So some of the posts here are for me to get my thoughts down, or because there’s something I feel like writing about, while others are more straightforward journal-type entries so that I can record an event to look back on in the future.
This is definitely one of those posts – not particularly well thought-out or written, but recorded for posterity. Last sunday night I was lucky enough to go to the Children’s BAFTAs. Peppa Pig was nominated for Best Preschool Animation, but also the voice of Peppa, Harley Bird, was nominated for Best Performer. This was a real achievement in itself, bearing in mind that Harley is only 9 years old.
I was very lucky to fall into working at Astley Baker Davies a little after graduating from university. I’d reached a point where I thought I’d never get out of my small home town, and then suddenly in a whirlwind so fast I’m not quite sure to this day how it happened, I was deposited in a flat in Stockwell S.London, with a job in an animation studio on Regent St. And not just any animation studio, but one making funny, quality shows that people seem to love.
When I started work at the studio I was a Runner, which meant I got to try a bit of everything. One of my jobs was to go along to voice records and take notes to be used later when the editor was looking for the chosen take. As such I was there on a summer afternoon, not long after I’d moved to London and started the job, when five year old Harley came along for an audition.
We’d been looking for a new voice of Peppa as, starting the 3rd series, the previous voice artist was now unfortunately too grown-up to really work as the voice of a 4 year old. Looking through the suggestions sent by the voice agencies we use, we were immediately drawn to Harley’s mischievous smile, freckles and bright red hair tied in big bunches on top of her head. She certainly seemed to embody the cheeky but sweet attitude of the Peppa character. Listening to her voice reel we were surprised by how much she sounded like the original Peppa, with a husky quality to her voice that was so unusual in a child.
She aced the audition of course – confident and mature enough to get through the lines while bringing a real child-like quality to the takes. (Bear in mind that a lot of children’s cartoons are voiced by adults). And after a few months, and no longer a Runner but a Production Assistant, I was asked to go in the booth with the kids to help them with their lines. A lot of the older children were happy by themselves, so I was only really needed for Harley and the other younger children.
And now, although not technically falling under my job description as Assistant Designer, I still go to Harley’s voice records and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Truth is Harley is now such a pro she doesn’t need me in there any more (gone were the days of helping her read the script, or literally having to pin her to the chair to get her to sit still, or go for a run around the block in a break in recording to get out excess bouncy energy) – but I still enjoy going. So it was especially wonderful to get to be there when Harley won her BAFTA – none of us were expecting her to win, being that it’s rare for a voice artist to be recognised in such a way, but hearing her name get called out was such an exciting moment for everyone involved with Peppa there at the BAFTAs that night. She is more than a voice – she is Peppa. But more than that, she is an accomplished, hard-working, funny and natural actress, and she completely deserved that award.
In the long run-up to the announcement I could see that Harley was getting more and more nervous, so I went over to see if she was okay and her mum Gill asked me to go up with her to accept the award if she won. As it was Harley raced onto the stage with excitement when her name was called, so I barely caught up with her in time – and then backstage for interviews and photographs, me trying not to blub like a baby (I’m surprised I didn’t come back to the table afterwards face smudged with tear-streaked mascara).
Then, as we made our way back to the table bouncing with excitement, Peppa was announced as winner in the Preschool Animation category, which was just the icing on the cake. We’ve won this before but it’s still so nice to win, and on that night with Harley recognised also it felt like everything was going our way!
In truth the rest of the night passed in a bit of a blur of champagne, dancing till my feet hurt and smiling till my face hurt. Harley kept getting stopped by people wanting to congratulate her, or have their photos taken with her, or have her record a message to their children on their phones. Everyone was so lovely and it felt like people were really pleased that she’d won. Harley was desperate to speak to the Horrible Histories table, so, not needing that much persuading, I took her over to chat with them. Of course they were all very lovely and kind of Harley, and we got a chance to tell Martha Howe-Douglas (who was up against Harley in the Best Performer category) that we were huge fans and that we’ve spent many idle moments in the voice recording booth singing her Boudicca song. I hope it didn’t sound false but I wanted to tell Martha that, if Harley hadn’t won, we would have wanted to lose to her! She’s definitely deserving of it, so here’s hoping she’s nominated next year – the funny girls need to be recognised!
All in all it was a fantastic night, and I felt so so lucky to be able to share in it, and to be there to celebrate Harley’s win. But also I feel lucky to have been allowed to work with her- from that first day she came in for her audition, through all the many many voice records, jokes, drawing sessions, and songs sung. She’s made me laugh till tears streamed down my face more times than I can count. This little piggy has worked hard indeed – and I’m sure there’s a bright bright future in store for her.