what yesterday was like for me

I’ve been one of the “Mind the Gap’ voices on the London Underground since 1999 – I’m one of the people who says things like “the next station is…“ and “please stand clear of the doors.” I was chosen to do the job after my voice tested positive with commuters and after recording the initial announcements I’ve done occasional sessions announcing changes to stations, services and popular landmarks.

So, when I revamped my website, I included some spoof London Underground annoucements in the fun stuff section.

The start of it

Three weeks later I got a call from a journalist from The Mail on Sunday eager to do a story about the spoofs.  He asked for the backstory and also my experiences on the tube hearing my announcements. I told him I hadn’t been on a tube train in which my voice could be heard.  He asked why.  I told him the thought of being in a tube carriage, hearing nothing but my voice would be a dreadful experience for me, sitting with strangers who were all wishing I’d shut up and give them some peace. I said it’s a bit like when I ring a company only to discover my voice on the on-hold system telling me to “press 3 for accounts” or like being woken up by my radio alarm broadcasting a commercial I’ve recorded about pre-Christmas ample-free-parking retail opportunities. Hearing one’s own voice slammed full in one’s face is a disconcerting experience, let me tell you. You should see my face when I’m in a supermarket listening to me telling me to buy cut-price meat…

(Interestingly, I used almost the exact same words in an interview with B3ta that I did in 2002).

But that isn’t what was published in the press.  No, the story in the press was much juicier, much more controversial. The piece said that I thought tube trains were “dreadful” and that I avoided them “at all costs.”  It also alleged my experience of the tube was practically trauma-inducing. To this, Reader, I have to come clean. I did tell the journalist that travelling on the tube in rush-hour was a challenging experience for even the most touchy-feely among us.

Transport for London didn’t seem to have a problem with the spoofs though, describing their reaction as “relaxed.”  In fact, at my last session with LU in September, I told the guys I was planning to do some spoof annos and they said they were looking forward to hearing them.

Sensing an approaching media tsunami, I tried to contact the guys I’d worked with from LU in the morning via the production house who recorded the announcements but I didn’t get an email address or a phone number. I wanted to tell them I’d been misquoted; sure, the journalist reported my words…just not in the right order, or in the right context.

The response

And how did Transport for London respond?  Well, they didn’t contact me, that’s for sure. They told the press they thought I was “silly,“ that I shouldn’t be “slagging off” my clients and that future contracts with them were experiencing “delays.” The press seized the story. I received calls telling me I’d been “sacked” by London Underground and what did I have to say about it all?

And that’s when it started.

The phone rang off the hook. TV companies wanted interviews. The press was emailing me for statements and more interviews. I received hundreds of emails, mostly from supportive commuters but there were a few nasties too. I guess that’s the nature of the Internet… Someone emailed me to tell me there’s a Facebook Group campaigning for my ‘reinstatement’ as an LU voice. My website went into meltdown because of the demand for the spoof mp3s.

And how do I feel? Knackered, that’s how. The kids haven’t seen me all day. My little boy wanted me to read him ‘Hissing Hattie’and couldn’t understand what I was on about when I said I’d have to go and talk to a man on the radio. My daughter wanted me to make a cake with her.  The phone’s still going mental, I’ve been talking so much all day I sound like Bonnie Tyler’s laryngitic gran, I haven’t eaten all day, I’m a bit clammy.  It’s no fun being misquoted…and I still haven’t heard from Transport for London.

This blog was commissioned by Guardian Unlimited

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Emma Clarke

Emma is an award-winning voiceover, broadcaster and writer. Want to find out more about Emma?
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