Waking Up The Neighbours
More magazine writer Gemma Peplow catches up with her childhood pal, Amy Voce, a popular presenter on radio station Gem 106
It's 6am on a Wednesday and, while most of us are still tucked up under the duvet, Gem 106 breakfast show presenter Amy Voce has already been up for nearly two hours. As one half (she would jokingly argue the better half) of Sam and Amy, one of the biggest radio shows in the East Midlands, hers is the voice that about 407,000 people wake up to every morning.
It's an early start - she drives over to the station's headquarters in Nottingham each morning from Leicester, so the alarm goes off at 4.30am - but off-days aren't really allowed when your job is to be cheerier than a heavily- Beroccad One Direction fan, no matter how little sleep you've had.
After half an hour's prep with co-presenter Sam, sidekick 'Dangerous Dave' and show producer Simon, the show begins and they're live on air.
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It's at this point I'll mention it's a bit strange for me, writing about Amy. She's been my best friend since we were three.
Nursery, primary school, secondary school and college; we did all that together.
We had joint birthday parties at Houghton village hall, shared our first nights out drinking vodka and Red Bull at Wetherspoon's in Oadby and went on our first holiday sans parents together, to Malia, when we were 17. We went to dance lessons every Saturday as kids and worked together, at my mum's sandwich shop and later on the phones for Next Directory.
We even lived together in Nottingham for a bit, while I was studying for the journalism qualification that brought me to the Mercury.
So I don't see her as Amy Voce from Sam and Amy, the girl whom avid listeners would argue is a bit of a celebrity here in the East Mids. I see her as Amy - or Toad, as me and our other best mate, Jo, like to call her - my loud friend who likes to talk a lot, is addicted to social networking and usually has to go to bed early.
But on this particular Wednesday, I'm joining her in the studio as an interviewer, to see professional Toad in action.
Today, they're talking about a recent DIY disaster (she's just bought her first house), running an interview with Ronan Keating and presenting Dangerous Dave with a box of fudge bearing his face, courtesy of Twinlakes, in Melton, where he recently set a world record for spending more than 24 hours on the log flume.
Doesn't sound like a bad day's work, does it?
It might seem like a pretty cushty job - and Amy's the first to admit how much fun she has at work - but there's a bit more to it than simply turning up and chatting for four hours.
Each song, link, advert, phone call and feature = Dave's daily Birthday Song and the show's Small Talk competition, for example - is planned down to the minute.
They all know each other so well they know when to cut in, when to laugh, when to stay silent. And it's all real, too. Sam and Amy have known each other for about 10 years - they met when Amy first started out in radio, working in promotions for another local station - and they genuinely are as close as they come across on air.
"I suppose it's like a brother and sister relationship, although we probably share a bit more than most brothers and sisters, we tell each other a lot," says Amy.
"Sam's a real gossip so he's a bit like a girl friend.
"We've been through a lot together and we always know each other's moods, we are really close. We even recently had to share a bed together when we spent a week doing the show from a barge. Nothing happened, though - not that he didn't try."
This is a joke, we should probably add. Sam is happily married - Amy was at the wedding and is good friends with his wife, Kathryn - and and has a three-year-old daughter, Evie.
"We do socialise out of work," Amy says. "If I'm ever doing anything in Nottingham I'll stay at his house. I'm really good friends with Kathryn. I prefer her, she's a lot funnier than Sam. We're actually climbing Snowdon together soon.
"Sam's always trying to set me up with his friends and they're always entirely inappropriate. I don't really trust his judgement.
"I dated a guy recently and he asked me if he had to get Sam's approval, which I thought was quite funny. And the answer is yes, by the way."Â
The relationship between Amy and Sam is probably the reason the show is so popular; on-air chemistry is hard to fake. It's also the reason the show runs so smoothly.
"The links when we talk between songs are mainly down to planning and experience," Amy says. "Sam might tell me that he's got a story but I won't know what it is until we're on the air, and vice versa.
"We've worked together so long we know how to react. Sam didn't know my DIY story, for example. I'll prep for how I'm going to deliver it and he pre-empts how he might react to different consequences.
"Dave's our sidekick, who we generally abuse. Sam and I will take the mickey out of each other, but when Dave's involved, we'll gang up on him.
"We have a laugh and all the team are really good fun. We're quite lucky with our station, I think, because we get to have a lot of input."
So yes, you couldn't really have much more fun at work, unless, maybe, you were a comedy reviewer. Or a ride tester at Alton Towers.
But there are those early mornings to cope with.
"It's not pleasant, but in a weird way I do like the drive in and like the feeling of being up before everyone else. Come the afternoon, I feel like a zombie, though. It's a bit like having a permanent hangover. You just have to learn how to manage it and know when to rest and not be busy."
Early mornings mean early nights, though, which isn't always good when your mates are as fun as we are.
"It does affect my social life in the week, but I try to make up for that at weekends. I do have to start getting ready for bed at 9.30pm, to be in bed for 10pm, otherwise I get a bit panicky. Sometimes my mates will go out and have a good time and I'll just have to hear about it the next day, but I don't really feel like I miss out that much."
Once Amy's had her (much-needed) beauty sleep, she's up and in the office for 5.30am. There's half an hour to pick out things to talk about from that day's papers, run through the order of the show and have a cup of tea.
