Obituary: Madame Soleil

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The Independent Online
Everyone knows that the French claim to be the most rational of nations, and therefore one would expect them to be secret believers in ways whereby they can discover their future. But there is no secret about it. Every opinion poll shows how the majority of the population regularly read their horoscopes in the press. And just as the modern press replaced the old almanacs by printing astrological horoscopes, so the gadget-orientated Frenchman turns to his Minitel in order to find out what will happen to him.

The most famous of French astrologers was Madame Soleil. It was several years after the war, when her hat-making business had collapsed and it was necessary to support four children, that she joined the 30,000 professional fortune tellers who existed in France during the 1960s. She worked in fairs, until in the 1960s she was successful enough to require permanent consulting rooms in the Place du Commerce in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. But it was her first broadcast, on 14 September 1970, that brought her real fame. Her voice which conjured up the countryside, and her laughter which made her everyone's friend, were linked with an efficient directness. Everyone listened to her, and her reputation grew when, in 1971, President Georges Pompidou, having been asked a difficult question by a Polish journalist, confessed that he could not foretell the future and said, "I am not Madame Soleil."

She was equally successful when she appeared on television. Her methods were modern. She worked with a computer. But her pronouncements were traditional, she was very religious and she professed her belief in God's will. This was probably why in 1991 she married a man who was 19 years her junior. But apparently, even to him, she remained discreet about the famous people who consulted her and who included Francois Mitterrand probably, Brigitte Bardot perhaps.

But, although she claimed that she had discovered her particular gifts before the age of 10, she had made no use of them and knew poverty and hardship at many periods of her life. However, in 1930 she joined the staff of a newspaper, La Volonte, which had been founded by a radical deputy, Albert Dubarry, and which employed many talented and important writers, one of whom, Andre Tardieu, became Prime Minister. By 1931 Dubarry was receiving money from the infamous Alexandre Stavisky, whose crooked business deals and apparent immunity from arrest created the biggest scandal since the Dreyfus affair.

By 1934 a warrant was out for his arrest when, on 7 January, his body was discovered in a villa near Chamonix. It was officially said that Stavisky had committed suicide. But many claimed that he had been shot by those who feared he would reveal matters that would incriminate them.

It was Madame Soleil who had hired the Chamonix villa in her own name, although doing this for her paper. Almost certainly she knew the whereabouts of Stavisky when everyone was looking for him. It seems likely that she knew the truth of his death. She admitted that she had once had in her possession vital documents. But she claimed she had destroyed them.

Few realised that Madame Soleil was her real name. It was appropriate for someone who sought to illuminate the future. Historians think of it as appropriate for someone who could have illuminated some of the past.

Germaine Lucie Soleil, astrologer: born Paris 18 July 1913; married twice; died Paris 27 October 1996.

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