Appeared in The Times, May 2004.
Helen Astrid, runs her own singing workshop company. She lives in London.
Do you have to deal with appalling tunelessness?
If I can’t help someone, I say so. There was a guy last year I could do nothing for. He had a total block. He couldn’t hear. I don’t really believe in tone deaf, but he was. My cat normally listens, but even she ran off.
Who are you teaching?
As well as professional singers, anyone from bankers to lawyers to accountants – ordinary people who want to improve their all round confidence through singing.
Recently, you’ve been doing a bit of telly.
Yes, Channel 4 contacted me about a reality programme featuring a working class family living the life of the gentry in a mansion. My role was to give them singing lessons. I started out with all 11, and then two of them were singled out for a final performance in front of an invited audience in a house in Holland Park – all very, very rich and snobby.
Were your charges any good?
Um, they got better, put it that way. It was difficult because the cameras were on the whole time. It was my job, in four hours, to teach them music and calm them down.
And what about How Gay are You? on tomorrow? Sounds a very dodgy programme concept to me.
Sky One promised me it was about men’s voices. I worked with six guys to try and get them into a meterosexual state.
To help heterosexuals, who live in the city, to have more appropriate voices. There were three macho guys who needed more feminine voices, and three others who sounded more effeminate and needed their resonances lowered.
How on earth…?
I was getting them to do odd voice and singing exercises which they’d never done, so as to explore every facet of the voice.
Did it work?
Yeah. It was pretty tongue in cheek, but they got the message and went away with testosterone in their tone, and the macho ones – with Mariah Carey decibels! They were stunned at what they’d achieved.
You trained at the Royal Academy of Music and have a career in opera. Can so many, ahem, amateur vocals really be fun for a singing pro?
I love it! It’s not only fun, I love getting the results. I was thrilled, for example, when the lead singer of a band about to launch their new single told me that after seeing me he went back to the rehearsal and it made such a difference. There’s going to be a lot of hoo-ha about him, and I definitely feel I improved his voice.