As a study says men find women with a lower voice more attractive, MARIELLA FROSTRUP dares admit: Seductive? All my husband hears is a moaning wife!
- A University of Sussex study claims men find lower tones more attractive
- Mariella Frostrup has received a flood of compliments for her ‘seductive’ voice
- She says it conjures up nights of hard drinking, chain smoking and debauchery
- Her voice had a starring role in Johnny English Reborn and she does voice overs
- Mariella spoke to an expert to uncover why her voice has a huskiness
On the whole, it is men who comment on the way I speak. If women ever say anything, it’s to tell me that their boyfriend, brother, father or male colleague loves the sound of my voice.
I’m the vocal equivalent of a beautiful photograph of the Maldives, seductive and enticing, but a pipe dream.
Back in the old days, one of my dating rules was never to go out with a man who spoke lasciviously about my dulcet tones. It made me suspicious that they might be after something terribly exotic which I wouldn’t be able to provide.
So it tickled me to discover my voice was referenced in a recent dating study from the University of Sussex which found that men find a lower tone more attractive.
Mariella Frostrup’s voice was referenced in a recent study which discovered men find a lower tone more attractive, she shared how the huskiness of her voice has impacted her career and personal life
When I speak, it apparently conjures up nights of hard drinking, chain smoking and old-fashioned debauchery.
The reality, especially these days, is I’m in bed as early as possible, with an eye mask on to block out the light.
But my voice has long had this glamorous, independent life all of its own. It’s been described — variously — as the ‘sexiest in the world’, ‘famously husky’ and ‘honey-on-gravel’. But I can’t say that the way I talk reflects what I’m really like. It’s just an accident of genetics.
To what do I attribute this fluke of nature? Well, actually, I’ve never bothered to find out.
My voice has been both a blessing and a curse from childhood, though not quite for the reasons you’d think. I was certainly bullied for the way in which I spoke when growing up in Seventies rural Ireland. But the teasing was more about my Norwegian accent than my gravelly tones. I was certainly not renowned as the husky-voiced eight- year-old of Kilmacanogue!
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The first time the huskiness became a topic of conversation was when I made my debut appearance on television in the mid-Eighties. The reaction to what was, to me, simply my voice came as a bemusing surprise.
All I knew was that, like many, I loathed the sound and tone of my own voice when I called up my answering machine to pick up messages.
Yet the first review of music show Big World Cafe — the programme I presented on Channel 4 in 1989 — focused more on my voice than on my words.
And it was after this that my voice took on a life of its own for a while. I suppose the zenith of my voice’s popularity was being lampooned as a Spitting Image Puppet, with vast red lips, fine blonde hair, a silver evening dress and — of course — an insanely gravelly voice. (It was a man who provided this, because no woman could emulate my late night-sounding vocal range.)
Mariella (pictured) revealed despite the compliments she has received for her voice, her husband doesn’t like the sound of it
I’m amused that science suggests how we speak is supposed to represent how we look. I’m sure people are often disappointed on meeting me. A study at Nottingham Trent University showed the majority of us can accurately match how someone looks with how they sound.
But I beg to differ. In my experience, those who have the most seductive voices only too often disappoint hugely in person (this may, of course, be the case with me). They sound youthful and vibrant, but on meeting I often rethink my first impressions!
Another downside is that a distinctive voice is hard to conceal. On many an occasion I’ve got in a black cab and the driver has said, without even looking at my face: ‘So, you’re that Mariella Frostrup then?’ I would be — for any number of reasons, but that one in particular — an absolutely appalling spy.
Does my husband like the sound of my voice? Of course not. What husband stops and listens, as though to a nightingale’s song or the sweet sound of children singing, to their wife moaning about how busy they are? I am the person harassing the children to eat their breakfast and worrying about logistics and school timetables.
Why do we hate the sound of our own voice?
Hate your own voice? On a recording you don’t hear low frequencies that occur when sound travels through our bones, so it sounds higher than we’re used to
As for the children. Well, they’re teenagers and as I’m their mother, I’m just white noise, the crackling sound of an untuned radio interspersed with the word ‘no’. I’m not a husky voice, I’m just interrupting their adolescent frequency.
But I can hardly complain about a feature which has been responsible for a bit of income. My voice has been quite commercially viable, though not necessarily the path to untold riches.
To date, it has had a starring role as the voice of Johnny English’s car in Johnny English Reborn. But then Rowan Atkinson swapped my car and that was the end of me.
I also do voiceovers. The problem is that although my voice is distinctive, it’s the only one I have. I’m no actor. So I can only do those infrequently; once you have a big advertisement that’s it. They don’t want you purring about toothpaste on another radio station.
Perhaps it’s important at this point to say that I don’t put it on for performances, and talk in a strong Irish brogue the rest of the time. Neither have I had any vocal training.
Surgeon David Howe told Mariella (pictured) the huskiness of her voice is likely related to how she naturally articulates and controls her vocal cords
I am aware there are masses of impersonators out there. Although of course I can recognise my own voice talking about, for example, No7 Lift and Luminate or Walkers Baked Crisps, sometimes people will say: ‘Oooh, I heard you talking about laxatives or feminine hygiene,’ and it’s one of the many would-be-mes.
I don’t necessarily come off best here, by the way. The difference between me and these actresses is that they can change their voices and do hundreds of marvellously lucrative adverts.
I can’t even do a convincing Northern accent. Sometimes, first thing in the morning, I simply don’t speak at all.
I have wondered whether my huskiness is caused by a sinister underlying throat condition which will flare up at some point and cause early retirement or untimely death.
I asked consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon David Howe at Spire Parkway Hospital, Solihull, whether this might be the case, and thankfully he thinks not. ‘The way in which we speak is a physical process,’ he says. ‘The vocal cords are two folds of tissue forming a slit in the larynx, the structure of muscle and cartilage at the top of the trachea, or windpipe.
‘As we breathe in, air is trapped beneath this slit. As we breathe out, the edges vibrate to produce the voice. Ideally, the vocal cords are smooth, in order to produce a pleasant sound.’
Mariella (pictured) claims you can’t be over 50 and have anything alluring about you including your voice
My huskiness is, he says, likely to be related to how I naturally articulate and control my vocal cords. ‘You may also have slightly thicker vocal cords than the average female,’ he suggests. And the voice ages too. ‘As the vocal cords thin a little, female voices become deeper and weaker.’
Other reasons for huskiness can be polyps, smoking or acid reflux. ‘At early stages a smoker’s voice can be a little sexy, like yours,’ he says.
Ten years ago, I was deemed to be only one-third of the perfect voice in a survey conducted by Post Office Telecoms.
They came up with an actual formula — the perfect female voice, they said, would be spoken at 164 words a minute, at low frequency and with falling intonation, with the conclusion that the ideal female voice mixes my tones with those of Dame Judi Dench and Honor Blackman. (The perfect male voice, apparently, was judged to be an Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon hybrid.)
In recent years, the furore has died down somewhat. Once I reached the benchmark age of 50 I instantly lost all sexual appeal, as is the way of the world. You can’t be 50-plus and have anything alluring about you — even your voice.
And so it’s no surprise, as I have learnt to my slight sadness, that it can also droop, in just the same way as other parts of the body.
But the voice is not ready for retirement yet, and neither am I.
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