Undoubtedly, says Rosemary Altea, but he or she might not be quite as you imagine. Hester Lacey meets the best-selling medium whose spiritualism comes laced with a good dollop of North of England earthiness

ROSEMARY Altea does not look like a medium; no floaty scarves or dangly pendants and not a whiff of ectoplasm. Though her business is contacting the spirit world, she would not look out of place in any office. "I have always preferred a classic style of dress, the suit that never dates," she says crisply. "If you present yourself as an amateur, you are considered just that."

In medium terms, she is certainly a professional. Her first book, The Eagle and the Rose, was an international bestseller and her latest volume, Proud Spirit (Rider, pounds 6.99), was published in this country last week; she was helped in the writing of it, as in all her enterprises, by her spirit guide, Grey Eagle, whom she first met 17 years ago.

"It was quite stunning. I had nothing to do with America, and suddenly there was this native American standing in my living room," she says of their first encounter. An Apache spirit guide is a classic medium accoutrement; a helpful fishmonger or sanitary engineer from the other side is almost unheard of. But, says Rosemary, ancient cultures are more likely to throw up shamans. "The native Americans are a very spiritual race - like the ancient Egyptians who understood about life after death and prepared for it."

While there are not enough Apaches and Pharoahs to go round, less exotic mentors from beyond the grave are legion. "We don't all have the potential to find Grey Eagle, but we all have the potential to connect with the spirit world," explains Rosemary. "The question is, how do we listen? My next book will have exercises that we can all do. As far as guides are concerned, we all have families in the spirit world, and we all have our angels."

Angels, she says, come in many guises. "They are pure beings who deliver messages from God and protect us; they come to us at the moment of dying to carry us to the light. The first one I saw looked perfectly ordinary, until she turned round and I saw her wings. It was a bit of a shock; no one was more stunned or more sceptical than me. I have encountered angels who look perfectly ordinary in every way. If they want us to know them, they will show themselves."

One such turned up to one of Rosemary's lectures in Lincoln, disguised as a staggering drunk middle-aged woman; it was only when she gazed into this disreputable lady's eyes that she recognised her visitor. "Angels can be a bit sneaky," she says.

Born in the prosaic environment of Leicester, she heard voices and saw faces from a very early age; but she kept them to herself. "My grandma used to hear voices and there was no doubt in anyone's mind that she was crazy. So I learned not to speak of what I saw, through fear," she recalls. She had become almost a recluse when the turning point came in her mid- thirties, when she met a spiritual healer who encouraged her to acknowledge what she saw. "It was the beginning of my life," she says. A few months later, Grey Eagle turned up; and since then she has never looked back. As well as a medium, she is also a healer, and founder of the Rosemary Altea Association of Healers. She travels the world, and spends much of her time in the States, where she proudly flies the Union Jack above her house. "I'm still very British," she says. And so she is; for whatever one may think of spiritualism, Rosemary Altea's brand comes laced with a good dollop of North of England earthiness.

In Hong Kong, a tall Australian came to consult her, complaining of back pains. He already knew, he told her, that in a previous life he had been a Roman centurion. He had fallen in battle one day and been walked over by a whole army, crushing his spine; and so, he explained, he was condemned to a bad back to all eternity. Could she help him? Rosemary was having none of it. "You are well over 6ft tall, you have extremely bad posture, and you get virtually no exercise, she observed. "Rectify those two things and I guarantee that your back problem will be solved."

Exit disgruntled client.

Beware then, of practitioners who try to convince you of such dubious notions. "There is a little thing called common sense; we all have it, but we don't use it," warns Rosemary.