'They're up there, guiding us, that's that'
A clairvoyant called Doris set him on course to stardom as Britain's biggest media astrologer. But Russell Grant is much more than an Aquarian (with Libra ascendant)
Monday 31 July 1995
But we talk, too, about Russell's Aquarian aspect, the creative part of him that fewer people see. This is the Russell who is Patron of the Association of British Counties - an apolitical pressure group for the retention of traditional county borders and identities - and the author of a guide to the county borders of Great Britain. This is the Russell who is President of the Federation of Middlesex Sports, an avid follower of minor-league cricket in that region (the county he grew up in) and an annual contributor to Wisden on this topic. When we meet, he is wearing, against a crisp white shirt, the tie of the Middlesex Schools Football Association, minor-league local football being another obsession, when it's in season.
And this is Russell the practising Spiritualist, who was once a platform medium in the Spiritualist churches of Middlesex. These are some of the things that Russell thinks about when he's off the telly and at home in Lytham St Anne's, where he lives in George Formby's old house with his chocolate-coloured Labrador, Owen (a Taurus). He will lay a reassuring hand on your arm as he tells you all about it and he closes his fluent paragraphs with a pert smile and a little nod of complicity.
Things may be said to have changed fairly radically for Russell at the age of 15, when he visited a clairvoyant called Doris. "I'd had an experience with my grandfather on the night of his funeral. I heard his cough. But my grandmother was very pragmatic. She said, 'No, no - Percy is gone.'" Russell sought a second opinion.
"My grandfather came 'through' and gave me more evidence. Doris was shown a medal - an angel with a leaf. 'It's coming to you,' she said. 'It's being given to you.'" There was more. "'Ooh,' she said. 'I've got lollipop trees and I can see lots of animals around you. I think it's men wearing heads. But you're not.' I thought, 'That's odd.' She said, 'I'm now getting Ivor Novello's music coming through.' "
Russell leans forward. "Within a week, my grandmother had given me a medal belonging to my grandfather, depicting an angel and a leaf. That summer I got an audition for a show at the Victoria Palace - The Rupert Bear Show - and everyone was in animal masks except me. And by the end of the year, I was touring in Novello's King's Rhapsody." He sits back again, impressed. "Now then. If that wasn't proof of something, I don't know what is. I believe they're up there guiding us, our loved ones, and that's that."
There was another auspicious event in Doris's waiting-room as Russell was leaving. Here, a woman - "very Marianne Faithfull, long hair floating, in leather, just off her motorbike" - hailed Russell, saying "You're a Libran." "No I'm not," said Russell. "I'm an Aquarian." But the woman who was called Rita, insisted on doing Russell's chart and then, obligingly, taught him everything she knew about the stars in a series of weekend sessions in Clapham. The rest, as they say, is astrology.
Russell got a column in Tatler under Tina Brown and then another in TV Times. He picked up some regional TV work, whence the BBC snatched him for the launch of Breakfast Time in 1983. The producers put him in blinding pullovers and pitched him in the ratings war against TV-AM's Roland Rat. "It was 'Roland versus Russell' in a headline in Media Week," he says. "Roland released a record, so I had to release a record - 'No Matter What Sign You Are' by Russell Grant and the Star-lettes. I laugh about it, though, because where's Roland now?"
Nowhere. Whereas Russell is broadening into chat, presenting the BBC's People Today, managing a team on Fantasy Football League, standing in for Richard and Judy on This Morning - doing things that, Russell says, "reach down into me as a person". Then there's Russell Grant's Astrology Kit; Russell Grant's Astro-Tarot Pack; Russell Grant's All Stars Show for Granada ("which got, I'm told, cult status, although I don't know what cult status means"); and Russell Grant's stars in the Daily Mirror. So far this year, Russell has advised me, through his column, to "watch out for jealousy and take care of your health" and to "try to cultivate compassion and common sense". It is hard to object to the status of these suggestions as good ideas.
One of the great mysteries about tabloid astrologers is that, granted the power of privileged insight into the possible configurations of the future, they expend it mostly on soap plots and Lottery numbers rather than on, say, train failures or terrorist bomb plans. Russell, for instance, in a major astrological scoop, predicted accurately the arrival in the EastEnders cast of Barbara Windsor, but has tended to be a little quieter on natural disasters around the world. Clearly there is a limit of some sort. He does think, though, that second-guessing the Lottery demeans the craft. "It's not right for astrology," he says. (It is rumoured that he declined to appear on the BBC's The Lottery Show, which is about to be revamped under Noel Edmonds and Mr Blobby.)
