Playing your cards right

‘In simple terms I can see, hear and speak with people in the spirit world, as well as read people’s past and predict their futures. It still amazes me when I say it out loud!’ As self-professed ‘Britain’s best-loved psychic’, Sally Morgan holds herself with a confidence and self-belief that barely betrays a career of more than twenty years facing down sceptics and cynics of her ‘gift’. It’s only in the last 4 years her career has expanded stratospherically with TV programmes Sally Morgan: Star Psychic and Psychic Sally: On the Road, two books and a third on the way in 2011, a nationwide tour and even a documentary about her recent gastric band operation.

Today Sally has joined the steadily-growing ranks of TV psychics trying to satisfy the nation’s hunger for the paranormal and supernatural. Having done readings for the cream of ITV2’s Z-list and reality TV stars (Brian Dowling, Kym Marsh, Danny Dyer…), I have to admit I was a little shocked when she revealed her most distinguished client to have been Princess Diana.

‘I was her psychic for over four years but our relationship was strictly professional. I remember one Boxing Day whilst having a big family dinner the phone rang. I answered it and was amazed to hear Diana on the end of the line, apologising for disturbing me and my family, obviously I told her it was no problem. It was such a hilarious moment as my mum was doing the typical, “I mean who phones on Boxing Day…who is it?…who is it?!” and I was trying to mime to her, whilst listening intently, “It’s the princess, the Princess of Wales”. I think that is the only time I have broken off from a roast turkey! She was a remarkable woman whom I highly respected; I am honoured to have known her.’

Perhaps it’s the earnestness and honesty in Sally’s words that have earned her that coveted title of ‘Britain’s best-loved psychic’ and the trust of the ‘people’s princess’, but I’d be more inclined to say it’s that she seems a lot less mad than some of the other psychics on the scene. There’s a big difference, she notes, between the genuine ones and the ones who know how to work an audience.

‘For me it is about validation. If they make a connection with you, if they give you information about your life that they could not have known, if they give you validation that they are indeed speaking to a relative or loved one in spirit then you have to just trust your instinct.’ I’m a little wary myself of Sally’s ‘gift’. I am a card-carrying cynic and hardly the first to ask Sally about the ethics of making money out of the gullible who are simply searching for reassurance and the last chance to say goodbye to a loved one.

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Her technique is described by sceptics as ‘cold reading’, a term used (mainly pejoratively) for the throwing out of common words, names and images to be seized upon by a (usually already believing) sitter and made to ‘fit’ their life. Inevitably her controversial career choice has led to her being brandished by cynics as a phony and a fake, playing on the emotions of the grieving and the desperate. Indeed her £1.50 a minute ‘live psychic readings’ with hand-picked clairvoyants and her equally priced ‘psychic texts’ seem only to be fuelling the fire for her cynics.

Nevertheless, Sally is quick to justify the price she slaps on her gift: ‘From seeing me on TV, you may think that my life looks glamorous, but I still have bills to pay and mouths to feed like the next person. I would be unable to dedicate so much of my life to sharing my gift if I was unable to survive. I am genuine and it is people’s prerogative whether they want to spend their money to come and see me. The way I see it there is no difference to paying to get your hair done, or buying a new pair of shows; if it makes you feel better about yourself then it is an investment.’

I’m stunned for a moment by the forthrightness with which Sally talks about her ‘career’, for Sally has managed to turn a gift that she discovered at the age of 4 into a lucrative and ever-expanding business. ‘The first “experience” I remember clearly was when I was four years old. I was at nursery and I asked my teacher why my granddad couldn’t be with me. My teacher told me that no-one was allowed their granddad in the class with them and then I pointed at a girl in my class and asked why she was allowed. I could see as clear as day an old man dressed in a full length coat stood next to this girl.

‘The teacher asked me where this man was and so I went right up to him and pointed. The man smiled at me and then just disappeared. No one else in the room saw him.’ Nowadays, it still seems like Sally is trying to get her head around the idea of contacting spirits, ‘as bizarre as it sounds it is like putting a plug in a socket! Just before I go on stage I allow myself to open up to spirit world and suddenly I connect. When I am on stage there are many ways in which people in spirit present themselves to me; sometimes I can just hear them, other times I can see them and occasional my body will act out their characteristics. Messages can often be difficult to pick up and I almost have to sieve through what I am hearing until I can make a strong link. A good way to describe it is to imagine playing ten different radio stations at the same time and trying to just focus on one of them – it’s not easy and requires a lot of concentration and trust. I trust what is being said to me and never interpret.’

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Surely she must have a considerable responsibility when channelling the information she receives? ‘I don’t believe that I have the right to edit the information I receive and therefore I generally speak as I hear. There have been a few times over the years where a reading has been particular distressing for me and the person in the audience.’

Sally, with her disarmingly warm personality, genuinely seems like she wants to help people. ‘Even now at the age of 59 and having years of experience I find my gift incredible; I don’t think I will ever fully understand how I can do what I do. Forming a connection between a person and their loved one in spirit is magical. Being able to make that bond with spirit and giving validation to the individual in front fills me with so much joy. I have helped and comforted thousands of people over the years and for that I am forever grateful.’ It’s difficult not to be impressed by her sincerity.

She’s a wily businesswoman, for sure, and she hasn’t missed a trick in charging for the insight of one of her readings, but there’s something very genuine about Sally’s desire to comfort people. I’m not quite as convinced as Sally about the authenticity of her business however; ‘mediumship has gained approval and acceptance in the last decade,’ she insists. Surely she’s got a lot of work on her hands if she’s going to convince the whole world she’s the real deal, hasn’t she? ‘I’m getting a bit fed up with qualifying what I do and so instead of trying to prove my ability I simply ask the sceptics to prove to me that there is no afterlife; prove that I am in-fact mad! I’m still an ordinary person, a wife, mother and grandmother. To be honest I just want to share my experiences of the spirit world and show people that although my gift is bizarre it is amazing too.’

Sally is currently touring the country until November 2011. For dates and venues, check her website: www.sallymorgan.tv