It’s 12.30pm, and Justin Fletcher has just bleated down the phone at me. He’s demonstrating how, seven years ago, he won the part of Shaun the Sheep’s voice in an audition.
“I had to pretend that Shaun had just been cut down by a bad tackle during a game of football,” he explains, “and I had to make it sound like he was saying ‘oh, referee!’ in a bleat!”
To be honest, it’s pretty convincing, and – after Justin goes on to voice Shaun as he’s dragged across a field by a runaway lawnmower – you can see why he got the part.
The accolade of being the voice of such a well-known character is just one of Justin’s many achievements; in fact, he has created, written and lent his talents to so many parts that he admits to occasionally having to visit Wikipedia to remind himself of everything he’s done. But he’s not done yet: he is always creating new characters, searching for the next venture, so much so that he keeps a notepad by his bedside so he can jot ideas down as he’s drifting off to sleep.
Right now, though, Justin is promoting ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’, which came out on 6th February, and has already received rave reviews (film critic Mark Kermode gave it four out of five stars and gushed about how it provides “thrills and spills aplenty even while smothering us in cuddles”). He’s also promoting his ‘Justin & Friends’ tour, which sees him portraying the characters which children and parents alike know and love.
Justin is used to having his hands full, which begs the question: where does he get all his energy?
“I just love what I do,” he laughs. “It gives me a real buzz, and whenever I do a new show or a new programme I ride that energy, and feed off the adrenaline. I feel very honoured about what I’m doing.”
That’s not to say Justin doesn’t enjoy the occasional moment or two to himself; his favourite pastimes include country walks and fishing. I ask whether he finds it difficult to shake off the mantle of children’s entertainer – especially when he might just want to go out and visit a bar or five.
“It’s amazing what a baseball cap can do! I can walk down the street and enjoy being relatively anonymous. But sometimes people recognise me, and they give me such amazing feedback. Someone will tell me that their disabled child spoke for the first time after watching ‘Something Special’. That’s just remarkable.”
So, back to the bleats: what’s the secret to conveying emotion when playing the role of a sheep? “It’s all about subtility,” explains Justin, “not vocalising too much. Aardman are at the top of their game, and they’ll create a scene and we’ll do 14 to 15 takes until it’s just right. It’s a wonderful film: there’s a great mixture of laugh-out-loud scenes with some really poignant moments.”
Time is running out: Justin has three interviews following mine, and his schedule for the foreseeable future is bursting at the seams. He is a busy man, indeed, and all too aware that he needs to slow down: especially as he is planning a family of his own. But, for now, the lure of the stage is just too much.
“It’d be a shame if I didn’t have children of my own one day,” he laughs, “and I’ve had to keep telling myself over the past year to slow down. It doesn’t seem to be working, though!”
Ben Wakeling is a father of three who lives in Warwickshire. He has written two books on fatherhood (‘Goodbye, Pert Breasts’ and ‘Teething Pains’), as well as publishing a book which raises money for charity: ‘How I Came To Hold You’, which raises money for Sands. He also blogs at the award-winning ‘Goodbye, Pert Breasts: The Diary of a Newborn Dad’. When he’s not writing, you can usually find him talking rubbish on Twitter.