Secrets & Lies: Sheila St Clair
Sheila St Clair (75) is Ulster's best-known psychic investigator. She lives near Lisburn and has one son, Stephen, a vet who works for the European Parliament. Her husband, Stanley Wyllie, died three years ago. She reveals all to Gail Walker
WHAT ARE YOU LIKE IN A RELATIONSHIP? ARE YOU A GIVER OR A TAKER?
I had 56 years of very happy married life until my husband Stanley died almost three years ago. He was my best friend.
I met him through my brother, who served in the RAF with him. A year after the war my brother brought Stanley home for a visit and the damage was done...
We got engaged in 1947 and married in July 1948. I was from Cornwall and he was from Hampshire but we moved to Northern Ireland shortly after our wedding, when Stanley was appointed musical director of the Ritz cinema in Belfast. He was the last organist there. After that he moved to UTV, where he was a programme controller for 28 years.
Stanley and I both liked music and poetry and shared a general interest in old places.
We were both also of a fairly volatile temperament and could go off like rockets if the occasion demanded.
Stanley didn't go into the paranormal as deeply as I have done but he did take a keen interest in it. I always found him a very open-eared listener, though I'm sure there were times he thought I was crazy. But it was a big help that he wasn't an out-and-out cynic.
He'd been under the weather for a while. Then, one morning he decided he would get up for breakfast. I went to the kitchen to start preparing it and he went to the bathroom. After a few minutes, when he didn't reappear, I went to look for him and he was gone. It was very quick. I was a wife at 8.25am and a widow at 8.30am. After so many wonderful years together I felt quite deserted.
ONLY CHILD OR ONE OF A CROWD?
I am one of five. I was my parent's fourth child, and I have three sisters \and one brother. We're all in our 70s now. They all live in England but we keep in touch with one another.
Like me, two of them have had paranormal experiences but they have not taken it as far as I have.
I had my first paranormal experience when I was six. I had a pussycat called Faithful, although faithful she was not. Unfortunately she came to grief with a milkcart. We buried her in the garden and the whole family attended the requiem. Two days later I was in the nursery and I saw Faithful again. She was sitting in front of the fire, washing her paws. I said to my nursemaid: "Look, there's Faithful." But my nursemaid, who was a strict, old-fashioned Presbyterian, couldn't see Faithful and told me off for telling fibs. I went to bed without my supper.
Shortly after that I started to see an old gentleman around our house. I didn't think much of it because there were always so many relatives visiting. It wasn't until later that I realised this man had joined the Great Army and was, in fact, my great-grandfather.
I never talked about these experiences with my siblings. Being accused of lying by my nursemaid made me wary of such disclosures. I kept my contacts quiet rather than be laughed at.
Children who have paranormal experiences learn not to talk about them, which is a pity. They don't have the psychological equipment to deal with the sort of reponse such a revelation usually produces.
WERE YOU CLOSER TO YOUR MUM OR DAD?
My mother and father died within three years of each other. Mum died first, then dad. I was close to both of them and really couldn't choose between them.
Dad owned a number of businesses in Cornwall and Devon and he would have taken the time to play with us - quite unusual in that day and age.
My mother was a wonderful lady with a great sense of humour and a quite exceptional feeling for children.
Yet, once again, I couldn't have told either of them about my paranormal moments; I just knew that it was better if I kept some things to myself.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
Getting my degree in English and History from Queen's University, Belfast, in my 40s. It was a crowning moment after four years of quite hard work. I started university at 40 and I'd to learn to fit in with a lot of youngsters who, as it turned out, were really rather kind to the few older people studying alongside them.
Prior to that I'd been working in broadcasting but I suddenly realised that I really wanted to teach. I went on to do my teaching diploma and then taught in three different colleges, including 16 years at Lisburn College of Further Education.
I'm also proud of our son Stephen, to whom I'm absurdly close, even though he doesn't get home often. He's a vet attached to the European Parliament and does a lot of travelling between Westminster and Brussels.
As a child he said he wanted to be a vet and wanted to study at Cambridge and he did both. Funnily enough, he ended up graduating just two years after me.
He tolerates my paranormal activities. He's far too clever to say: "Nonsense mother!"
He'll read my books and offer unconstructive criticism. Being a scientist he tries to rationalise everything.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST ASHAMED OF?
I'm deeply ashamed that I cannot ride a bicycle. All my siblings could, but I never mastered it, though I could ride a horse and I could ski.
I'm also ashamed of my terrible temper. I made a conscious effort to learn to control it between the ages of 18 and 21. But there were still occasions when both Stanley and I had spectacular rows. I specialised in throwing things like cups of tea, and he would have stood there and laughed at me, which made it all worse.
