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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Voice of Apple's Siri says experience speaks volumes

'It’s not my voice that means I get asked to moderate, but 30-plus years of broadcast journalism,' says John Briggs

John Briggs is the English voice of Apple’s Siri. Mandy Cheng / AFP
John Briggs is the English voice of Apple’s Siri. Mandy Cheng / AFP

Jon Briggs possesses one of the most familiar voices in the world.

As Daniel, the English male voice of Apple assistant Siri, he has answered the questions asked of millions of iPhones and other Apple products. UK-based, but a regular UAE visitor, he recently talked careers with young voiceover (VO) artists in Dubai. Here he tells The National about his career.

Jon Briggs, is an English television and radio presenter
Jon Briggs

What brought you to Dubai besides giving young talent an insight into your work?

I’ve been coming to UAE since 1994. I came this time to work as ‘the voice’ on the Seatrade Maritime Awards. I drop in sometimes to Virgin and Dubai 92 to say hi, and see what I can do for Ana Schofield and her School of Little Voice. I’m a huge fan, not simply because of the VOs [voiceovers] but because it teaches kids the value of understanding your voice and how it controls your whole world.

What led to you becoming the English voice of Siri?

The system was licensed by Apple ‘off the shelf’. I had recorded it several years earlier for another company in the US who then offered these synthesised voices to whoever wishes to licence them. The voice was given the nickname ‘Daniel’ and incorporated into Siri along with three other voices at launch. Mine was the only male at that time. The recording is made up of some 3,000 sentences, designed by speech engineers to give the phonemes they can cut up and stick back together as words, having built the algorithms that create words from the sounds they have procured.

How does it feel to have been on millions of devices?

I am deeply chuffed, mostly because Siri helps people - in particular those who may be sight impaired and not able to enjoy the benefits of the connected world as fully as you or I can. I’ve always been a technology fan and an early adopter. Technology is a miraculous enabler and, most of the time, demonstrates the best side of humanity; our immense skill to be creative and design things that make the planet a better place.

Has Siri led to other career opportunities?

I was a well recognised voice long before I voiced Daniel; so it probably closes as many doors as it opens as Apple isn’t the only assistant/product out there and if associated with one manufacturer, others will most likely not want you to work for them. Microsoft turned me down for projects for just that reason. I’ve voiced adverts for everything from The Times newspaper to Duracell batteries. I was station voice of the most listened to national radio station in Europe – BBC Radio 2 - for 12 years, and the voice of the BBC’s long running quiz show The Weakest Link for 13 years. I’ve been around a while.

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Does that voice put you in demand for moderating/hosting events?

It’s not my voice that means I get asked to moderate, but 30-plus years of broadcast journalism; I was trained by the BBC – one of the best training grounds in the world – and interviewing is one of my skills. Conference moderation is live journalism on stage. I’m lucky that I’ve travelled the world and assisted many Fortune 500 companies to create memorable events that can often change the course of their business. I started in radio aged 16 and was presenting a networked UK-wide breakfast show for the BBC when I was 25, then started my artists agency, Excellent Talent, in 1996.

Do you often give career advice to aspiring VO talent?

It’s part of the job – especially as an agent. If everyone knew how to do it straight off then life would be very simple. The industry needs new professionals coming in on the bottom rung all the time; to survive. However, I will never fib to an artist. If their demo is poor, I tell them. They need to know, in case they damage their chances of progression further, by continuing to try to sell themselves using poor material.

Has talent your agency represents featured on adverts broadcast in the UAE?

Our voices work on global campaigns all the time, so I can guarantee you’ve heard them. One of our artists - ITV morning weather presenter Laura Tobin - recently appeared in a great advert for Dubai’s tourist board, filmed on the beach near Burj Al Arab.

Do you feel voiceover work is largely overlooked as a career option?

Voiceover has never really been a career option. Very few performers make their income solely from VO. I’m not in the business of recruiting people to the profession as it’s not something that everyone can do. While most of us have the ability to read aloud, only a small percentage has the emotional and technical skills to be a VO. Those people told they have a nice voice so should do voiceover work need to find out what the profession is all about. It’s not as simple as reading from a script. I’ve never broadcast that I was the only male voice to launch Siri, but it would be daft, if someone asks, to pretend otherwise. Your voice is who you are, as identifiable as a fingerprint, which is why more financial firms are using voice recognition to identify people when dealing with their accounts.