Have I Been Here Before?

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[This is a continuing series about terrible celebrity paranormal shows. Part One is here.]

Reincarnation is a nice idea, and out of all the afterlife possibilities, it’s the one I most hope is real. What better than a chance to respawn and try again if, say, you completely fucked up your life by trying to be a writer, subsequently condemning yourself to an empty existence of failure and poverty? But everyone’s always Cleopatra, and never some nameless serf who shat themselves to death on a big pile of corpses. ITV’s 2005 series, Have I Been Here Before? explores this concept, using hypnotic regression to uncover the past lives of celebrities. It’s an evocative thought, how today’s stars may have fared during previous turns of the cosmic wheel. Could Hulk Hogan have been one of the founding members of the KKK? Was Jamie Oliver one of those fish that swims up your piss into your dick?

Hypnosis is powered by the human trait of being too embarrassed not to do what’s expected of you, be it hen night parties dancing like a chicken when they hear a whistle, or alien abductees spinning stories of bug-eyed greys sticking lasers up their arse. Its use as a scientific tool in past life regression exclusively allows people to remember stuff they’ve seen in history books or movies, which is why everyone’s past life was in medieval Britain or ancient Rome, and not some obscure Turkish hamlet they have no cultural knowledge of. Though they missed the opportunity to call it Who Do You Think You Were?, the show occupied that lunchtime spot just before Loose Women, aimed squarely at the same demographic as magazines with cover headlines like ‘RAPED AT MY OWN FUNERAL‘ and ‘DEAD DAD’S TOXIC GHOST FARTS MADE MY HUBBY IMPOTENT‘.

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Historically, it’s an important series to remember, if only for when its host Phillip Schofield is getting all pompous with guests on This Morning, as the CV equivalent of that gameshow Cheggers did with his cock out. The opening credits set the scene beautifully, with Schofield walking through a hazily-filtered wood and into a magic door, before a Coldwar Steve photo-montage of D-list celebrities in possible past lives, including Barry off Eastenders as Henry VIII, and a Victorian Dr. Fox married to Lisa I’Anson with Anneka Rice as their maid. At worst, this could be a mildly interesting look at the imaginations and improv skills of people off the telly, and the sort of celebrities desperate enough to appear on this definitely won’t just be playing along and pretending.

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The hypnotist’s website describes her as an “intuitive soul whisperer” if you were wondering the tone of this show, but for someone who puts people into a relaxed state, she’s got the shrill, sing-song voice of a dial-up modem doing drunken baby-talk to a stranger’s puppy. As alluded to, because it’s a terrible reality show, of course Shaun “Big Barry off Eastenders” Williamson is legally required to be involved. As a sidenote, I tried to track down that C5 show where he put on prosthetics to disguise himself as a lady, and was sent to a speed dating evening, but it tragically appears lost.

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The session begins with the hypnotherapist dangling a crystal over Barry’s head, perhaps to cure his baldness, and a puff of incense rises to the ceiling as he takes his place on a couch, near a table of yet more crystals. Each celebrity regression has a slightly different focus, with this one all about rooting out past life traumas. See, all phobias, fears and ailments are rooted in incidents from past lives, and by finding them, we can cut those connections and cure them in the present day. For Barry, it’s a preoccupation with choking, which sees him chop his children’s food up really small, and lurch awake in the night, struggling for breath. He’s hoping to cure it by regressing to its origin, which is like going back in time to kill Hitler, except it’s the Hitler of Barry off Eastenders fear of getting a pickle wedged in his throat as he scoffs a big dinner.

Barry looks really comfortable, eyes closed and tranced beneath a tartan blanket, like it’s the best nap he’s had in ages, as she takes him back to his former life. The first thing he sees is a shield, and when asked to describe his clothes, he says it’s armour, chain-mail; “some sort of knight.” The year is 1315, and his name is Richard Florin, making his home in a castle in rural France. “I fight for the Count,” says Richard/Barry, before the hypnotist asks if there’s anyone he loves. “Madeline,” he says, “she’s a lady in waiting.” His revelations are interspersed with flashes of dramatic reconstructions, on a production level of BBC Schools programs from the 1980s. On hearing Madeline’s name, we glimpse a French maiden, and on the not-at-all-leading question of “is she someone you’re allowed to be with?” we learn this is a romantic tragedy, with Sir Barry the Brave forced to admire Madeline from afar, as she waits on the Count.

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We flash forward, and Barry finds himself on a horse, going “somewhere muddy.” Painting quite the picture isn’t he? “What’s happening with the mud?” she asks, which is an odd question in any context, and he tells her there are people fighting in it. He’s battling the English — though he doesn’t hate them — and he’s been away from Madeline for three months. The therapist time-skips Barry to the day of his death, where he can’t breathe after getting piked through the neck by an English soldier. Richard Florin’s last moments on Earth consist of “just lying… lying in mud,” unable to move, and thinking “I’ll never see the castle or Madeline again.” That’s not so bad, mate. In 700 years, you’ll be reduced to appearing on a show about celebrity reincarnation. But what a tale he’s woven; something HBO would be wise to pick up the rights to once Game of Thrones is finished. Though it’s disappointing for me, having hoped the hypnotism would trigger intense memories of a past life as a cabaret diva, and leaving him physically unable to stop belting out Mustang Sally, 24 hours a day for the rest of his life.

