Studied French between 1967 - 71
In an exclusive interview, Richard shares his memories of Cardiff and the journey to becoming Europe's busiest voice actor.
Could you tell us about your time here at Cardiff? What are your fondest memories?
Playing Pozzo in Waiting for Godot at the New Theatre in '68. Summer boating in Roath park. Dodgy "Meat" Curries in City Road. Brains Bitter at 10p per pint. Rag week. That legendary late sixties Wales team thrashing all-comers at the Arms Park. The Taff running black with coal dust. The poky old Union bar in Dumfries place – oh and, of course, all the wonderful lectures and seminars!!
Tell us more about your career development following your graduation from Cardiff.
Following my time at Cardiff University, I joined J.Walter Thompson advertising agency in London as graduate trainee. I then moved to Brussels (thanks to my French degree from Cardiff!) with JWT, and went on to becoming the European Advertising Manager for Avis rent-A-Car (German and Italian from Part One at Cardiff was very useful). I then worked with Leo Burnett in Singapore and Hong Kong, before ending my advertising career as Managing Director of K&E (a US-based ad agency) in Thailand.
What made you switch from advertising to voice acting and how easy or difficult was that transition?
By that stage, I wasn't writing ads any more, I was running a business (albeit in a fabulous location - Bangkok) and I wanted to do something more creative. I had always loved acting and had started doing voice-overs on ads that I had written while working in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Having worked in Brussels, I knew that there were dozens of European corporate headquarters there, as well as all the European Institutions, and that there was a big demand for English audio-visual such as advertisements, corporate videos, and audio guides. I thought that because of this, Brussels would be a good place to try rather than in London, New York or Sydney where there is a lot more competition.
28 years and more than 11,000 voice jobs later, I think it was the right decision. I met my wife here, ex-BBC & Channel 4 news presenter Cathy Smith, who is also an alumna of the Cardiff School of Journalism. Together, we founded our company Speak-Easy through which we also teach presentation skills, provide media training, host conferences and so on. Both my kids do voice-overs as well. We're the Brussels equivalent of the Von Trapps!
Can you tell us more about your job – what's a typical day like?
Technology has completely changed my life. I used to spend hours in my car going from studio to studio. Now, with a good microphone, a computer, and a sound proofed voice booth, I do 80% of my work from home for clients all over the world. They send the script via email and I send back a broadcast quality sound file within hours.
In recent days, I have been the voice of an elephant for an eponymous car insurance company in the US, recorded several hours of e-learning modules for a German electronics company, voiced some TV ads for companies in Quatar, as well as several corporate videos for Belgian and British companies.
The great thing is that the voice does not necessarily age along with the body so my vocal chords are in top shape. Just as well with two expensive children about to go to University.
We hear you do accents! Tell us more.
Yes, I've just got a natural ear for them and I do lots of different accents and voices - including a Cardiff twang that I picked up on the streets of Splott! Neil Kinnock once saw me in a play as a Welshman and he was completely fooled. He thought I was one of the boyos.
How do your fans react when they meet you in person?
I don't believe I have fans but I have often seen the disappointment on some ladies' faces when they see me in the flesh. The voice can be quite seductive, not always matched by the rest of the person. What is great, though, is the job satisfaction in doing what I do. I get lots of positive feedback from clients. On a day when I've done perhaps 3 or 4 jobs, and each time the client has been happy and said so, it's very rewarding. Some people are often in a job for years and never have been thanked.
What has been your favourite gig to date?
For a couple of years in the '90s, I was a freelance announcer and news reader at BBC World Service radio. Every time I opened the fader and said, "Three hours, Greenwich Mean time. The News. Read by Richard Wells", knowing that tens of millions of people were listening around the globe, it was quite thrilling. Just as well because the pay was terrible!
Any closing words to our alumni community?
Perhaps some words for the younger ones. Your formal education should only be the beginning. Spend your working life doing something you are really good at, don't be afraid to change direction and keep on learning. I think it was Mahatma Ghandi who said: "Live as if you may die tomorrow, learn as if you will live forever"