Winning a national competition is always going to be a game-changer for a rising talent, and it was no different for Lee Ridley aka Lost Voice Guy after his glorious triumph in 2018’s Britain’s Got Talent. He’s likely to have enough material from the things that have happened in his life after appearing on that ITV show to keep him in comedy tours for years to come.
“This tour, Cerebral LOL-sy, is a look back at all the random stuff that’s happened since then. And that includes dancing with Paul from The Chuckle Brothers at the Royal Variety Performance after-show party: definitely a career highlight! There are plenty of other stories; for example, I regularly get called ‘him off The X Factor’ by people in the street. Obviously, I have a great singing voice! People always seem to get my name wrong as well. The main reason that I chose a stage name was so I would stand out from the crowd of all the other new comedians. I thought it would make me more memorable when I was starting out. But you’d be surprised at the many variations of that name that I have been called, from No Voice Boy, to Misplaced Voice Man, to The Guy With No Voice.”
Despite having a solid career in comedy behind him when he entered Britain’s Got Talent (he performed his first gig six years earlier), Lee’s life has altered just like that of any other talent show victor. “Obviously, I’m a lot richer for a start, but please don’t tell the Department Of Work And Pensions! Seriously though, winning the show has changed my life in so many ways. I’m busier than ever: I’ve been on a nationwide tour, I have written a book called I’m Only In It For The Parking. The general public have been so supportive and I’m always getting stopped for selfies. I’m very grateful for all the kind words I’ve received. People are engaging with me a lot more than they would have in the past, and for the first time, some will be comfortable talking to a disabled person. I’m used to being stared at, but it’s nice to be stared at for positive reasons for a change.”
Another perk from his success is that he even landed his own festive special, Christmas Comedy Club With Lost Voice Guy on ITV, in which he hosted a night of stand-up and chat with the starry likes of Bill Bailey, Rosie Jones and Omid Djalili. “It was such a fun thing to make,” Lee recalls. “I’ve always loved Christmas and spreading that festive cheer, so this seemed like the ideal way to do it. I’ve always dreamed of having my own television show, so this was a massive moment for me. I couldn’t believe it when I found out I got a Christmas Eve slot. I’ve always loved watching television on Christmas Eve so it was amazing to think that now people have done that with my show.”
Now, after a truncated period thanks to the C-word (that’s Covid, of course), Lee is back on the road and keen to get in front of audiences once again. Going on tour can be a tough proposition for most comedians, but when you have cerebral palsy and can only talk through an automated voice on your iPad, then the demands of touring are cranked up a notch. “I can’t wait to be allowed to go out and meet my fans face to face. One of my favourite parts of the last tour was doing the ‘meet and greets’ after the show and meeting some of them in person. After all, I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support. Of course, I’ve missed people laughing at my jokes as well. It’s the best noise in the world. The thing I’m least looking forward to is staying in a different hotel every night. I like my home comforts a little too much, so sometimes I struggle when I’m away. It’s all part of the experience though.”
Talking of that automated voice, fans might notice a slight (well, dramatic) alteration at his shows. Out is the posh-boy voice and in is a Geordie accent. This too has its pros and cons. “I don’t think my current voice really represents where I am from. And it isn’t exactly the voice that i would have had, if I wasn’t disabled. There’s nothing wrong with my current voice, except from the fact that it sounds very posh and like I should be reading the shipping forecast on Radio 4. But creating a Geordie accent isn’t a simple thing to do. Because of the new technology involved, it costs quite a lot to create one, and it’s a long process. So when a company called CereProc, who have lots of experience in creating voices, approached me offering to make me a Geordie accent for my communication device, I jumped at the opportunity. And, of course, most ladies love a Geordie accent. I’ve had the same voice for most of my life, and it’s part of me now, so it’s going to be a big change. My fans are always asking me when I’m going to get a Geordie accent, so I think they’d be quite pleased if I used it in my comedy routines. I do think that swearing in a posh voice is much funnier though.”
Lee has long has his fingers in various pies with a book out in paperback, his Radio 4 sitcom Ability having airing for three series (the fourth series has just been commissioned), and now he’s back to live work: Cerebral LOL-sy follows on from his debut tour which contributed to him being named by listings website Ents24 as the hardest working comedian for that year. “I enjoy doing all three, but I’d say that stand-up is still the thing I love doing the most. You just can’t beat the feeling of getting that instant reaction from the audience after you’ve said something on stage. It’s such a high, and something that I fell in love with during my first ever performance: I’ve been chasing that high ever since. When I’m writing a book or doing something on radio or television, I miss the feeling of getting that reaction when a good joke lands.”
Like many of his peers over the course of the pandemic, Lee tried online gigs but couldn’t quite make stand-up à la Zoom work. “It just isn’t the same. Comedy relies on interaction with the audience, and you just don’t get that when you’re looking into a webcam in your kitchen telling jokes in your boxer shorts. I think the world is going to need some comedy right now.” Thankfully, Lee Ridley, the Lost Voice Guy, is here to get those live audiences laughing once again.