159 pro VO's & Celebs created an amazing audiobook of Alice in Wonderland for NHS in first lockdown.
Updated: Feb 6
The Wonderland Challenge
What did you do during the first lockdown? It seems like a lifetime ago now.
Right at the beginning of lockdown, I had an idea to create an online social hub where people could find important info about the pandemic and have some fun socialising. So I bought the domain 'isomeet.co.uk' (I've taken it down now!) and started a Wix website. The only problem was that I inadvertently made it the most boring website in the world!
The most boring website in the world!
I started to think about how I could get a bit of traffic without spending a fortune (or in fact, anything). I wanted to create a project that would be fun, give something to the NHS charities (as the health system was really suffering) and that would involve a lot of creative talent.
The 'Wonderland Challenge' was born. I had a silly idea to ask the voice over community to record a minute each of Alice in Wonderland with each contributor donating some money to the NHS Charities.
At the time I was in the early stages of a stage 3 melanoma and had started to have monthly immunotherapy sessions at the wonderful Royal Marsden cancer hospital in West London.
So I split the book up into 159 sections and got the word out.
I was shocked at the amazing response.
Not sure how she found out but I was contacted by the wonderful British actress Juliet Stevenson, asking if she could get involved. Well hello, as if I was going to say no! She was so generous, she asked if I wanted any more names and that her address book was open. So Dame Harriet Walter and John Goodman got involved. Before long I had 13 high profile names involved including Sir Michael Palin (one of my comedy heroes), Griff Rhys Jones, Ruth Jones, Phyllis Logan, Kevin McNally, Christopher Biggins amongst others.
Within days, I had all the slots filled. I was thrilled with people’s generosity.
A truly life-affirming project
One of the best things for me about the whole project was waking up every morning opening the wonderful contributions, reading the messages of support and listening to the wonderful recordings. On more than one occasion, there were tears! (A few even came out whilst writing/recording this!) I know I’m a right old softie underneath. Not only did the readers give their time with their wonderful recordings but they also agreed to do some promos to help promote the project.
If you are wondering why they are all saying 165 readers rather than 159....well I miss counted, OK!!
I had a plan to release the whole thing as an audiobook but knew that Audible (and their production arm ACX) have very stringent quality control thresholds. That was fine for the Pro VO's with a fab home studio, great mics and editing skills. They were able to deliver gorgeous audio nuggets of gold, all trimmed and polished and sounding amazing. With the celebs, however, it was a different story. Most were recorded on a mobile in a space that sounded like the Albert Hall! However, I would much rather have had their recordings, no matter what the sound quality, than not.
"Brad‘s generosity and enthusiasm for the Wonderland Challenge spilled over and burst into my little lockdown home. He linked a group of us actors together and a very jolly time was had by all" Dame Harriet Walter
So once I had all the recordings, it was time to get them all sounding vaguely similar. It took a good few days to bring all the levels up, compress and generally fiddle with them until I had something vaguely usable.
My next great idea (that in retrospect was not so great!) was to release the book five readers at a time on social media. This would take over a month and give time for the momentum to build and the donations to come rolling in. It would allow me to post every day on all social media platforms. I even had an offer of help from Kate Morley PR, to send out some press releases to the media.
There were two problems with this cunning plan. The first was that I started releasing about three weeks after Captain Tom. For those of you not from the UK, Captain Tom was a 99 year old war veteran, who decided to raise money by walking lengths of his garden. He captured the nations hearts and went on to raise over £32 million for NHS charities and receive a knighthood from the queen. So the majority of people who wanted to give to NHS charities had already done so.
The second unforeseen problem was 'Cummingsgate'! The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson's 'special advisor', Dominic Cummings, decided that day to break his own Covid rules and drive the length of the country (over 250 miles) to the now notorious Barnard Castle. When asked what his excuse was, he ridiculously said that he went for an eye test. The excuse was so ridiculous that one English brewery (Brewdog) brought out a beer in his honour called 'Barnard Castle Eye Test!'
The upshot of all this was that the great British public decided that enough was enough and everyone stopped donating to NHS charities! Donations for the Wonderland project stopped that day. Hey Ho. In total, we raised just over £4000, the majority of which came from the readers, so thanks so much for that. The campaign is still open here, if you want to donate.
After the whole book had been released online, I looked into releasing it on Audible. Unfortunately, I would have had to spend quite a bit to re-master and get it ready for release. I decided to release the book via a podcast platform called Awesound.
Many times I have been asked which of the recordings was my favourite. I really love them all but several stood out including this sublime read by actor Henry Goodman:
Many of the VOs also asked if I was going to do 'Alice Through The Looking Glass' as the follow-up. I thought long and hard about this. In the end, I decided against it. The 'Wonderland Challenge' turned out to be a wonderful life-affirming project 'of its time'. It took almost 2 months to get together but it captured everyone's imagination at the time and was a joy to do. If I tried to recreate that, I think it would have felt like hard work and I don't think we would have got so many eager volunteers and certainly not so many celebs.
"Well done Brad. A virtuous endeavour! x" Griff Rhys Jones
All in all, I am very proud to have produced this wonderful book and urge you to have a listen. The first chapter is available to listen to free here. And yes, that's me introducing and starting the narration.
Then if you want to purchase the book, I have created an exclusive blog discount code. Follow this link and enter the code 'wonderface70' at checkout to get the book for £5.99 instead of the RRP of £19.99
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the participants and everyone who helped me complete this wonderful project.
If you liked this blog, you'll like my next one: 'Spanish Hotel Disaster - A True Story. You can read the incredible but true story here: https://www.bradshawvoice.com/post/spanishhoteldisaster
If you enjoyed this project, please give it a like, post a comment and share .
It really does make a difference.
To use my voice on your next project go to www.bradshawvoice.com.
or contact my voice agent,
Katie Matthews @ iCanTalk Ltd:
+44 (0)1858 466749