When David Guetta was invited to lunch by the greatest-selling female artist of all time, he accepted with excited anticipation. One of the biggest opportunities of his DJ and producing career had presented itself: Madonna wanted him to produce her next album.
Lunch with the famously difficult-to-please musician was going well – that is, until Guetta revealed his star sign: Scorpio. At this, Madonna made a face. “I’m sorry,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to work together. It was a pleasure to meet you. Goodbye.”
Apparently, Scorpios have dishonest tendencies. David Guetta couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Neither could I. Granted, Madonna’s interpretation of Kabbalah may put her somewhat in the woo-woo camp. But this is Madonna: a powerhouse who has made a career from being shrewd, collaborative and earthy. It surprised me she’d hire on such eccentric criteria, given the many people she’s worked with. It made me wonder which other Scorpios she’d shown the door.
It also led me down a rabbit’s hole researching for my book, The Psychic Tests, about celebrities who have made juggernaut decisions or changed up their whole lives based on advice from astrologers, psychics or mediums. I’d already uncovered powerful people — including CEOs, politicians and senior police — who hire psychics to guide them on matters that could impact the thousands of people they have influence over.
Many of these powerful people consult psychics, mediums and astrologers in secret, lest their credibility is questioned. Celebrities, meanwhile, tend to be more open about their indulgence in such mysticism.
What I wanted to discover were the surprising ones, not so much the usual suspects. The first compelling story I found was of an Australian actor feeling lonely and dejected in Los Angeles.
The year was 1995 and Deborra-Lee Furness was not happy. After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, a talented and optimistic Furness thought she’d try her chances in Los Angeles, where it all happens. But it wasn’t happening for her. She picked up a few roles but was yet to land her big break, and it was getting her down. “It was a time when I was getting frustrated. Anyone who’s been in Hollywood long enough knows the relentless auditions and relentless rejection,” she has said.
So Furness did what many do when they’re in a rut: she went to see a fortune teller. “She told me I had to go back to Australia,” Furness has said. “‘You must go back because that’s where it’s all going to happen. You’ll get work – and you’ll meet a man.’ I thought, ‘What have I got to lose?’ So I went back to Australia.”
It changed the trajectory of her life. After returning home, her career took off and she scored the lead role on the ABC crime drama Correlli. On set, she met a handsome young man who also had a role on the show and had just graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. His name was Hugh Jackman. In April this year, they celebrated 27 years of marriage.
The next psychic celebrity story I came across happened on Ang Lee’s movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Actor Greg Wise played a character in the 1995 film and, ahead of it, a psychic friend, Helen, gave him a remarkable prophecy. She told him he’d meet “the one, the love of your life” on set. A big call indeed.
Many people on set were married but one who wasn’t was a young Kate Winslet (who played Marianne). So Wise did what his “witchy friend”, as he calls Helen, would have wanted him to do. He asked Winslet on a date. And she said yes.
They went to the Glastonbury Festival together. But Winslet looked bored. No fires burning here. Well then, thought Wise, who can it be?
It was Winslet who helped him see who: Emma Thompson, who played Winslet’s sister in the film. There was just one problem. Thompson was married, to actor Kenneth Branagh. “Kate pointed out that we were right for each other and told me that Emma’s marriage was over,” Wise has said. (It turned out that Thompson was devastated after claims Branagh had allegedly been having an affair with actor Helena Bonham Carter.)
In a Graham Norton Show interview years later, Thompson told this same psychic story, filling in what occurred next with Wise: “Then things happened that probably shouldn’t have happened.” Wise and Thompson have now been married for 20 years and have two children. “It was all meant to be, just as my friend Helen had predicted,” said Wise.
What intrigues me about the Wise-Thompsons and the Jackman-Furnesses is that both couples seem to sit very much within the progressive intelligentsia spectrum of celebrity — those who tend to oppose conservatism, draconian religion or airy-fairy spirituality in favour of science, human equality and social justice.
Both couples have adopted children to give them a better life, in Thompson and Wise’s case a teenage refugee who was a former child soldier. Both couples speak out thoughtfully on political issues, yet seem down-to-earth enough to know that their voice is no more important than anyone else’s.
To me, they’re very different from Gwyneth Paltrow or reality television stars; lacking both the eccentricity and the naivety. So it surprises me that they both confess to their successful, enviable love stories being, in part, down to psychic predictions.
On the subject of Helena Bonham Carter, there’s another intriguing, medium-inspired story, and it comes full circle with Greg Wise, with whom she starred in the Netflix series The Crown.
