Meet voice-over artist Jo Pickard, who records from home studio on a North Yorkshire potato farm

Jo Pickard is a presenter and voice-over artist working from a home studio on a farm in North Yorkshire. She speaks to Laura Reid about her career to date and current projects.

Jo Pickard spends much of her time these days in the home studio built by her husband on a farm in the picturesque North Yorkshire village of Nunnington.

She’s tight-lipped about what she’s working on at the minute - non-disclosure agreements mean she has to be - but she reveals with an excited smile that she has two projects coming out for Netflix by the end of the year and when we finish speaking, she’s joining a meeting about an animation over in the US. That’s not to mention the three auditions she has had that morning.

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The presenter and voice-over artist, it’s fair to say, didn’t quite envisage living and working just a stone’s throw from where she grew up in Gillamoor, a village she left in her teens as she chased her dream of becoming an actor.

Jo Pickard, who records voice-overs from her home studio on a farm in North Yorkshire.Jo Pickard, who records voice-overs from her home studio on a farm in North Yorkshire.
Jo Pickard, who records voice-overs from her home studio on a farm in North Yorkshire.

But after travelling the world with her career, she is settled back in her home region, with her husband and dog, and a growing amount of voice-over work to add to her name.

“I’ve done voice-over bits and pieces all my career but just little bits,” Jo says. “When the pandemic hit, I lost almost all my work and that gave me an opportunity to refocus, rebrand and change my business. I feel like the pandemic was very hard in many ways but also worked well for me professionally because it allowed me to focus on an area I wanted to build on.”

Jo’s career began more than 20 years ago with acting parts for film and television. She went on to present and commentate at both the London and Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games and has interviewed some of the best chefs and sportspeople in the world.

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Personal highlights include presenting at Chris Evans’ annual music and motoring event CarFest and also at the Volvo Ocean Race, a yacht race around the world. The stand out, though, was London 2012, a gig she says cemented her presenting career. “Athletes would finish and get their medal and the first thing they did was come to the stage where we were for a chat,” Jo recalls. “It was the best summer of my life.

“The Paralympics had the most electric, vibrant, amazing atmosphere. I feel like I was inspired by every single person I interviewed at the Paralympics, more than anyone I’ve interviewed before or since. There are people who have been through so many different challenges in their life and they’ve found a way to overcome them and skyrocket into sporting stardom. That achievement is so incredible and Their attitudes were so inspirational.”

As someone who also presented at the live football matches of England’s Lionesses, Jo says she was beaming at the team’s recent Women’s Euro 2022 victory. Once she found out the result, that is. She was flying at the time and landed at Malaga airport to a string of messages from husband Stephen filling her in. “I burst into tears and said ‘yes they’ve done it’ and everyone in the queue at passport control started celebrating,” she says.

At one time, Jo would spend almost 90 per cent of her time on the move, travelling for her work. But when she met Stephen, a Yorkshire potato farmer, she was keen to put down roots, returning to the region where she’d spent her childhood.

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Her earliest years were spent in Kirkbymoorside, where her dad worked in warehousing for an aviation firm and her parents also owned a sports shop. She was little over five when they then took a leap into hospitality, taking over the Royal Oak, a 17th century country inn in Gillamoor.

Jo recalls taking advantage of a captive audience there, performing for customers as they waited for their meals, and trying out a range of accents and voices in the process. “My dream wasn’t to be famous, my dream was to perform. I’ve always had that in me,” she says.

Jo went on to study acting and dance at the University of Central Lancashire and says focusing largely on voice-over work these days has taken her back to her passion for acting. Her home voice-over studio has also given her more flexibility - and has meant being able to spend more time with Stephen. “I went away on a job in 2019, came back and Stephen had built me a voice-over studio,” Jo says.

“I’ve decked it out and as I’ve gone, I’ve invested in it and upgraded the equipment and I just love it. It’s the best thing to be able to create different characters no matter what that’s for, get a script and know everyday is different. I could be doing gaming or animation, TV narration, commercials.”

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Much of Jo’s work over the past two years has been with Omaze UK’s national campaigns, which raise money for charities across the country through prize draws to win houses. To date, they’ve raised more than £6.75 million and Jo gets emotional when asked what it means to her to be making a difference to the organisations and the people they support. “It’s very overwhelming. I feel like I’ve always had an ability within me to give more, do more, help more.

“I’ve really loved my career so far and I’ve been so grateful for everything that’s happened but I’ve always felt like there’s been something missing and I think Omaze has given me a platform to be able to help people.”

Speaking of platforms, Jo says she’d like to talk more about Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition, with which she was diagnosed about 18 months ago. She sought medical advice after experiencing symptoms including weight loss, a rapid heartbeat, anxiety, body shakes and a swollen, bulging eye.

“It may or may not ever come back,” she explains. “It’s like a ticking time bomb you kind of have to ignore but also be really mindful that if anything changes health wise, get in there and get treatment sooner rather than later...It’s a very unknown but very debilitating and stressful disease to have, especially in the midst of a storm.

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“The specialist thinks I have had it in smaller doses for a long time…I think because of my career, I’ve got so used to dealing with high levels of stress and pressure that I‘ve been able to live through smaller bouts of Graves’ without realising and I think it’s taken a big storm for it to knock my health.”

Now Jo is out of the storm and is sought after in the voice-over world. She has worked with the likes of Netflix and Channel 4, as well as mentoring women from underrepresented minorities in the industry. As for coming full-circle back to Yorkshire, “I never thought I would move home and the fact I’m here, so settled, so happy, in the village next door to where I’ve been brought up, is lovely,” she says. “I have so many connections and so much history here.”

She adds: “I look now at all of the opportunities and ability people have in the creative industries to be able to stay in Yorkshire, perform in Yorkshire, work as a director, an actor, a designer...You don’t need to leave and I think if I was at the beginning of my career now, I wouldn’t be going anywhere. Why would I? Why would I want to leave Yorkshire? But I think I am grateful for my own progression and development that I did.”