Jamie Bell and why it’s time to talk turkey about accents | Rebecca Nicholson

Calling out an actor for changing his voice seems to miss an obvious truth of the trade

By This Morning’s standards, its interview with Jamie Bell, who stars as Bernie Taupin in the new Elton John biopic, Rocketman, was pretty by the book. The mid-morning show has, after all, featured women who have had sexual encounters with ghosts (more than once), Phillip Schofield testing a nipple clamp, celebrity foot readings and a woman with a phobia of Simon Cowell, so a promotional chat for a film was unlikely to be “weirdest daytime TV moments ever” listicle fodder.

Bell came across well, was enthusiastic about Rocketman and happy to talk about his career. But, as one tabloid pointed out, “viewers [were] left confused by [his] American twang”. Bell, who is from Teesside but has lived in the US for the past 15 or so years, has picked up a bit of an accent by not living in the place he’s from for pretty much half of his life and noticing when people have picked up a bit of an accent is something of a national sport.

One of the most famous accent-incidents of recent years was at the 2007 Brit awards, when Joss Stone appeared on stage to present best British male performer to James Morrison – aah, 2007 – but instead presented the audience with a strange appropriation of some version of an English-American hybrid. It was undeniably odd, and more than a little excruciating, but it became infamous far beyond its worth. “What’s funny is the label cancelled all of the press for the record because of that day,” she said in 2009, revealing just how serious a twang can be.

I’ve interviewed many actors whose accents change with the wind, especially if they are from one place and live in another. Watch a Gillian Anderson interview on US television and then another on a British show: her accent wanders, depending on where she is. It makes sense. Actors are professional mimics and changing is what they do for a living.

A friend once told me that picking up accents is a sign of a musical ear. If that is the case, then I should be a maestro. I’ve now lived in the south of England for exactly as long as I lived in the north and I wish I could say that this notoriously gorgeous north Lincs brogue has remained untouched, but it has softened during the years I’ve been away and swings wildly between emphatically hard vowels and odd southern flourishes.

And really, it just happened. To make it a matter of pride, or otherwise, in one’s roots seems to give it more importance than it deserves. It’s only an accent, after all.

Hayley Carruthers: a victory won on her hands and knees

Hayley Carruthers
Hayley Carruthers: courage of the long-distance runner. Photograph: Ian Stephen/ProSports/REX/Shutterstock

I have developed a daily habit of reading, or lurking on, online running forums. It started with a search for Couch to 5k motivational tips at the beginning of the year, but the stories of people slowly picking their way through the programme, forcing themselves to run when they did not want to, posting pictures of the end of week nine, when they had jogged for 30 minutes without stopping when it had seemed like such an impossibility, became irresistibly cheering.

I finished the app and did my own three-times-30-minutes, with the tales of other people who had pushed themselves resurfacing whenever I was breathless and having doubts.

Now I can’t stop reading about other people’s achievements. The London Marathon is the Christmas Day of inspirational running stories and this year it kept on giving. I loved Big Ben struggling to get under the final barrier. I loved reading about friends of friends on Facebook, who had run their 26 miles for charity and raised hundreds of pounds. And I loved reading about Hayley Carruthers, who collapsed just short of the finish line and had to crawl across it. Even though she did it on her hands and knees, she finished 18th and did it in her personal best, knocking three minutes off it.

Best of all, at 1.30am the next day, she tweeted: “Don’t worry guys! I am a’ok! Back to reality...”, along with a selfie of her in her NHS uniform. She works as a cancer research radiographer. If this isn’t an inspirational story, then I’m hanging up my trainers: she is so tough that she didn’t even think about booking the day off work.

Trisha Yearwood: one of many unsung heroes

Trisha Yearwood with husband Garth Brooks
Trisha Yearwood with husband, Garth Brooks: stand by your woman. Photograph: Rick Diamond/REX/Shutterstock

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, as one of country music’s best-known female voices sang. Now Garth Brooks, one of the genre’s best-known male artists, is joining the chorus.

“I’m married to, I believe, one of the greatest singers on this planet,” he told the BBC, referring to Trisha Yearwood. “I watch her every day work a thousand times harder than me to get a tenth as much as I do out of this business.”

It is a statement that applies to far more than just the music industry and it is admirable that Brooks used his position at the top of the tree to stand up and say it.

Brooks added that country music needed more female voices. A study found that only one-fifth of the top 500 country songs from 2014 to 2018 were by women and that airplay for female country artists has declined over the last two decades.

Given the long and rich female history of the genre, from the infamy of Dolly Parton to Loretta Lynn’s wisecracking real talk to Bobbie Gentry’s soulful evocations of the south, it’s about time that this strange sidelining of female country artists was put into reverse.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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