Tipping Point: Former contestant has voice reconstructed thanks to ITV show appearance

‘I wanted people to know what I was saying and I did not want to sound like a machine,’ said Helen Whitelaw

Ellie Harrison
Friday 16 April 2021 15:33
Tipping Point contestant has realistic digital voice thanks to footage from show

Helen Whitelaw, a woman who lost her speech after developing motor neurone disease (MND), has had her voice reconstructed using sounds from her appearance on Tipping Point.

Whitelaw, who is now 76, appeared on the ITV game show in 2019, winning almost £3,000. In 2020, she was diagnosed with MND – an uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves – and her speech rapidly deteriorated.

Audio from Whitelaw’s episode of Tipping Point was used by engineers to build her voice into a computer aid. She thanked them for “giving me back my voice”.

“The diagnosis was devastating for the family,” she told STV News. “I wanted people to know what I was saying and I did not want to sound like a machine. I am extremely grateful to everyone concerned for giving me back my voice.”

Her daughter Gillian Scott said it was “just the best” to be able to hear her mother’s voice again.

Alice Smith, from the Edinburgh-based company Speak Unique, which builds synthetic voices for people, said: “We were sort of joking that she’d definitely be able to say, ‘Drop zone four,’ as that was such a catchphrase during the show.”

Whitelaw’s speech-generating device is similar to that of the physicist Stephen Hawking, who in 1963 was diagnosed with early-onset motor neurone disease.

After the loss of his speech, he communicated through the device, initially through use of a handheld switch, and eventually by using a single cheek muscle.

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