“I got onto a bus in London and listened intently for my own voice to tell me where to get off!”
Emma Hignett from County Durham talks about the 60,000 announcements she’s made to help keep the Capital moving and the British accent’s ‘Brexit blip’.S the ‘voice’ of London’s buses,
What did you want to be growing up?
A ballet dancer – I was ballet obsessed. At 15 I went away to ballet school and then after one year moved into musical theatre which involved singing and acting and I trained as a dance teacher as well.
“I think I was chosen because my voice came across as the least likely to irritate – since January 2006 I’ve done more than 60,000 announcements saying things like “Victoria” or “Alight here for Kings Cross Station”.”
How did you get behind the microphone?
Whilst I was training as a dancer my dad had said he could see me reading the news on the telly one day. I knew I wouldn’t be able to dance forever so I made up my mind to be a tv presenter – I was plagued with knee injuries so it happened sooner than expected.
I decided to get into tv via radio and got a job as a traffic reporter, I started off working in London and then Heart in the West Midlands before moving to the Breakfast Show on Red Dragon in Cardiff which I loved and ended up coming to the North-East to run Alpha Radio in Darlington.
Have qualifications got you where you are, has it been sheer hard work and talent or a combination of both?
Some of my success has been through hard slog in the industry but a lot of it has been through sheer gumption and nerve. I think when you’re young you have a lot more confidence. You can look back at all the mistakes you’ve made but I can’t complain – I’ve been exceptionally lucky.
How did you become the voice of the London buses?
As a radio presenter I would do the odd voiceover so when I came up here to run the radio station I wanted a bit of anonymity, a friend told me that they were looking for a voice for the London bus system so I recorded my voice on tape and nine months later I was offered the job. I will have been familiar to Londoners from my time on Capital Gold and Jazz FM. My voice was trialled for eight weeks on a particular bus route and and 99 per cent of surveyed passengers thought I was right for the job.
I think I was chosen because my voice came across as the least likely to irritate – since January 2006 I’ve done more than 60,000 announcements saying things like “Victoria” or “Alight here for Kings Cross Station”. I record them all in my own sound-proofed studio in my loft.
When friends from the North-East are in London they call me from a bus and say “Listen! It’s you!” I also do the announcements for the London Riverboats, cross rail and London overground trains.
Once I was in a part of the Capital I’d never been to before, I got onto a bus and listened intently for my own voice to tell me where to get off!
What other voiceover work do you do?
I also now do announcements for Go North-East buses as well as voiceovers for corporate films, websites and films used for events, I also do radio and tv commercials and business phone systems. There’s a strong community of voiceover artists – we all work alone so what has built up is a very friendly, supportive group.
Do you feel pressure to be a role model to others?
Not in my current role but when I went into radio in 1993 there were far fewer women in the industry than there are now so I did I feel I had a responsibility, especially when I was at Red Dragon in Cardiff where a lot of the listeners were young women. One of the best things about radio is the intimacy, listeners really get to know about you as a person, it was impossible to get a boyfriend because you have to share so much of your life- I didn’t get married until I was long past my radio career. To be a good presenter you have to be open, that’s why people come back the next day – to hear the next part of story.
“The British accent has had a unique position in the minds of Americans and Europeans but there has been a Brexit blip – for a time the accent appeared to lose its credibility.”
What’s a very underrated business skill?
Picking up the telephone. Everyone communicates by email now but the tone can be misinterpreted. We have got out of the habit of talking to each other.
Is the British accent still popular abroad? The British accent has had a unique position in the minds of Americans and Europeans but there has been a Brexit blip – for a time the accent appeared to lose its credibility.
As your voice is your livelihood do you have to do anything to protect it?
On the whole I don’t have any problems. If I’m doing a voiceover I won’t have coffee with milk half-an-hour before hand because it changes the sound. If my voice is going I know I need to get more sleep. I always have hot water and lemon when I’m voicing and biting into a green apple – must be green not red – is a well known trick for preventing mouth noise!
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
Thirty years ago I spent nine months dancing as a showgirl in Mexico to get my Equity card.
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