowledging this, I was given the opportunity of becoming an alternate presenter of the highly acclaimed mid-morning programme. This was a completely different kettle of frightening fish. Apart from the daily prep sheet which provides information such as newspaper headlines, national days, celebrity birthdays and other interesting talking points, the only words provided was the local news and weather. The programme doesn’t shy away from big topics and a single programme can feature guests talking about palliative care to scouting and everything in-between. There is always something to get my teeth into. I would not just have to simply read from my script and cue music anymore, I would now be dealing with guests live in the studio, via the phone and ISDN, outside broadcasts and colleagues out and about, and thankfully some music too.
All this was challenging enough, but my biggest challenge at this point? Being totally off script!
Now you would be forgiven for thinking that my years of compèring would have been the best training ground for this, and yes to a certain degree this would be true. But compèring is different because you have people. Relationships – albeit short lived – are forged between you and the guests on stage. In turn a relationship exists between those on stage and the audience. It’s a living, breathing experience with everyone invested in it and engaging with each other. As voiceover artists we are all used to speaking into our microphones alone in our booths, and of course we are all striving to communicate with our audience, but this is a different process to compèring and radio falls between the two. I had to learn to ‘chat’ to my invisible audience, bring them into the conversation like friends, this has been the biggest learning curve and it’s still a work in progress for me.
Embracing a world off script has also had a wonderful and surprising effect on my everyday VO work too. It has really started to positively inform my conversational reads and has helped me to relax into a script much more than ever before.
Presenting the mid-morning programme is terrifying, joyous and exhilarating. The confidence I have gained as a result is remarkable. I no longer script any of my shows, bullet points and facts will do, something I would have thought impossible when I started. Often things don’t quite go to plan, tech gremlins are always peering over your shoulder waiting to pounce, but that’s part of the fun. This also keeps you on your toes and sharpens your brain, keeping the comfort zone mind soup at bay.
There are hundreds of local/community radio stations around the UK. They are always looking for skilled people to get involved, why not contact your local one? Go on, get off script!