The joy of the surprise



In these strange Covid times where parties are out of the question, I am increasingly being commissioned to make tribute-style Spoken Portraits as a surprise birthday or wedding gift. To produce them I interview and gather messages from friends and relatives over the phone or internet. I then weave together their stories and well-wishes into a seamless affectionate entertaining piece about the ‘sitter’ and what’s great about them.

I love hearing about how surprised, touched and delighted people are when they get to listen to their Spoken Portrait on the big day. I like to imagine the recipient sitting with a few close family members out in a garden, yet feeling the warm glow of friendship from perhaps 20 loved ones as their voices come in, one after another. It’s wonderful to be able to create such a meaningful, memorable centrepiece for a celebration that might otherwise feel rather low-key.

I’m always excited to get these kinds of commissions. The process is a journey of discovery as I gradually form a picture of someone I don’t know by speaking to people I’ve never met before. On the way, I’ll hear hilarious and unlikely stories and discover fascinating details of social history.

Sometimes people really surprise me. One man began his message for an 80th birthday girl with a spirited rendition of Happy Birthday. Another gave two readings from Saint Augustin, one in English and the other in Hebrew!

It can be a challenge to find ways to incorporate these marvellously left-field contributions. But they always make the feature richer and more colourful. As one recipient put it, what’s so lovely about a tribute-style Spoken Portrait is that it is as much about the person’s friends as it is about they themselves. And in these days of lockdowns and social isolation, how much more we crave their company and love.

You can find out more about our Spoken Portraits and listen to clips here.