Comedian Jennifer Saunders sent a few shivers down spines recently — and exposed herself to ridicule — when she confessed that she believes in ghosts. She even detailed a visitation from her dead grandmother. Yet it would appear that the sensible mother-of-three is not alone in her belief of the afterlife. It is estimated that half of us are similarly convinced. Here, five writers confess their own very spooky encounters …
The hotel poltergeist
Tamasin Day Lewis believes a converted stable house was haunted
One summer in the early 1970s, I’d travelled ahead of my family to work in the bar of the Old Head Hotel in County Mayo, which is where we holidayed each year.
Along with several girls working as maids, waitresses or front of house, I was billeted in what was known as The Annexe, a converted stable behind the kitchen.
These days, Health & Safety would call it uninhabitable, but our excitement at being away from home and hitching into the local dances each night went a long way towards helping us ignore the damp and mould.
What we encountered that year, though, has remained with us to this day — and the five of us, who still meet up in Mayo in summer, often talk about it.
The Annexe had a room that had been locked up for years, but that summer it had been opened up and redecorated for a girl called Ann.
One night on returning from the local hop, three or four of us heard noises of furniture being pulled around and loud voices. But Ann was the only person there, and when we went into her room she was fast asleep.
From then on, strange happenings that we couldn’t understand occurred regularly.
Ann always left her clock on her locker, but would wake up and find it had moved to her dressing table.
One day, she woke up and found the leg of her pyjamas was burnt.
It wasn’t just night-time activity either. I could enter the building and hear voices during the day — but there was no one there.
Talking to my friend Maureen recently, who was one of the girls working with me that summer and also staying in The Annexe, she recalled going back one afternoon to wash her hair. ‘I had to run out of the place because it was so shockingly noisy, with furniture being pulled across the room,’ she told me.
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Spooky encounters: It is estimated that half of the British public believes in the afterlife
Jennifer Saunders revealed she believes in ghosts, and even detailed a visit by her dead grandmother
Soon after, Ann swapped rooms to a bedroom in the hotel. She thought it was us who were playing tricks on her and moving her clothes around — though none of us ever did.
I was then given Ann’s room, and can distinctly remember waking up and finding cups that I’d left in one place had moved to another. And I remember a rank smell of damp that I have never smelt anywhere else.
Maureen also recalled visiting a local lady who’d worked there before us.
‘She was very upset when she heard that room had been opened up,’ she told me. ‘She was very keen it should be locked up again and very alarmed when we told her about the burnt pyjamas.’
I lasted a week in the room before I, too, asked to be moved into the hotel. That was the only summer
The Annexe was lived in.
Were we suggestible? Did we believe in poltergeists?
I think it would be fair to say that none of us had ever thought or dreamt we would experience these strange events, and our open-mindedness today is entirely based on our inexplicable experience — and the fact that we are certain it happened.
My haunted family home
Hannah Betts’ new home outside Birmingham boasted three spectres: a woman who paced the ground floor, an aged doctor forever racing up the stairs searching for a dying grandson, and the victim of a confrontation that had spilled over into murder
I consider myself a sceptical atheist, yet spooks inveigled their way into my life in a way that made their existence impossible to deny — much as I and my family wished we could.
I was 16 in the summer of 1987 when the Betts clan — Mum, Dad, my two brothers and sisters — moved to an elegant, three-storey, six-bedroom Victorian villa with a large garden just outside Birmingham.
According to local folklore, our new home boasted three spectres: a woman who paced the ground floor, an aged doctor forever racing up the stairs searching for a dying grandson, and the victim of a confrontation that had spilled over into murder.
There was even the traditional bloodstain on the stairs that could not be removed (now covered with carpet).
Oh, how we scoffed. And, yet, doors would shut of their own volition, footsteps could be heard. Every night at 4am, someone — something — would tear up the stairs, rattling and then thrusting open the doors in its wake (all of which required proper turning and forcing), until it reached the master bedroom, entering in an all-mighty, door-slamming storm.
We would return home to find taps turned on full-force. An oven on the top floor would have its rings switched to red hot, making the house’s attics crackle perilously with heat. After the second time, we had it disconnected. Yet still it happened again.
One night, the boarded-up fireplace in my room ripped open. Behind it, stuffed up the chimney, were old Victorian newspapers describing the house’s murder.
My mother started behaving oddly. We eldest and Nanny Williams, our beloved summer-holiday addition, quizzed her. She confessed that, unable to sleep at night, she had seen a ‘dead child’ clad in Victorian garb.
The most terrifying room in the house belonged to my little brother. That summer, he became mute, sunken-eyed.
Asked why, he sighed: ‘Every night, it’s the same. The lady with the big bottom [a bustle?] and the two men fighting over my bed, then one man hurts the other and the lady screams.’
From then on, he slept in my mother’s bedroom.
My grandmother was next to occupy his room — then refused to ever again.
My mother braved it. Come morning, its door was locked. She refused to confide what had taken place, saying only that it was ‘something to do with time’. Somehow this was, and remains, the most horrifying thing I’d ever heard.
That room is still locked. We haven’t used it to this day.
Over time, events gradually petered out. I am told that this is standard. Ghosts act up with newcomers; but then they — and you — adjust.
I visited the house last weekend, almost 30 years on, to celebrate my 43rd birthday. All was quiet.
That said, our neighbour’s new cleaner recently told him that she would not be returning, having seen a woman walk through a wall straight into our living room.
