Hosting Victorian séances from her vintage frock shop in Faringdon as well as hosting events across the country, Claire Marie Priest deals in the ghostly, the spooky and the paranormal. Claire has fearlessly investigated the country’s most haunted houses, from around Oxfordshire and Wales to Newcastle and the Scottish Borders, for many years, and when it comes to ghostly goings-on, she knows all there is to know. As Hallowe’en draws near, a thoroughly spooked Jack Rayner spoke to Claire to find out more.
How does one go about becoming a paranormal investigator?
It's quite a strange story. I've always been interested in the paranormal – I was always the one at school doing daft Ouija boards, and so on. As you get older, and start a family, these interests sometimes get neglected, but my daughter bought me a ticket to a ghost-hunting event for one of my birthdays. Since that event, my life took a totally different path. I became so hooked on it – friends that I brought along to that night say, "Claire, you were meant to be there that night.” It's hard to describe the feeling – I just became addicted to it. At the time, I was living in Newcastle, and I started travelling all over the UK doing my events. I've never looked back.
What types of events do you do?
I do overnight paranormal investigations – we start the events at 9pm and go on until 2am.
What's the most haunted place in Oxfordshire?
Of the places I've investigated so far, it has to be The Bell Hotel in Faringdon. I've had so many experiences on different occasions, and so have my guests and my team members. I've had to drag people out of rooms – some have had the feeling that they're being strangled. There are a few different parts of the hotel of interest – the cellar is often good, as is Room 8. On one visit, we were sitting in the back room of the restaurant packing up at the end of the evening. We were the only ones in the hotel, and the entire group of us heard the laughter of a little girl coming from towards the entrance hall, as well as seeing shadows move in the back kitchen. Scary stuff! Oxford Castle is also very famous, of course, but I haven't personally seen as much activity there as I do at The Bell Hotel – the smaller inns seem to show more activity.
What goes on at a séance?
A lot of people mistake séances for mediumship, and think I'm going to give readings or claim to talk to people's dead relatives – it's totally different. Victorian séances date back well over 150 years, and what we do is not sinister. It's harmless fun – everyone has a great time. We sit around a candle-lit table, and we attempt to get the spirits that haunt the building to come forward. We usually blow the candles out so that we're sat in sheer darkness, and we've encountered lots of different experiences. It makes me really excited.
What would you say to someone who feels apprehensive about going to your kind of events?
I get a lot of people that are sceptical, naturally, and I also get a lot of people who are completely petrified but it's always something they've wanted to do. I'd say just keep an open mind and go with the flow. Don't expect too much – when you watch these paranormal TV shows, for an hour-long show they might have taken a month to compile the footage.