The National Express: Moving stories on the buses

With 17 million people travelling on National Express coaches every year, it's become a national institution

“Take the National Express when your life’s in a mess, it’ll make you smile,” goes “National Express”, the 1999 Divine Comedy hit single about the UK’s original cross-country bus company founded in 1972. “All human life is here, from the feeble old dear to the screaming child,” the lyrics continue. And it’s true: this Christmas, National Express will be ferrying (well, bussing) people across the country and it is the only national travel operator running services on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

That’s not to mention the 17 million people travelling on the National Express each year and its sister company, The Kings Ferry commuter services. The services are proving more popular than ever this year, with two new routes being launched in North Somerset on top of the existing 36 commuter services between Kent and London. The company’s customers are a  microcosm of British society. But what are the stories behind the faces you see sat across the aisle from you?

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a singer-songwriter called Bruno after I boarded a National Express bus at Heathrow airport shortly after midnight. While getting the bus is a rare occurrence for me, Bruno, who splits his music career between London and Newquay, has been using the National Express every week for about two years. “It can be an adventure from time to time, whether the bus is late showing up, your driver’s mood dictates your trip, you spot a fellow regular traveller on your bus or you sit next to a very friendly stranger who you might chat to the whole way to kill time.”

And chat we did, about anything and everything while a suited and booted auditor, on his way to Plymouth to spring a surprise visit on a store in the morning, snored next to me. While Bruno admits he is always impatient to arrive at his destination and frustrated with what he describes as “a lack of focus on the comfort of us long-distance travellers”, it’s the company’s reputation that keeps him coming back. “It’s one of the UK’s most iconic and economical means of travel for everyday people. The pride and the professionalism of the National Express always influences me. I think it’s an invaluable British institution.”

But for travellers such as Tymn, who starts his journey with a walk along the sleepy Weymouth harbour to a row-boat that takes him and his luggage across the river to the bus stop, the National Express is his only means of travel to the capital – and the journey really is as good as the destination. “Travelling up to London is like the pull of a huge magnet. The pulse raises in anticipation. It is an ‘experience’, not an ordeal,” says Tymn, who welcomes the calm of the coach since he no longer enjoys driving and finds the train too expensive and overcrowded, which he never experiences on the bus. “The coach gives you a stress-free view of both town and countryside. Coming back, I love being driven down Knightsbridge in my elevated ‘room with a view’, eye-balling all the swanky stores as we head west into the sunset.”

Convenience probably isn’t a word that many people associate with bus travel but for Tymn, it’s the point-to-point service and minimal cost that makes the National Express unbeatable. “Getting off at Hammersmith is exactly how a travel interchange should work. I can cross the road from the coach stop and be straight on to the London Underground and often be in north London before the coach has arrived at Victoria.”

Boarding the National Express for sightseeing and commuting purposes is one thing, but when money is tight, and you’re smitten with someone living 153 miles away from you, it can save your love life. “With me living in London on a graduate salary and Dan in Cardiff, bus travel is really the only affordable means of seeing each other as much as we do,” says Jenny, who met her boyfriend, Dan, on a night out in the Welsh capital shortly before graduating from Cardiff University and moving to London.

“I simply can’t afford to pay for expensive train tickets or run a car. I’d rather put up with coach delays and all the screaming babies in the world in exchange for a cheap fare.” The couple try to see each other every two to three weeks and take it in turns to travel between the two cities. “Making so many journeys is often noticed by National Express, too,” Dan says. “A recent promotion sees a traveller getting a free journey when they make a journey 10 times. Since I’m making the journeys anyway, that’s a nice bonus.”

It's the affordability of National Express that is another big grab for Celia, another twenty-something, who regularly travels by bus between Exeter and London. “Travelling by National Express means I have more money to spend on the weekends on dinners and drinks with my friends,” Celia says. “I’m not fussed about the time it takes to travel on the bus. For half the price of train travel, I don’t mind it taking double the time.”

The subject of time is an interesting one considering that our fast-paced, 24/7 society means that people are often impatient for time to pass, especially when it comes to travelling from A to Z. But the next time you find yourself glued to your smartphone on the way to work or catch yourself eye-balling the barista for your morning wake-up call or screaming internally because your train is severely delayed, perhaps consider these final lyrics: “Don’t just sit there feeling stressed, take a trip on the National Express.”

newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?