To prepare for her role as Princess Margaret, Bonham Carter consulted an astrologer and a medium. She claims she spoke to Princess Margaret herself, via the medium. “I asked her, ‘Are you OK with me playing you?’” recalled Bonham Carter. “And she said, ‘You’re better than the other actress they were thinking of.’ It made me think that maybe she is here, because that is a classic Margaret thing to say. She was really good at complimenting you and putting you down at the same time.”
There was little doubt in Bonham Carter’s mind that she was talking directly to the princess, who she says also offered notes about getting her smoking manner correct.
Princess Margaret isn’t the only royal to have been associated with psychics. Princess Diana was also said to have been keen on them, and it’s easy to see why.
Diana was paranoid about being hounded by the tabloids and didn’t know who she could trust. And her love life was chaotic. These feelings commonly push people towards psychics, who claim to offer what others sometimes can’t: an ear, reassurance, answers, and comforting guidance through unsettling and uncertain times.
Psychic and healer Simone Simmons claimed to have seen Diana “at least five times a week” and said the princess would phone her from wherever she was in the world. She even co-wrote a book about their relationship, with the slightly eerie title Diana: The Last Word. Its blurb claims Simmons became a confidante of Diana’s and that they had a unique bond: Diana opened her heart and mind to Simmons, who always told theprincess the unvarnished truth, it says.
No subject was taboo and the two women discussed everything and anything, sharing laughter and tears over cups of chamomile tea.
Psychic Sally Morgan, who appeared on Britain’s Celebrity Big Brother, also claims to have advised Diana regularly. “I came into her life when she had made a decision that she was the only one who could make herself happy,” said Morgan. “I think she had a lot of reasons to worry about an early death. There were times she’d ring me four times a day.”
The habit has clearly been passed down to Diana’s youngest son Harry, who, in his recent memoir, confessed to hiring a medium to connect with his late mother. The psychic told him he was “living the life she wanted for you”.
Then there are what I’d call the delicious celebrity psychic titbits. When Ernestine Charles, the mother of the world’s most well-known drag queen, was pregnant with him, she went to see a psychic who said her unborn child would one day be famous. Ernestine gave him a name befitting a celebrity: RuPaul.
And, naturally, Gwyneth Paltrow is a believer. Her episode on psychics in her Netflix series The Goop Lab is titled with the irresistible pun: Are You Intuit? In the episode, Paltrow is sold straight away on psychic Laura Lynne Jackson (who says she now has a “years long” waitlist). “When I sat down with Laura, she knew things that were not Google-able,” said Paltrow. “And she knew something my husband didn’t even know and I thought, wow, this is real.”
From role models to life decisions, celebrities certainly have poignant relationships with the psychics many in the real world lampoon or deride.
Sydney-based psychic medium Melanie Obeid says, “Sometimes we can be so close to a situation that we can’t get rid of the internal chatter, so consulting someone like me – who is not emotionally involved – can give you a clearer picture of outcomes. And working with your beloved dead people, they only want the best for you, so they’re not going to give bad advice.”
Obeid remembers telling one man that she saw him one day walking the red carpet in Hollywood and winning a coveted award. “He exclaimed, ‘No chance in hell!’ but after he walked up to receive his award, he messaged me later saying, ‘All I could think about was you telling me I’d win! Unbelievable!’”
Most of Obeid’s celebrity clients ask about “their love-lives, marriages and trysts, with no judgement from me. I’m purely a conduit,” she adds. “I simply relay the information.”
But Tim Mendham of Australian Skeptics is more suspicious. He starts by asking some key questions: “Are more celebrities believers than your ordinary everyday butcher or baker? And, conversely, how many celebrities think that believing in the paranormal is a load of old tosh?”
He cites some well-known names in the latter camp: Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Jimmy Carr, Billy Connolly. He also suggests an ulterior motive. “Are they that insecure that they’ll turn to anyone for help? Or, shock horror, do they just want publicity (the sustenance of their celebrity) and might they be making it up? Are they that desperate that they think talking about their haunted bedroom is going to win them public adulation and more work?”
Psychologist Carly Dober goes one further. “Unfortunately, psychic mediums are more likely to be opportunistic grifters,” she says. Dober has a warning for anyone who, like Deborra-Lee Furness, Greg Wise, or possibly Madonna, makes life decisions based on psychic counsel. “People can experience a significant break in their healing process, take on magical thinking and make massive life changes based on these services,” she says. “There’s no regulation and no-one to report poor practice or predatory behaviour to. Very concerning.”
Not, though, if you’re RuPaul. “I believe we all have psychic ability,” he says on his podcast. “Some of us block it off.”
This story originally appeared in the August issue of marie claire Australia.