The first thing I ever threw at my husband was redcurrant jelly. I lobbed it at him in handfuls and he dodged them all. It ran down the walls. He started to laugh and I was so beside myself with rage that I sat on the floor and banged my head on the wall.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO A LAPDANCING CLUB?
You're joking, aren't you? I'm afraid I'm too old-fashioned for that. Even a night out with the girls wouldn't particularly appeal to me.
I prefer the company of just one or two people; I like to have a good conversation. I'm not very gregarious.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO A FORTUNE-TELLER?
I did on the behest of one of the radio programmes I was working for. They wanted me to give them a resume of whether it was all down to commonsense or was indeed true bill. I visited Foley, a fairly famous chap who operated out of a chalet near the beach at Portrush. He was a genius clairvoyant as well as a fortune-teller. I went incognito, and I have to say that Foley impressed me. It was at the very start of the Troubles and he told me that he saw the entire province covered in blood.
He was also one of those clairvoyants who insisted upon reading both hands. But when he took hold of mine he simply closed closed my fists and said: "I cannot tell you anything that you cannot tell yourself."
I persuaded him to make one or two pronouncements and he saw me at Queen's University. He described the gates and the red-bricked building and he could see me wearing some sort of gown.
He also told me that he saw me with a large bunch of chrysanthemums. At the time that made no sense to me. But a fortnight later a friend of mine who was clearing out his market garden presented me with - you've guessed! - a large bunch of chrysanthemums.
Okay, that wasn't spectacular, but it was there. Sometime in the middle of the Troubles, Foley went to live in England. I think he was so depressed about what was going on here.
And, yes, it's true that from time to time I myself have had the gift of foresight. For example, I foresaw my mother's death. Prior to her death I remember being on the train, travelling to London, and I saw her standing on the railway line. I knew that I hadn't seen her for nothing.
By that stage she had been ill with cancer for a while and, soon afterwards, she went into hospital for an operation.
When my father rang the hospital he was told the op had been a success but I just knew that was not the case. Later, when I had the house to myself, I rang the hospital and I was told they had opened her up, were unable to do anything for her, and had sewn her back up again. Prognostication can be a very unhappy gift.
Mind you, I had no instinct at all that my husband was going to die.
HAVE YOU ANY PHOBIAS?
Large spiders and small spiders. I loathe them but I cannot kill them, so I run a mile. Unfortunately my husband shared that phobia.
I blame it on my father and brother. When I was young they used to catch a spider in a cup and chase myself and my sisters with it. Wretched.
I also don't like being in a small room with the door shut.
Other than that I'm alarmingly normal.
DO YOU TIP IN RESTAURANTS?
I grew up in a family that habitually tipped on a kind of sliding scale. We travelled abroad a lot and you realised that in places like France or Italy a tip was vitally important to people because it formed part of their wage. They were dependent upon it.
Unless it says 'service included' on the bill I always tip.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?
Oh yes, I'm a committed, communicating Anglican. I've been a believer since I was very small and I cannot imagine a world without God. Recently, since Stanley's death, I've derived a great deal of comfort from having someone to look after me.
How can people live in this world without believing in something bigger?
Of course, over the years, I've had lots of criticism from people who think my work in the paranormal is anti-Biblical. But I believe that if God had not wanted me to find out about things He would have made that very clear. And if it's there, what am I meant to do? Either deliberately ignore it or investigate?
But I also believe that if there is a light, there also is a dark. If God made all things, then He must have made good and evil, and it's up to us to sort it out. The power of evil is very real and as you get older you realise it's more subtle that you suppose it is.
I've no desire to go to a medium to try and get in touch with Stanley. People poke and poke but if someone really wants to make contact, they will.
But most days I do feel him close to me and that doesn't worry me. I'll be feeling pretty low - and then I know that I have company. It's not a scary feeling.
And the day after Stanley's funeral an amazing thing happened. We'd a lovely indoor plant that hadn't bloomed for years. But that morning I noticed it had a lovely white bloom. That stayed for 10 days and it was very consoling. It was a very personal message to me and, at the time, I didn't tell anyone else about it.
QUICK DEATH OR TIME TO PREPARE?
I'm a coward. I want it to be quick. So long as I've time to say my act of contrition, I'll be happy. God has looked after me for 75 years so I can trust Him to look after me the rest of the way. Besides, I'm very curious about it all ...
I'm glad for Stanley's sake that he had a quick death. He was quite concerned by the idea of dying so I think he went the way he would have wanted to. Yes, it was a shock and I had to bear the brunt of it but I wouldn't have it any other way.
REGRETS ... HAVE YOU HAD A FEW?
Oh yes, everybody has a few. I regret I wasn't a better person. There were so many things I could have done that I did not do and there were times when I knew that I was being selfish or didn't take note of someone else's pain. I've never knowingly hurt anybody but who can honestly say that they have always done their best?