Mind The Gap: The Inside Story of A Very British Fiasco

I've been working as one of the voices of the underground since 1999 and the furore that kicked off after an interview with the Mail on Sunday in 2007 still fills me with ire...
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I've been working as one of the voices of the underground since 1999 and the furore that kicked off after an interview with the Mail on Sunday in 2007 still fills me with ire...

How very apt...

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“Are you the woman who got sacked for saying horrible things about tube passengers?”

That’s how a lot of my conversations start. It’s a right laugh. Although I never really laugh. My face turns purple, my head spins round and green soup pours out of my mouth. For me, Reader, the events that led to my Mind The Gap infamy still fill me with ire. And why? Because most people aren’t arsed about finding out what really happened because the truth is much, much duller. A bit like myself.

I’ve been one of the “Mind the Gap’ voices on the London Underground since 1999. I was chosen to do the job after my voice tested positive with commuters. So, when I revamped my website in 2007, I included some spoof London Underground announcements in the fun stuff section. The people at London Underground knew all about them and were, apparently, looking forward to hearing them.

In November 2007, I got a call from a journalist from The Mail on Sunday who wanted to do a story about me.

“What do you think when you hear yourself on tube trains? Do you like it? Does it make you…wet?” he smarmed. (He didn’t actually say that last bit. I made that bit up. But I’m sure he was thinking it).

“I haven’t ever heard myself on a tube train,” I said.

“What, never?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t go to London very often. I live in Cheshire.”

“Urgh!” he said, involuntarily.

“But for me, the thought of being trapped in a tube carriage hearing nothing but my voice would be HORRIBLE. Can you imagine it? Sitting with a load of strangers who all secretly hate you, all wishing you’d shut the fuck up? No. It’d be a dreadful experience. DREADFUL.”

“What? Really? It’d be dreadful, would it?”

Reader, I was too self-absorbed to get his gist. “Ooh yes!” I gushed. “It’s a bit like when I ring a company and it’s 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. And 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).

“Ooh, great!” said the journalist sounding for all the world as if he was playing with his scrotum. “You’ve given me plenty of material there, Emma!” And off he went.

I came off the phone to him thinking I’d made a friend.  I felt he’d really heard me, really understood the plight of inverted vocal vanity.

The Sunday Sport called asking me if I’d mind if they took photographs of my breasts.  (I declined, before you ask). I was doorstepped by another Mail on Sunday journalist offering me “lots of money” claiming that the Mail “wanted to apologise.”

Can you guess what story actually ended up in the press, Reader? Can you? It was as if the words I’d spoken had been digested and shat out by a half-witted deaf monkey from a foreign land. All the words were (sort of) there but they were in the wrong order! As if someone had WILLFULLY IGNORED their true, intended meaning.

When published, The Mail on Sunday piece said that I thought tube trains were “dreadful.” That I avoided them “at all costs.”  The piece alleged I take cabs everywhere whenever I go to London (partly true, although I do use buses even though they sometimes smell of wee). I admit that I did tell the journalist that traveling on the tube in rush-hour was a challenging experience for even the most touchy-feely among us. I never mentioned frottage. They also published a picture of me looking a RIGHT MINGER.

And when the story broke, how did Transport for London respond?  Well, they didn’t contact me, that’s for sure. As the story evolved and the press got hungrier, 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 “serious delays.” The press seized on this. The Evening Standard called to tell me I’d been “sacked” by London Underground to get my reaction.

And that’s when it started.

Suddenly the phone rang off the hook. TV companies wanted interviews. People came round my house with TV cameras and big furry booms. I appeared on the early evening news on ITV, BBC and Sky and then later on the 10 o’clock news. I was grilled by Eddie Mair on Radio 4 – a genuinely fantastic experience (and I mean that because he generously let me tell my side of the story uninterrupted, something for which I’ll be eternally grateful). There was a mad moment when I had to put Jonty Bloom on hold while I spoke to somebody from Reuters. (JONTY BLOOM! ON HOLD!)

The British press wanted statements and more interviews…and then international media wanted me too – America, France, Germany, Spain, Norway, Finland, Holland, Italy, Colombia, Russia, Australia, New Zealand... I received literally hundreds of emails, mostly from supportive commuters but there were a few nasties too - mostly, it has to be said, from Americans. Someone emailed me to tell me there was a Facebook Group campaigning for my ‘reinstatement’ as an LU voice. My website went into meltdown because suddenly 300,000 people wanted to download around 1.5Mb of spoof mp3s and the site crashed. (This was treated as highly suspicious by some journalists who assumed I’d taken the site offline to lie low for a while. In fact, my web guys were trying to find an ISP that could cope with the traffic – we ended up finding one in Texas).

With the world’s media banging at my door, had Transport for London got in touch with me?? Er…no. Not a dicky bird. Nada.

Over the next three weeks, the story’s momentum carried it across the globe. As well as my usual daily work, I was still doing radio interviews – no press – I didn’t (and still don’t) trust print journalists. I had to employ somebody to handle fan mail. My personal grooming suffered: I fear there were times when I smelt of chicken pie. Ludicrously, I told friends and relatives to ‘read my blog’ to find out what had happened. (And you’ve no idea how much of a tosser I’ve felt saying that). I once woke up in the middle of the night honestly wondering if I was experiencing a narcissistic psychotic event. I had an email from a lawyer offering to represent me because he felt my human rights had been violated. The Sunday Sport called asking me if I’d mind if they took photographs of my breasts.  (I declined, before you ask). I was doorstepped by another Mail on Sunday journalist offering me “lots of money” claiming that the Mail “wanted to apologise.” (Again, before you ask, I declined. Trust them again? Not on your nelly). Photographers lurked at the end of my drive. It was bloody horrible. Not least because my roots needed doing.

So, to sum up: here are a few common misconceptions:

1)    I was not “sacked” by London Underground. I was never an employee of London Underground.

2)    I was not “sacked” because I produced some spoof London Underground announcements.

3)    London Underground quite liked the spoofs and apparently, some executives used them as ring tones.

4)    London Underground executives were cross that I live in Cheshire and don’t use the tube. At least, that’s how I understand it.

5)    I was not rude about tube passengers…not really rude, anyway.

6)    I quite like Americans.

7)    My voice is still used on London Underground.

And what about the bloke who issued the statement to the Evening Standard? The one about my contract experiencing serious delays?  The bloke who started it all? Well, that’d be Dan Hodges. He was sacked over the affair in December 2007. Bet he wasn’t bloody door-stepped. Or asked to have his breasts papped.

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