The Blog

Behind the Voice of the London Buses: Q&A with Emma Hignett

It's very hard to say what makes a good voice artist; the brilliant thing is that the jobs and the voices are so varied, so one voice is perfect for one job while another voice is perfect for another job.

If you live and work in London, or have ever visited, chances are that you've sat on a London bus.

When travelling around the capital by bus there are many variables that can make each journey slightly different - you know, things like traffic, route diversions and road accidents - but one thing you can always count on are the announcements.

The distinct voice that lets you know when you've reached your destination is something many of us will be familiar with - but have you ever stopped to think about the woman behind the voice?

Recently, I caught up with Emma Hignett - voice of the London buses - to find out a little more about her world. This is what she had to say...

What do you think makes a good voice artist?

So you ask the most difficult question first!

It's very hard to say what makes a good voice artist; the brilliant thing is that the jobs and the voices are so varied, so one voice is perfect for one job while another voice is perfect for another job. You need to know how to use your voice and how to work with a microphone, and it's essential to have audio editing experience.

Do you have any pearls of wisdom for a budding voice artist?

I think virtually every voice artist would say they're asked this question regularly.

It's a real benefit to have your own home studio, and when it comes to this, buy the best quality equipment you can afford.

You're only going to get work if your demo hits the right note with the client, so get a great demo from the beginning - and then keep updating it with the work you've been doing.

One of the things I love about my job is that you can always learn something new, you can always develop your voice skills further, or learn more about audio production.

How did you get your gig with TfL and what was the process like?

I believe TfL tested 10 voices for the iBus system and I was lucky enough to be asked to submit a recording to this. Once they'd drawn up a short-list, we got into a studio to record the route 149 announcements. The final part of the process was the testing of my voice on route 149 for several weeks in early 2006, when bus passengers, drivers, staff, and other stakeholders were asked for their feedback.

I didn't believe I would be successful, so after initially submitting my demo I'm afraid I thought little more of it until I was asked to get in front of a mic to record the route 149 stops. Launching the trial on the 149 in January 2006 was great fun, but I have to admit I was incredibly nervous travelling on that first bus, hearing myself and knowing that thousands of Londoners would be hearing the same announcements.

Is it unusual to hear yourself on London tubes and buses, and has anyone ever recognised your voice from the buses/underground?

It was very strange to hear myself initially but I've got more used to it now. I am, however, fairly critical and have been known to come off the bus with a list of announcements I'd like to re-record. I don't think I've ever been recognised by my voice, but, my 5 year old is doing his best to change this - whenever he's on a bus with me he's quite loud and not at all subtle. He's been known to sit there saying 'mummy...that's you!' after each announcement or 'mummy, are you on every bus in London?'

Do you remember your first ever job and how it felt when you completed it?

My first voice-over job? Not exactly. My first radio job was as a traffic reporter on various London radio stations, and as part of that job I did voice a number of sponsor credits. Whilst I don't remember my first 'voice-over' job, I do remember my first traffic report on Jazz FM (January 1993). It's probably the most nervous I have ever been in my life, finding myself on live radio for a minute or so reporting gridlock around the Vauxhall area. I think it took me best part of an hour to 'come down' from the adrenaline rush.

Have you always wanted to be a voice artist?

I wanted originally to be a professional dancer, and went to theatre school at the age of 15. Strangely, I've ended up using my drama training far more than my dance training. The voice-overs started when I was striving to be a radio and television presenter.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Otley, Yorkshire, but grew up in North Lancashire.

Where's your favourite place in London?

I have loads of favourite places in London, which made recording the bus stop names quite amusing... I'd suddenly get the bus stop where I used to live, or one of my friends' local bus stop's.

My favourite bus stop announcement is 'Little Britain' and if you heard the actual recording it's followed by something along the lines of 'you're joking' but that was obviously edited out!

What other interests do you have?

Much of my time away from work revolves around my 5 year old son, and - as of the last few weeks - our puppy (any advice on house training puppies will be gratefully received!). My husband and I are doing up a rather old house which is quite a learning curve. I'm also learning the guitar again (haven't picked one up for about 30 years) with my son. I also love baking, and have to confess that Great British Bake Off is probably the only series I record all year round.

Do you have any questions? Leave a comment below.