When you are in love with someone, but are not physically with them — perhaps because you split up, or maybe because you have simply never been together — it is natural to try to find answers as to why you are in this situation. Psychic readings are a tempting way to get at those answers. But Felicity McCall almost had her life ruined by just such a reading.
“When my husband and I split up I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t know what had happened. One day he was there, the next he was gone,” says Felicity McCall, who lives in Slough, a regular town in the south of England.
“I felt empty. I was desperate. Of course I wanted him to be back with me, but I also needed to know why this had happened. The not knowing was as bad as the not having him,” she says. We are sitting on a comfortable sofa in Starbucks when she tells me her story. Her eyes are welling up with tears as she remembers the emotion of the time.
Felicity continues, “I talked to his friends, my friends, anyone who would listen. I just wanted to understand what had happened. Was it something I said, something I did? Nobody had the answer, and I got more and more desperate. Then one of my mother’s friends said I should go see a psychic, get a reading, get the answers that way.”
She tells me how she thought this was a silly idea. Psychics, she thought, were little more than circus performers. They put on a good show, but that’s all it was, a show. They had no supernatural ability. They couldn’t have, because such abilities just don’t exist. A couple of years of watching The Mentalist had shown Felicity all she needed to know about the cold reading tricks these people used in order to fake unearthly knowledge of the customer (or their victim, to use Felicity’s description).
And yet, knowing all of this, knowing the tricks and techniques used by so-called psychics, she jumped at the idea.
“I know it sounds stupid, and in retrospect it was. But I asked my mother’s friend for the number of the psychic she was recommending to me. When you’re desperate, you’re willing to grab at any straw no matter what you might have thought of it before.”
And so a week later, Felicity found herself in a room with a ‘psychic reader’, having a reading done. The room was totally stereotypical. The only light came from a candle on the small round table about which they were both sitting. It was covered with a deep purple cloth, and beside the candle was a crystal ball. Incense burned somewhere out of sight. The psychic herself wore a headscarf and spoke only in low whispers. It was like something out of a movie, felicity recalls.
The reader, called Maud, proceeded to gaze into the ball and go through the motions. Felicity was on the edge of her seat, hanging onto Maud’s every word. As she admits herself, she was the perfect victim. She was ready to accept anything and everything that Maud said. And she was equally open to suggestion and cold reading techniques.
“Maud started off by telling me a lot about myself. She said something about having man trouble, and I guess she saw in my eyes that this was the reason I was there, so she continued down that path. She was good, very convincing. It wasn’t like she would ask me a question then see if she got positive feedback from me, she spoke to me and picked up very subtle cues. I didn’t realise any of this at the time though. She had me completely taken in.”
Maud carried on with her fact finding, drawing Felicity in with every new piece of information she was able to uncover. Then she revealed the devastating news: Bob (Felicity’s husband), had left her because he had discovered he was dying of cancer. He had found this out a week before he left, and had spent that week deliberating how he would tell his wife. In the end he thought it better to break her heart now, than let her watch him die a slow and painful death — breaking her heart day after day.
“I was totally in shock,” Felicity tells me, crying full tears now at the memory. “I had expected to hear that he was having an affair, or that he just didn’t love me any more. Anything but that. Bob was dying, and now he was alone.”
Of course, she completely believed Maud. After all, she had spent fifteen minutes listening to her recount apparently secret details of her life, details that she could only possibly know through psychic abilities.
Felicity drove home as soon as the reading was over, and tried desperately to get in touch with Bob. She called him at work, tried his cellphone, all his friends, his mother, anyone who might know where he was. She wanted him to know that she loved him, that she would spend every last minute he had with him. But the calls were in vain. Nobody knew were Bob was, and he wasn’t returning messages.
“It was one of the darkest periods of my life,” she tells me. “I was so in love with Bob, he had gone, and now I believed he was dying. Not only dying, but doing so alone somewhere. So after three days I went to the police and filed a missing persons report.”
She didn’t tell the police about the reading, just that her husband had gone missing. At first they weren’t interested, but after much persuasion they agreed to take down the details and said they would “keep an eye out for him”. In the meantime, Felicity was to go home, calm down, and keep trying to contact Bob.
That was going to be easier said than done. How could she calm down given all that was going on in her head? After initially refusing to leave the police station, a constable eventually drove her home. And as she walked through her front door, there was Bob, in the kitchen, making tea.
“He had this sheepish look on his face,” says Felicity. Now her eyes have dried, and a smile is breaking. Our coffees are both cold, we’ve been too wrapped up in the story to drink them. “He looked at me and asked if I wanted a cup of tea. I’m thinking ‘Tea? TEA? You’re missing, and dying, and the police are looking for you, and you’re asking me if I want tea?!’, but I just stood there unable to speak. The policewoman who drove me home was standing behind me. She stepped forward and asked Bob if he was the missing husband. He looked even more sheepish, and said he was.
“The policewoman obviously thought this was some kind of marital dispute, so excused herself and left us to it, making a comment about wasting police time and them not being a marriage counselling service. Now it was just the two of us. Him standing there looking ridiculous, with two mugs of tea in his hands. Me gawping at him, lost for words.”
But the words did come. And once they started, they were hard to stop. Felicity began gushing about how much she loved him, how she knew what was wrong, that he had nothing to be afraid of, that she was there for him, would always be there for him, right to the very end.
“I felt unreal. Like I had stepped out of my body and someone else had taken control of it and was doing the talking for me. Bob, at this time, was a picture of sadness, confusion, and almost pity. He finally stopped me talking by kissing me. That’s when I kind of returned to my own body and felt part of the situation again.
“After that kiss, that long and wonderful kiss I had waited so long for, Bob told me why he had left. He said he had been confused. He knew he loved me, but he wasn’t sure it was enough. His feelings had changed and he couldn’t understand them. So he needed time away, time to understand what he was thinking.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this revelation, so I asked him if he though it was the cancer that was messing with his mind. The look on his face told me all I needed to know. He hadn’t got cancer. Of course he hadn’t. He had no idea what I was talking about.”
For the next couple of days, Felicity’s emotions were all over the place. “Like a roller coaster that ran off it’s rails,” she recounts. From the initial relief at finding Bob and discovering he didn’t have cancer, to anger at him for leaving without explanation, to joy at having him back, and knowing that he wasn’t dying.
“The thing is, it could have been so much worse,” she tells me, serious now. “What if he hadn’t come home at that exact moment? What if he left the country for a few weeks? And I told the police he had cancer? There could have been a full scale manhunt! All because of a fake psychic reading, a woman who took my money and told me anything she thought I might believe, just to turn a profit!”
Felicity is, understandably, angry at Maud. “There’s no regulation for this kind of thing. People like her prey on the desperate, the needy, the vulnerable. How dare she make up something like that! It’s one thing to use cold reading skills to try to ease a person’s pain, to tell them soothing things, little white lies that make everyday heartbreak easier to cope with. But to make up a lie about someone dying of cancer? It’s unforgivable. Shameful.”
Now Felicity has tried to put the whole episode behind her. She and Bob are firmly back together, his emotional wobble a distant memory. For a while she tried to do something about fake psychic readers like Maud. She set up a website, but nobody read it. She tried to get interviews on the radio, in local newspapers, but nobody was interested. Hers was just another sad story in an ocean of deceit and despair. And so in the end, she accepted it and moved on. But Felicity always welcomes opportunities to warn others of the dangers of so-called psychics and the tricks they play on the unwary.
The names in this article have been changed at Felicity’s request.