Today the identities of two TFL employees, whose messages #allontheboard have been appearing on boards all over the Underground for the past three and a half years - and earned them an Instagram following of over half a million followers - were finally revealed as station assistants Jeremy Chopra and Ian Redpath.
The anonymous pair, going by the names N1 and E1, or, together, NE1, began writing short poems of hope on customer information boards originally designed to announce delays, in order to cheer commuters up.
The first poem was inspired by their favourite Craig David lyrics, and fans instantly loved it. Some stopped to take pictures, others simply to read the message and smile. “The fans seemed happy, the board seemed happy and it made us feel happy, so we thought ‘let’s do that again.’”
They set up a social media account that now has a legion of celebrity fans including U2, Ricky Gervais, and Michelle Obama, while Katy Perry and Mumford & Sons have taken selfies with the boards, after travelling by tube specifically to find them.
The story has been turned into a book, All On The Board, which sparkles with warmth. Each page features an illustration of a different poem, categorised into chapters including “Love,” “London,” and “Real Life Heroes.” It opens with an introduction that explains why the identities of ‘Banksys of the Underground’, as they became known, should remain a a secret - so that they could carry on with their day jobs.
It’s clear they are immersed in all things London and have a keen sense of the public’s mood from day to day. From Valentine’s Day alternatives, to invisible illnesses, to celebrations of the NHS, teachers, parents, friends - and even a happy birthday message to the Jubilee Line - they seem to know just what to say, at the precise moment that people need to hear it.
But despite the light-hearted origins of the project, All On The Board has tackled some serious issues too. Both Chopra and Redpath have suffered from mental health problems, and wanted to spread awareness of illnesses that can be overlooked.
In January 2008, Redpath was driving a train when a young girl jumped on the tracks at Pimlico station which left him with PTSD and anxiety: “For ages after I was afraid of the dark, and I’d have nightmares,” he has said. “This is why I’m so passionate about the anti-suicide message.”
Chopra, meanwhile has suffered with an eating disorder and is keen to highlight the stigma surrounding men suffering with this particular illness. “It’s one of the hardest things for men with an eating disorder to come out and say what they’ve been going through. I still struggle to talk about it, and mentioning it in the book at all is really tough. I’m ok now, I got through it. But not many people do, and I don’t think we talk about it enough.”
The pandemic has made their messages more powerful than ever. “We’ve been writing messages for three and a half years, but this year just felt even more important to do so,” explained Redpath in a recent interview, referring to messages of support they left for key workers.
“In a time when people are being forced apart, we wanted to bring everyone back together. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s about looking forward to getting there.”
This really summarises the book which may touch on difficult issues, but is full of heart, humour and fun and the perfect reminder of London in all its glory - a city full of struggles that are always, somehow, overcome.
All On The Board: Inspirational Quotes from the TFL Underground Duo (Yellow Kite, £14.99) Buy it here