How I became a Voiceover Artist - adventures through BBC Local and Global radio and television to get to my own studio

People get into Voiceover in a number of ways, the journey I know best is my own. Here's my story about how I became a Voiceover Artist and why even the silliest things all contribute to the job I do now

When I was a small child, about 6 or 7 I think, I absolutely adored children's TV on a Saturday morning. Starting with Multicoloured Swap Shop, Saturday Superstore then Going Live and Live and Kicking... I lapped up these BBC programmes that were full of behind the scenes glimpses. I loved seeing the camera people and crew, the sneaky looks behind the scenery flats.. it all looked incredibly fun and magical. I was hooked. I proclaimed to my parents, pointing at a shot of BBC TV Centre on the screen, that I was going to work there. I think I got a kind of "that's nice dear" reply which was kind of standard for a small girl growing up in a seaside town in Devon. But I had a plan and that was that.

As well as the Saturday morning TV, I was obsessed with radio. It began with an ultra local radio station in Torquay called Devon Air (the excellent nature of it's name I only fully appreciate now). I phoned up the breakfast show and took part in a competition where I got the answers very wrong but it was my first time on the radio and I liked it. But I didn't want to be a listener phoning up, I wanted to be the person on the radio - who talks to the listeners.

At school we had the chance for a couple of work experience placements. I was quite lucky in this respect as my Dad was the school careers teacher and I found myself able to get myself into our big regional theatre, Plymouth Theatre Royal, for a week working backstage on the Wizard of Oz. It was much better than going to a bank for a week I can tell you. Then my Dad helped me to get a week at BBC Radio Devon that was then based in Exeter. At Radio Devon I was allowed to press a couple of buttons - with hindsight I think I fired off a cart or two and the presenter had the fader shut - just incase I got trigger happy I think!
Both of these placements gave me insights into performing, backstage, the very business of "show" and the tech gadgets involved in a radio studio.

I did feel rather out of my depth and like the awkward, geeky kid I was (maybe still am) but it was all good and I was storing the info away.

At college I studied theatre, psychology and english literature. I didn't do brilliantly in my A'levels to be honest. I'll just say that I was somewhat distracted by the end of a beautiful friendship, you get my drift. So I went away to a University I hadn't really planned on, determined to get going and make the best of it.
I studied Media in Luton (now the University of Bedfordshire, which has excellent facilities), we were the first intake on the degree and the kit was all very new for video, but the radio studio was abandoned and they didn't seem bothered. I was bothered, majorly!
I was so bothered that I decided to take matters into my own hands to learn radio and started volunteering at what was then BBC Radio Bedfordshire in Luton (now BBC Three Counties Radio based in Dunstable).

I started helping out on Children In Need at the radio station, I was allocated to go to Hitchin in Hertfordshire with the Sunday morning religious programme team, to shake tins and do a bit of an Outside Broadcast. I asked them if I could come in on the next Sunday morning and see how they put the programme on air. They said "yes, but you're a student, you won't be there at 5.30am on a Sunday morning!".

But I was. In fact I volunteered my very early Sunday mornings at the radio station for the entire 3 years I was at University

I answered the phones to callers, learned how the systems worked, logged the music, made the tea, started popping up on air to set the competitions and to give the winners and answers. One of the team taught me to edit on quarter inch tape, another taught me how to use a Uher and even leant me one so I could go out an do some interviews.
That team were there for the love of it all. Looking back, they were wonderful and must have seen something in me that was worth nurturing. I am still eternally grateful to Barry, Andy and Adrian from Melting Pot.
When I left University I worked at the radio station, eventually they started paying me to do things. I even used to produce and present that Sunday morning programme whenever Barry was away on one of his very long summer holidays.
I ran the CSV Action Desk for a while too, which came with being on air several times a day and producing the Children In Need content that got me in in the first place.I also voiced trails for the radio station and found that I enjoyed that.I also got my first introduction to ISDN here!

Eventually I decided that I needed to move on and I started as a trainee Studio Manager (sound engineer) at The BBC World Service. From local to global in one swift move.Here I felt like a bit of a "chosen one" as it was very competitive to get in to this job and get all the training and lovely BBC staff contract that it came with.

In 1997 I went to BBC Wood Norton in Evesham to start my Studio Manager Training. It was incredible. We had ages, about a month of residential training at the BBC's technical sound and video training centre with some of the best trainers in the industry, Paul Hedges, I'm looking at you.
The six of us were trained in everything we were going to need to put the BBC World Service's programmes on air from a variety of studios. We trained in acoustics, microphones, sound desk operations, PBX, ISDN, editing on tape, problem solving, detailed listening and analysing what we were hearing. We were tested and drilled and encourage to be creative. All of this before we spent time training at Bush House to learn how to actually do the job. I was very very lucky.
I spent 4 years working on programmes mainly for Africa and the Middle East. It's amazing the snippets of language you pick up. We were there when audio was starting to go digital. There is so much I can tell you about the World Service days that I think I'll park it here and write a separate blog!

