A TV phenomenon? It's all in the stars

A new British satellite channel dedicated to all things psychic and astrological is attracting huge numbers of viewers. Terry Kirby makes a date with Destiny

It's mid-afternoon on Your Destiny TV, and Tracy Higgs, a medium on the noon to 6pm shift, is in full flow, flipping over the tarot cards at a rapid rate in answer to Adel's text request for a reading. "I'm getting the month of October, I'm getting... a baby, is that right?'' Sadly the viewer is left none the wiser, as things have to move on swiftly.

It's mid-afternoon on Your Destiny TV, and Tracy Higgs, a medium on the noon to 6pm shift, is in full flow, flipping over the tarot cards at a rapid rate in answer to Adel's text request for a reading. "I'm getting the month of October, I'm getting... a baby, is that right?'' Sadly the viewer is left none the wiser, as things have to move on swiftly.

Now it's the turn of Vivian, born 1961, who wants to know what life has in store for her: "There's a lot of love around here, everyone wants to be around a very special lady". And Rebecca, born 1978, who is asking if her life is going to get better. "This card suggests you are going to get a bouquet of flowers,'' says Tracy.

But before Tracy can elaborate, she is interrupted by the presenter, Yasmin Khan, with whom she shares a table, because it's time for an ad break. Soon, a commercial for Spirit & Destiny magazine - "everything you need to know about astrology and the psychic world" - appears. Then it's back to the studio. "Keep those calls and texts coming in if you want your destiny forecast by Tracy,'' says Yasmin. Now it's the turn of Denise, who has sent a text wanting to know when she's going to sell the house she's just put on the market and whether her new home will be a happy one.

Welcome to the studios of Britain's first and only television channel solely dedicated to the strange and wonderful world of the mystical and psychic arts - from mediums, astrology and card reading to clairvoyance and crystals via feng shui and dream interpretation. Now broadcasting for up to 15 hours every weekday on channel 694 of the Sky network, the channel aims to serve the public's seemingly unstoppable appetite for all things mystical and the fascination that someone else can predict their fate and fortune.

Its core operation is based on the success enjoyed by popular astrologers such as Jonathan Cainer and Justin Toper, whose newspaper columns are linked to high-earning, premium-rate telephone advice lines. Your Destiny TV is attempting to tap into a similar, largely female audience - and those people who are happy to share their consultation while others watch. Most of the programming currently consists of viewers being encouraged to call or text their questions to the studio, where a presenter is accompanied by one of a series of experts from different disciplines, but there are also opportunities to buy crystals, jewellery and books with psychic themes. Advertising - apart from Spirit & Destiny magazine - is minimal, and the sparse style is distinctly derivative of the kind of "teleshopping" channels that give multi-channel television a bad name.

It is still early days for Your Destiny TV, which shares the same parent company and west London studios as the Advert Channel, which launched last year amid considerable publicity as the only channel dedicated to the appreciation of television advertisements; it currently occupies the same Sky slot during late-night hours. But demand for Your Destiny TV has been high, and it has now expanded from a purely daytime programme into evenings. It may eventually spread to weekends.

"We are into developing niche and concept television channels, and there has never been anything like this before," says Chelsey Baker, an actress and model turned television entrepreneur. "There is a huge demand for this kind of channel. People used to laugh at psychics, but now they are taken very seriously and this channel will be a source of fascination and pleasure for the millions in Britain who realise that the future isn't what it used to be."

Baker, who is both commercial director and one of the team of presenters, hopes the number of callers will grow as the channel becomes more well known and once the telephone equipment that allows interaction between callers and the studio becomes fully operational. "We have very big plans for the future,'' she says. These include using mobiles phones to transmit the faces of callers into the studio in order to assist the mediums and psychics. Palmistry may also soon be attempted by the same method.

Its experts are provided by Esoteric Entertainment, an agency which supplies such people to the media. Adam Fronteras, managing director of the agency and, until recently, president of the British Astrological and Psychic Society, says the channel helps demystify the psychic world, which has often been given a more sensationalist treatment on television. "It is a commercial enterprise," he says, "but it does help people develop an understanding of what a consultation is about, and it allows the viewers to learn more about the psychic arts.''

His colleague, Suzanne Corbie, a tarot reader for 10 years, says live television makes very different demands on her interpretative skills. "Normally, in a one-to-one consultation, you might be able to spend an hour with someone and have time to pick things up from them and sense their feelings and their aura. And you have time to think. Doing it from a text message in a couple of minutes is very different. You don't have time to go 'um' and 'aah'. It is a much more challenging atmosphere, which does help me hone my skills, because you are working blind. Card readers such as myself find it more difficult than astrologers, who are used to working from just a birth date and time. But I can still pick things up about people and sense them, even through a text message. The number of people who tell us that we got something right proves that it works.''

Nevertheless, the channel has to tread carefully around some issues. Ofcom regulations say that anything involving the occult or exorcisms can only be shown in the context of a "legitimate investigation" - as Channel 4 did recently - while demonstrations of clairvoyance or similar practises have to be firmly portrayed as entertainment. Advice on specific matters such as the law, health and finance is not allowed. While all aspects of astrology are permitted, tarot cards cannot be referred to directly as such, simply as "the cards" because they are deemed by Ofcom to have occult connotations; ouija boards can only appear after the 9pm watershed. "We can't do exorcisms and I don't think we would want to anyway," says Baker. "We are about helping people get on with their lives."

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