Being Gerry Adams: Belfast-based actor Conor Grimes provided the voice of the Sinn Fein leader during the 1988-94 broadcast restrictions

Grimes tells Donald MacInnes about his strange taste of fame

In the wake of the 1987 Enniskillen bombing, when 11 people were killed by the IRA, public revulsion granted Margaret Thatcher sufficient political leeway to instigate a policy that today seems nonsensical. Home Secretary Douglas Hurd announced that the voices of anyone believed to be advocating paramilitary action during on-air interviews would be muted. The Troubles were awash with tit-for-tat killings between Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, with slanging matches conducted via the broadcast media. Deciding against subtitles, broadcasters got around the ban by dubbing actors' voices on to the footage.

As one might expect, there was suddenly more work for Northern Ireland's theatrical community. One who benefited was Conor Grimes, who ended up providing the voice of Gerry Adams for six years. With the Sinn Fein leader currently back in the headlines, following his arrest and then release in connection with the IRA murder of Jean McConville, Grimes recalls the day that reality and showbiz collided.

Grimes was sitting in the park, reading a script, when a voice that television and radio audiences had not heard for several years piped up. "Well, Conor. What's it like being me?" It was Adams. "I told him it was pretty weird 'being him'," Grimes recalls. "He wished me good luck and that was that."

Grimes had left Ireland as a teenager to study at London's National Youth Theatre, where his contemporaries included Daniel Craig and Tom Hollander. When he moved back home to look for work in Belfast, he could never have guessed that the Troubles would provide him with perhaps the role of a lifetime.

One day, Grimes received a call from his agent, telling him to report to the BBC's Belfast newsroom, where the corporation's Ireland correspondent, Denis Murray, explained what was required. The first challenge was achieving an approximation of Adams's west Belfast brogue. "Gerry has a lot of teeth," says Grimes, 45. "To do him properly, you had to keep your top lip still; just move your jaw. I had a TV in front of me showing him talking and had to synchronise my voice with his. I was really nervous."

Read more: Gerry Adams receives 'credible' death threat
McConville's son claims Adams warned of 'backlash'
Gerry Adams slams ‘malicious and sinister’ arrest
Adams may be charged in connection with 1972 murder

Stagefright notwithstanding, Grimes was soon enjoying a curious facsimile of fame, being heard regularly on national news bulletins as the public voice of Sinn Fein's talismanic leader. However, an incident in 1991 left him struggling to deliver his "lines".

"The UVF shot these lads in Cappagh and one of the dead was in my class at school. The BBC interviewed Adams and doing the voiceover was a struggle. I was choking up. I remember Denis Murray shouting at me: 'No emotion. It's a newsroom. You're not on a stage!'"

While providing the voice for Adams may seem risky during a period described by the actor as "bananas", Grimes never felt at risk. "There is a real distinction made between combatants and non-combatants," he explains. "I didn't need to check under my car for bombs. We were pretty blasé. It was even quite funny, sometimes. I could be sitting in the pub and the news would be on TV with my voice coming out of Gerry's mouth! I was a young actor hustling for work, remember. I even started wearing a pager, so I could be reached any time. They might use whoever was most available, so I gave my number to every journalist in town. Sometimes my pager would go off in the pub and I'd have to say, 'Sorry lads. Got to dash.' Like Superman!"

These days, 20 years on from his last voiceover, Grimes is a successful playwright, TV presenter and comedian, but has no doubts about the highlight of his stint as the voice of Sinn Fein. "When Gerry Adams announced the ceasefire in 1994," he says, "it was my voice that was heard."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own