Belfast Telegraph

Loud, aggressive and mean, Carol’s number’s really up

By Jane Graham

For years she has been paraded as the ultimate poster girl for attractive, smart, self-sufficient forty-something women, but last week we saw the real face of Carol Vorderman and boy, it ain’t pretty.

Last week’s Question Time, in which Vorderman shared a panel with Boris Johnson, Shirley Williams and Will Self and came out looking the angriest, rudest and least dignified of all of them, was a huge eye-opener, at least for me; I had always, rather carelessly, accepted the friendly, intelligent and reasonable public face of TV’s Queen of Maths (and women’s weeklies’ queen of detox).

It wasn’t just the revelation that Vorderman, who has always kept schtum about political sympathies, preferring to present herself as a common-sense abiding girl’s girl, is now leading a Task force for the Tories, the least female-friendly party in the UK. (And her dismissal of Lord Ashdown’s concealment of his nom-dom status as a ‘technicality’ and Daily Mail-echoing call for John Venables’ new identity to be revealed to be braying mob were classic Tory fare). Nor was it merely Vorderman’s inarticulacy and ignorance — though I did squirm watching her wade through her notes, her awkward pregnant pauses filling the air like metaphorical Pinteresque water bombs.

No, what really surprised me about Vorderman’s appearance on Question Time was the casual way she surrendered that essential TV commodity ‘likeability’ to reveal a hard-faced, cold-blooded snow queen. Less a wolf in sheep’s clothing, she turned out to be a snake smoothed by Botox.

Her haranguing manner left me overwhelmed with sympathy for her two ex-husbands. How often, I wonder, did she conduct herself in her personal relationships and friendships by rolling her eyeballs to the ceiling when other people expressed themselves, or jabbing her finger at them like a scolding lollipop lady pumped up on HRT?

Every time she bounced her perfectly manicured fingernail off the table before turning her beady, furious eyes to her next victim I thought of timid, cardiganny little Richard Whiteley on Countdown and finally understood why that experienced broadcaster had become known for his trembling speech and nervous smiles.

Carol’s performance also underpinned how crucial a woman’s voice is in determining what impression she makes. No matter how classily she is dressed, and how well-preserved her face is — and at 49, Carol’s face is a masterclass in expensive preservation — if she speaks with the out of control honk of a steamship’s horn, nothing else matters.

Her loud, aggressive rasp was reminiscent of Thatcher’s Spitting Image puppet. Sitting next to her, the wonderful Will Self, usually rather laid back and suave, began to visibly wince. You could actually see his scalp prickle.

It was particularly interesting to compare Carol de Vil to fellow panellist Shirley Williams. Coincidentally, I interviewed Williams a couple of weeks ago and was struck by what a dignified, clever, honest and wise woman she was. She has made mistakes — she admitted that she had been cowed by men of power for many years, and chastised herself for giving in to “that deep female tendency to go for the second job”, wondering what might have happened if she had fought to become the leader of the Labour Party or the SDP. She also said that her complete lack of interest in how she looked had been naive.

But seeing her sit next to the vixen-like Vorderman, small, grey-haired and make-up free, speaking with intelligence and balance and exuding warmth and humility, I knew which woman I’d want my daughter to admire.

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