"We have benchmarks throughout the show: 6.05am is a run-through of the papers, 6.35am is my Showbiz Sleaze slot, which is gossip about celebrities; 7.35am is Dave's Birthday Song; 8.20am is Small Talk and 8.50am is Showbiz Sleaze again. The rest of the links are adapted to our stories and interviews or calls.
"We think about things that are going on in my life and Sam's life, and sometimes Dave will tell stories, too."
It means they have to dig into their private lives and be comfortable sharing their stories - whether happy, sad, funny or embarrassing - live on air.
Listeners will know all about Amy's house move, her beloved but very naughty nieces and nephews and the holidays we've been on to Morocco and Spain this year. She likes a good holiday, does Amy.
They will also know she's single at the minute, mainly due to Sam's attempts to help find her romance using the power of the airwaves.
"It can be great, I don't mind sharing," she says. "But sometimes, it's not always good things we have to talk about. My whole last relationship was followed on air from the beginning, so when it ended I had to announce it because I'd spoken about him so much. I'd told stories about us meeting, the things we'd done together, moving in together and it would have been strange to have just suddenly stopped.
"I waited a while before I announced it and I did feel really upset. I didn't like having to do it but it was sort of unavoidable. You've got to put your life out there and you know that when you sign up to do a job like this; you don't really have a choice.
"It's maybe taught me to be a bit more cautious in the future but if I get another boyfriend I'll still have to talk about it. Maybe next time I'll wait until we're really serious."
The hardest thing, though, was when Amy's dad, Neil, died in February 2009, aged 63. He had been fighting prostate cancer for almost three years and it was a fight her listeners shared.
Before his death, Amy used the power of the airwaves to persuade a host of famous faces and good-looking men from across the East Midlands to pose in the nude for a fund-raising calendar in aid of the national Prostate Cancer Charity. Leicester City ambassador Alan Birchenall, Gladiator Spartan and players from Leicestershire County Cricket Club were among those involved, helping to collect about £17,000.
When Neil died, it was Sam who broke the news to listeners.
"I had a few weeks off and it was Sam who had to talk about it first," says Amy. "That was quite hard for him."Â
The support from listeners was one of the things that helped Amy get though the hardest period of her life.
"It was hard going back to work, but listeners were amazing," she says.
"I got sent loads of cards and, although it was difficult going back because you have to be cheery on the show, in some ways it was easy because everyone was just so lovely about it. It made it easy for me to cope with on air.
"I'd actually really like to say thank you to all the listeners for the support they showed me then, if that's okay?"Â
Sharing her life with the East Midlands has become the norm now, and Amy wouldn't have it any other way. She doesn't really get recognised very often, she says, but it does happen occasionally and it can feel a bit strange, people knowing about you when you don't have a clue who they are.
"It's very, very rare that someone will know who I am. Why would they, really? I'm on the radio.
"I suppose I kind of don't realise how many people are listening so it's always a pleasant surprise that they do.
"It's nice when people come and say hello and it's nice to meet people.
"There was one man, though, who came up to me in a bar and was quite excited to see me. He showed me his phone and had my picture as his screensaver.
"He was a really nice guy but it was a bit strange for me."
When hundreds of thousands of people hear your voice every morning, hear all about what's going on in your life, hear you interviewing glamorous celebrities, it kind of goes with the territory.
Those glamorous celebrities include Adele, Girls Aloud, Gary Barlow, Katherine Jenkins and Michael Parkinson, to name a few.
"The best was The Fonz, though, he came in to the studio and sat in for the whole show. He was the best guest we've ever had, an absolute delight and had some really inspiring stories," she says.
"Recently, we got to meet (Team GB gymnast) Sam Oldham, who brought in his bronze medal. And I've interviewed heroes such as Ricky Gervais, Gary Barlow... and Elmo.
"The most interesting ones, though, are people like Sam and (Rutland adventurer) Sarah Outen. She was one of my favourite guests because she was just fascinating.
"We introduced David Cameron and Nick Clegg at a question and answer session. That was quite nerve-wracking but an honour at the same time.
"Will Young was very entertaining, and I got to meet Kelly Jones, who I've been in love with my entire life.
"A lot of interviews are over an ISDN line but we also get people coming on to the show, which makes for a much better interview. For example, we had a band called Lawson in, and we went out with them the night before. That made the interview much more enjoyable the next day.
"Michael Parkinson made me quite nervous, but he was a bit of an anti-climax, actually; just a bit moody and not as friendly as I expected.
"Marti Pellow was the worst, he was quite rude and uncooperative."
But, difficult Wet Wet Wet singers and early morning alarm calls aside, it's a pretty sweet way to earn a living.
"Yeah, it really is. Without sounding cheesy, it doesn't ever feel like work, really. I love it."
Five Things You Probably Didn't Know About Amy
1. Amy was obsessed with the Spice Girls, particularly Geri Halliwell. She used to call herself Trixie Firecracker, after Geri's alter-ego in the Say You'll Be There video.
2. Amy won the class cup at Houghton Primary School in year five. A year after me, though.
3. I got her a Saturday job at my mum's sandwich shop, Picnics, when we were 16. She wasn't very good and only really had one task: making hummus sandwiches - three with salad and four without - for a regular order each week.
4. We once had to break into a hotel after finding ourselves locked out at 4am, in the middle of winter... Um, it's probably best to leave that one there.
5. She has a massive crush on radio co-host Sam.