That said, Russell has been known to go in for a bit of Lottery predicting in his Daily Mirror column. When I mention this, he laughs and says, straightforwardly, "Yeah, but I've got an editor, haven't I? I know about numerology," he adds immediately and more seriously. "Anything I've written on numerology is kosher." (Indeed, Russell's assertion, prior to the first Lottery draw, that Jupiter's digit, which is four, would prove crucial, was, he was able to claim, borne out by the appearance of the number 44 twice in the first two weeks.)
Russell works a lot from charts, but sometimes, he says, messages just come to him. He was writing his column recently when suddenly, into his head popped the chorus of a song. Russell thought that he should pass this on. "I wrote, 'I've just had this message for all of you Librans: Didn't we have a lovely time the day we went to Bangor?'" Sometimes it's as easy as that.
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy has little time for astrology: "Once the earth was shown to be a rotating and revolving planet, once an infinite universe replaced a finite one, and once genetics placed the causes for biological diversity and specificity within the organism rather than in the stars, there could be no scientific foundation for astrology whatsoever." This doesn't bother Russell, who continues to refer to his profession as "a science".
"It's correlation," he explains. "It's synchronicity, it's symmetry. It's about self-potential, knowing what you can do, knowing when to strike while the iron is hot, knowing when the opportunity is there to go for it." And he strikes the table lightly with his fist to emphasise the point.
Sceptics avow that people will believe almost anything they hear to their own advantage; and that almost anything you say about anyone is likely to be true. Russell takes this on board, but resists it. "What you've got to do is sort out the wheat from the chaff," he says.
Russell has still less time for the more vocal objectors who tell him that astrology is the work of the devil. "Nutters," he says. "I once opened a church fete in Lancashire. I said to the vicar, 'I'm surprised you asked me to open your fete.' He said, 'Why?' I said, 'Because I'm an astrologer.' He said, 'So what? The New English Bible says that astrologers came from the East to worship the Lord. Born-again Christians are more of a problem to me than astrologers ever will be.'"
Russell is excited about three things at the moment. First, there's "Russell Grant's Astrology World", an interactive display recently incorporated into the visitor attractions at Granada Studios in Manchester. "You press buttons and things light up," he explains. "It's educational. It's not quite having your chart done, but it's more than you get in the columns."
Second, there's "Russell Grant's All Stars Club", which is set for launch at the beginning of next year. "It's a friendship club - very Aquarian," he says. "We'll organise events around the country - Aries evenings in April - bringing people together, making friends, making connections."
And third, there's Russell Grant's potentially burgeoning career on American television. Russell has been doing a stars slot on a cable breakfast show for Fox. One morning, when the regular presenter was ill, Russell hosted the entire show with less than an hour's notice and found himself interviewing two of the members of Charlie's Angels on the topic of skin cancer. "That tested me," he says, proudly. "Two and a half hours to the hilt."
Fox, he says, wanted him to move out there, but on Russell's birthday in February this year, his grandmother Alice died. He refers to this several times in our conversation. She was, he says, the woman who brought him up while his parents were both busy, working as a set-designer and a secretary at Pinewood Studios. "My nan dying set me back," he says. "I went to ground a bit."
Recently, though, the Food Network in America has been on to him about hosting a show called Chef du Jour, a bit of a break from Russell's usual beat. "I had given them a show called Star Menu - a very simple format. You take someone famous - say, Joan Collins - into the kitchen. She's a Gemini. We cook up a real cosmic dish for her - she helps, she makes the sauce. And then, after the break, we come back and read her stars over dinner. It's young over there at the moment, but we're evolving."
"Don't you find that you're always looking for new challenges?" he asks. "I'm just talking as an Aquarian to an Aquarian here." Before we leave, Russell gets me to write down the date, time and place of my birth, so that he can go away and work out my ascendant sign. Then he tells me that "the mini-age of Aquarius" begins on 12 January next year. "Your time is coming very soon," he says. I thank him for this. It is excellent news.
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