I’ve conducted an interview with The Mitford Society’s friend and fellow writer Victor Olliver. Victor is The Lady magazine’s resident “star gazer” and first rate astrologer. His forthcoming book Lifesurfing: Your Horoscope Forecast Guide 2014 will be released 13 July. Victor answers questions on astrology, the ghostly going’s on at The Lady and, of course, the Mitfords!
Can you tell us a bit about your forthcoming book and when it will be available?
My e-book is called Lifesurfing: Your Horoscope Forecast Guide 2014 and it’s out 13 July 2013. More details here. My permanent fiancée Molly Parkin’s writing the foreword – she’s Aquarius and most of her key friends are Gemini, she tells me (and I’m Gemini). The Guide is a bit like an upmarket consultation-cum-soap opera with your personal astrologer, all for £2.99, in a monthly format. Each star-sign has certain identified big themes for the year and each is offered guidance on the best and worst times to do certain things, such as seeking a new job or suppressing one’s hormones.
Ronnie and Nancy Reagan swore by their astrologers – and they did rather well, didn’t they. The Guide also contains astrology profiles of Molly P, Hillary Clinton (the next US president?) and two other global movers and shakers.
As we know, the Mitfords grandfather, Tap Bowles, founded The Lady magazine and their father, Lord Redesdale, worked there. Nancy also wrote articles in the 1920s for the magazine. Do you think there is much of a Mitford influence centred around the magazine today?
In a literal sense, I think yes. Ben Budworth, who runs The Lady now, is the great grandson of Bowles – and he was the maternal grandfather of the Mitford sisters. The dowager Duchess of Devonshire (Debo) is of course cousin to Julia Budworth (one of The Lady’s co-owners), granddaughter of Bowles. And we know that the two women were of similar mind on at least one of the perceived outrages of Rachel Johnson’s brief but memorable recent editorship. So in an indirect way the Mitford-ish flavour is still there – even if times have required editorial adaptation.
Since you also write under the name Madame Arcati I must ask you this: Do you sense any ghostly goings on at The Lady?
Madame Arcati insists on answering this question – she cannot be thwarted and must be channelled:
“Thank you – Lindsy you’re called? A time-consuming name – is there a vowel missing? I always have to spell out ‘Arcati’ or else my mail order supplies of botanical elixirs from the Isle of Wight are addressed to Mme R. Catty. Life is difficult enough.
“The Lady’s home in Bedford Street does indeed crawl with ethereal loiterers – and I wish to put on record that these sad souls may not be former employees of the magazine.
“Rachel Johnson tells in her splendid A Diary of The Lady book that staff whispered about a ghost in the ‘Fred West basement’ where the archive is homed. And Ben Budworth tells a tale of mystery that might have excited the cast and crew of TV’s ghost-hunting show Most Haunted. Unfortunately, it’s a rather tasteless story and must be redacted for decency’s sake – it features the ladies’ loo, a revolting object upon the floor and a denial of responsibility by one of the former editors. I can say nothing more save that it fell to Mr Budworth to clean up. His skills would not have been wasted in the employ of a noble family blessed with many free-range puppies, had fate not handed him The Lady.
“One can only conclude that if the culprit was a poltergeist it was exceedingly common.”
Madame Arcati has now left us. I hope that answers it.
Do you ever meet somebody and judging by their character assume they are a certain sign only to discover they are, in fact, another?
All the time – that’s because astrologers can’t tell your sign simply by looking at you. A few months ago I met a famous iconic designer I assumed was a Scorpio because of her intensity and shyness, but she turned out to be Sagittarius – usually a very jovial sign. Many people cloak their real natures till they know you: astrologers look for the rising sign (not the star sign) in a horoscope to help describe this mask or persona. The Queen is Taurus, which in itself might suggest a love of pleasure; but her rising sign is in Capricorn, a sober and serious sign. No one can deny that HMQ comes across as serious, responsible, even stern at times. But behind closed doors, and among friends, she knows how to enjoy herself.
Which sign is your favourite and why?
What a question! All 12 signs are my children, each fascinating. A great many of my friends are Aquarian – I don’t seek them out: we find each other across crowded rooms or in stuck lifts. Aquarius people are open, free-flowing, big-headed, rather sexy. They instinctively understand one’s need not to be stifled. I had no idea Molly Parkin was Aquarius before Madame Arcati encountered her (another story). I tend to develop childish crushes on Aquarians (and Pisceans).
Without looking this up–what sign would you guess each of the Mitford girls to be?
No wise astrologer would guess; what hostages to fortune that would give. Even so, astrologers can’t tell star-sign just by looking.
However what’s interesting about the three Mitford horoscopes I have seen (Jessica [Virgo], Nancy [Sagittarius] and Diana [Gemini]) is that all three have Uranus at powerful angular points in their charts. Uranus is the planet of independence, rule-breaking, pioneering or transgressive ideas. If I didn’t know who these people were I’d expect them to break or challenge convention in some way. I have not seen charts for Debo or Unity.
Who is your favourite Mitford girl and why?
All are intriguing in different ways. Unity [Leo] was the first Mitford I ever read about and I find her bafflingly absurd. I know Diana [Gemini] exerted quite a magic over many British writers and journalists; completely lost on me, I fear.
I suppose Jessica (or Decca) appeals to me the most. She rebelled rather completely against her privileged background – even sending-up Nancy’s U/Non-U stuff. I love her book The American Way of Death and the fact she stayed true to her disgust at funeral parlour opportunism. I believe she had a nice cheap cremation. Today, she might have written about Wonga and other grasping money-lenders in our austerity panto. Though she was a Virgo, I think we may have got on.
And last but not least can you tell us a bit about yourself…
I was trained to be a barrister but insufficiently impressed by the corrupt old swine who run the Inns of Court. So I entered journalism, won two magazine awards over the years, but slowly realised that my heart is not sufficiently whorish to bend to the careerist strictures of editors and media proprietors. Much of what passes for journalism is either propaganda or press release. Astrology was my godsend. I live by the sea. My least favourite interview was Dame Elizabeth Taylor [Pisces]. A frightful woman.