I’ve always seen spirits
Santa Montefiore’s earliest memories are of seeing shadowy figures wandering around my bedroom at night
I have seen spirits since I was a child. My earliest memories are of seeing shadowy figures wandering around my bedroom at night. They seemed darker than the darkness, and appeared unaware of or certainly uninterested in me.
I’d watch them in terror, my heart racing, until I found the courage to reach out and switch on the light. At that moment they would disappear.
I never mentioned my nocturnal visitors to my parents. I imagine I thought everyone saw them — but subsequently I’ve learned I was the only one in the family who did.
The family house wasn’t haunted — I believe we are surrounded by the spirit world all the time. I see spirits in modern houses just as much as in old ones.
Not long ago, Miguel, a dear Argentine friend of mine, died in Buenos Aires of a brain tumour. The night I received the news, I decided to meditate — not with the intention of contacting him, but because I was sad I wanted to go somewhere peaceful. I went very deep and far away.
Suddenly, standing in front of me, dazzlingly bright, were three figures. The first was Natalie, Miguel’s first cousin, who had been killed in a canoeing accident 20 years before. The second was Miguel, and the third I knew to be his father — even though I had never met him.
The three of them were golden, smiling and radiating love. I held them there for a long time, savouring the sight of these dear friends, absorbing the feeling of joy they were communicating.
Then, in my head, I told Miguel that I wanted to share what I was seeing with his mother — that he was happy, and safe, and with people he loved.
He laughed and said, quite clearly: ‘She already knows.’
The next morning, I decided to make some calls to see if I could make sense of it all. I called my godfather, who’d spoken to Miguel’s mother the day her son died. He told me: ‘She said that she was happy to know that Miguel was now in spirit with Natalie and his father.’
I believe the three of them came through to me to confirm her belief. That message was for her.
Nowadays, I often see spirits — at night and when I meditate. I no longer find them frightening: I find it reassuring to know that we survive death.
(Santa Montefiore’s Secrets Of The Lighthouse is out in paperback on April 23, Simon & Schuster.)
Visit from dead lover
Wendy Leigh saw the great love of her 20’s after he died
I’ve never believed in ghosts, but three years ago I had an earth-shattering manifestation of the ghost of a dead former lover.
His name was Richard, he was 6ft 2in, with bright blue eyes, dark hair and a smile that could warm an Arctic winter.
Sadly, he died suddenly of a heart attack when he was just 66. He had been the great love of my 20s, but circumstances had separated us. Then, by a strange and dramatic stroke of fate, we met again through work over three years ago.
Despite the mega-watt attraction that still flared between us, reality was against us. He was married, and I, too, was committed elsewhere.
So we had an affair. A series of beautiful, secret encounters, rippling with love, sensuality and spirituality, which carried on until the tragic day I learned of his death.
Devastated, I locked myself into my office and, with the glamorous Cartier fountain pen he had given me for my last birthday, just wrote his name over and over again.
Then the phone rang in the living room, so I stopped writing, screwed the top back on the pen, left it on my desk and went next door to answer the telephone.
After an intense 20-minute conversation with a dear friend — one of the very few in whom I’d confided about Richard — I decided to go for a walk. But just as I shut the front door, I heard Richard’s voice telling me to go back into my office.
In a trance, I did. And there, on my desk, was my Cartier pen, with the top I’d screwed on so tightly on the other side of my desk, far removed from the pen.
I went into shock. As I did, there was an almighty explosion and every bulb in my office chandelier went black and died.
At that moment, from afar, I heard Richard’s voice saying the words he’d said to me on our last encounter, just days before he died.
‘I love you, and thank you for being my Indian summer. I never thought this would ever happen to me again.’ And nor did I think I would ever be haunted by a ghost — but I was.
Essie Fox suddenly became aware of a golden aurora surrounding her dead stepfather’s head
As a writer of Victorian novels that have a definite Gothic twist, I’ve often been asked if I draw upon any personal events regarding ‘ghosts’ which are then included in my work.
I have had experiences that might be considered ‘supernatural’, but whether this is a real force, or an internal manifestation of extreme emotions such as grief, well, I am in two minds about such things.
But there is one event very clear in mind from the time of the death of my step-father — a man who had loved me as his own and for whom I had the greatest affection.
I was 28 when he died, and although not with him at that sad time, I did visit his body later that day, when he lay in the chapel of rest at St Michael’s Hospice in Herefordshire. His body lay in a dimly lit room with a single candle burning. My sister and I sat at either side of the bed, while my husband stood at the end.
What I saw next is quite hard to describe. This was a moment of acute loss, and admittedly I was in a state of shock, but suddenly I became aware of a golden aura of light shining around my stepfather’s head.
It did not feel strange at all — in fact it was comforting — but I didn’t think to say anything to the others in the room at the time.
It was only when we were driving away in the car that my sister said: ‘I know you’re going to think me mad, but did you see that yellow light shining around Dad’s body?’
My husband said ‘No’. But I felt such a sense of relief to think that I was not alone — that I’d not imagined that golden glow.
This is a personal story. Perhaps it should remain that way. However, I would be intrigued to know if anyone else has experienced such a phenomenon as this.
I have done a little research on the matter and have read accounts of nurses on hospital wards witnessing a golden glow around a body just before a death, but not continuing afterwards.
I do wonder if science could offer an answer — explaining that the glow we saw that day had a physical, chemical explanation and was only visible that day due to the darkened state of the room.
Either way, it was an astonishing thing, and remains a cherished memory. My stepfather was a very good man. If anyone deserved a halo, then it was surely him.