Anyways, I also starting doing a few Voiceovers at the World Service. I voiced imaging and ident packages for many of the rebroadcaster stations in Africa. I found that my presenting work, coupled with my understanding of how to get the best out of microphones was a good combination.

Somewhat reluctantly but fatigued by weekly nightshifts, I decided I needed new challenges and that promise to myself about working at BBC TV Centre was still as yet unfulfilled.
I started working as a Network Director in BBC TV. Yes, I did skip through the famous rotating doors of TV Centre that first day with a very happy "I knew I was going to do this, I knew I was going to work here" face one.
This job was INTENSE and although I was used to broadcast and technology, there was so much too learn.

Transmission of TV channels

Let me tell you that NOTHING focusses the mind like being the person controlling the live transmission of BBC1.

I was asked to be one of a small team to learn new systems and launch BBC3, CBBC and Cbeebies TV Channels as well as the brand new BBC Red Button Interactive TV services. We worked hard, on very challenging kit that had to be debugged severely to get it to work in the way we needed it to and to be stable enough to broadcast BBC TV channels from. We definitely had some moments. Our small team was brilliant - we got on so well and worked extremely well together, using each others strengths, shoulders to cry on and being flexible in that team was great.

I was then in the small team that moved the Playout of the BBC's TV channels to White City, to a new building, on new kit and a new way of working for the Directors. We tested kit, troubleshooted, problem solved, white networked, tried going on air, swiftly throwing back to the parallel running in TV Centre a number of times until we got it right and permanently moved the Transmission over to the Broadcast Centre.PHEW.
After a short stint in a team that developed technical solutions for putting TV channels on air, I move into BBC Training and Development.

I was then in charge of induction training for the entire BBC! If you were new, on a contract of 6 months plus for those few years, it's highly likely I met you.
I ran BBC Upfront, a partly residential introduction to the BBC. With guests, practical content making, tours and learning about the BBC - it's history, values, structure and future.
I trained a team of fantastic presenters to deliver the course and devised and launched a new elearning module Upfront Online for people to do before attending the face to face course. We won 2 gold awards for it as well!

But I still wanted to be on air! So, I set to work finding new opportunities to get back on the radio.. It was then that I started working at BBC Radio Shropshire! After making contact initially, I found a bit of a spiritual home in Shrewsbury. I got on really well with the team at the radio station and they were after someone who know what they were doing to be able to jump in and cover programmes. I presented Drivetime as cover there off and on over about a year. It remains my total favourite local station. Truly wonderful people.

Back in London, the BBC had a new focus to move to Salford and BBC Upfront was on the list of departments to move, which we were actually flattered by - we'd done a great job and the course was seen as useful, integral and forward thinking.
But it was my time to say goodbye.. happily living in Kent, I wasn't about to move permanently and I wanted to get back to more performance and content - having loved my work in Shropshire so much.

I took the redundancy and built my own studio at home. Luckily all that time in studio sound engineer training and work had stood me in good stead to create a great sounding studio. I'd used a selection of microphones over the years. I'd mic'd up and recorded everything from ancient instruments from Somalia, to radio drama, rock stars smashing TVs and symphony orchestras.. so I knew I'd be fine.
I was able to make a few showreels myself initially which got me off to a start.

I then trained with Nancy Wolfson, had my first proper reels created by the excellent The Showreel team and set about building my business.

That was about 10 years ago. I'm fortunate to have a good career in Voiceover. It's hard work, I'm the one that has to identify my training needs, the kit I may require, market myself and what I do, make all the business decisions etc etc but I wouldn't have it any other way.

My route to where I am now has maybe been a wiggly path, but over the years I have learned SO much - the practical stuff that enables me to run my studio and do my job at surface level, but also the working under pressure, the deep insight into the media - production, lingo, team work, where problems arise and ultimately just playing your part - being good to work with, reliable and low hassle and adding a touch of fun where it's appropriate to do so!

Looking back is always interesting and helps make sense of where you are now. The diverse skills I accumulated and the experiences I have had all set me up to be a VO Artist. What it also indicates to me is that I am a very hard worker and a determined kind of personality is essential in this business!

Testimonials

  • Clare understands and interprets each script very well. That makes her delivery very natural and appropriate for every target audience.
    I’d recommend Clare highly. Her voice is clear, warm, and she’s able to convey different emotions easily.
  • Her voice is clear with an intriguing, friendly edge. She takes direction well and, because of her background on the other side of the glass, she is able understand what the director or client wants. 
    Clare is a true professional, delivering a high quality service in an engaging way. Her voiceover technique is stunning - clear, bright and inspiring to listeners.
  • You’ve got a lovely read there Clare, just mixed it all – sounds fantastic. Thanks again for such top, top work!
    We're all done with the project – so thank you very much for your help. Have a lovely week and we'll definitely be in touch for other voiceover work!    

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