Barry wakes with clammy hands, as a string of talking-head psychologists argue that it was purely imagination based on childhood fantasies of knights and warriors, while Uri Geller informs us it’s all real. Einstein proved energy cannot be killed, he says, “so why not believe in past lives, for goodness sake?” For craven sceptics for whom the good word of Uri Geller isn’t enough, the show sends out a historian, armed with Barry’s story, to hunt for corroborating evidence. Now, I’ve seen some bold claims before, but the promise that he’s “uncovered some astonishing facts” leads you to believe we’re getting a tearful reunion as they wheel in Madeline’s skeleton. They don’t, but the evidence is still rock solid. Would you believe, there were battles and castles back then? How could Barry have possibly known?! Also, the historian believes he’s pinpointed the castle (hundreds of miles from where Barry said), the actual count; James I of Barcelona; and believes Richard Florin met his end at the Battle of Bannockburn. Sadly, my own 20 seconds of research on Wikipedia reveals the count had been dead for 50 years before Florin’s unrequited love story, and that Bannockburn happened years before he got shanked through the windpipe.

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Each celeb has a sit-down post-mortem with Schofield, where the pair speculate that Barry was a heroic mercenary for hire, and celebrate finally getting to the root of his choking phobia, revealed as having his throat slashed in a field back in the 1300s. In an incredible example of not seeing the wood for the windchime-draped trees, Barry says how glad he is to be finally get to the root of his fear, having — in his current life — almost choked to death as a child, turning red and being saved by a Heimlich. “And ever since then” he says, “I’ve had a fear of choking.” Similarly, I’ve got an irrational fear of being hit by a car after I got knocked off my bike when I was a teenager, so logically, I must have been run over by a carriage in Victorian London. Brilliantly, there’s a throwaway reveal of another past life when he was under; a Peter Edmonds from Hull, who lived alone after his parents were killed in a car crash, never loved or cared about anyone, and worked in a canning factory until he died of TB with no hospital visitors. Classic Barry!

Another episode opens with original Page 3 glamour girl Linda Lusardi getting her knockers scanned with a crystal on a bit of string. She’s not a believer, but “quite open to spirituality,” so who knows what past lives she might uncover? Perhaps an Egyptian princess, or a Chinese farmer, or a man who killed a load of people with a hammer. Alas, it’s back to medieval Britain, as a ten-year-old girl called Mary. The vivid level of detail is simply astonishing; she lives “in a house,” and wears a brown tunic — “there’s a belt.” But in contrast to Barry’s gentle slumber, Lusardi seems in the midst of a nightmare, eyes scrunched and squirming through pained speech. Mary lives with her brother Robert and their daddy (“mummy’s dead”), and she’s got a gimpy arm after falling on a piece of wood. “It really hurt… I smashed my elbow… I was screaming and crying.”

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We skip forward in time, and Mary’s now 30 with two sons, in the year “one… three… four… six,” which is how we all say the date. Unfortunately, 1346 makes a crossover with Barry’s knight unlikely. Shifting uncomfortably on the couch, Lusardi complains of being cold, “always cold… I’ve dropped my baby… he’ll probably die.” She’s lost four babies so far in this miserable existence, and with another time-jump, things become genuinely unsettling, where a distressed Linda Lusardi weeps, “they’ve all gone.” Children, husband; all dead. Properly sobbing through closed eyes, she emits a wail of anguish, describing the black boils that fester on her armpits, legs and crotch. “I’m dying,” she says, “but it’s nice.” As Mary breathes her last, the hypnotist asks what she’s learned in that life. “I’d have been a better mother if my arm worked.”

Though there’s no historical record of a nondescript 14th century peasant who died of boils, the historian’s wowed by Mary’s spot on description of “a brown tunic,” and the impressive detail of living in a house made from basic materials. In Linda’s talk with Phil, she’s shook by the dramatised recreations, which are just like she remembered, as though this indicates everything was true, and not just the fact whoever shot them was drawing on the same pool of historical pop culture as Linda’s imagination was. But then there’s the spooky connection of Mary’s constant coldness and Linda’s dislike of being cold now. Because the rest of us all love being cold, don’t we? Most of all, Linda’s shocked that she had the same face as Mary. “I didn’t realise in a past life you would have the same outer body, but I did have the same outer body.” But then after all that, she concludes that it’s all just made up. Or at least, “memory cells passed down from generation to generation.

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The final episode I watched (there were 33 half-hours of this shite) featured Joe Pasquale. Pasquale was hot property at the time, fresh off winning I’m a Celebrity, mostly through talking about his ‘Jacobs’, aka his balls, which became a popular catchphrase even cited on his wiki page. Jacobs Crackers/Knackers, “ooh, me Jacobs are hanging out of me shorts,” that kind of thing. Necklace adorned with crystals of his own, toddler-voiced Joe seems the perfect foil to take this nu-age piffle seriously, and regresses back to 1917, where he’s a lad called Samuel. Asked if he’s got a surname, Samuel replies with the immediacy of an old west quick draw; “Jacobs.”

In the equivalent of me reliving my past life as Billy Cum, Pasquale takes us through the world of young Samuel Bollocks, with a rapid string of specifics, including names, full street addresses, and a harrowing account of WW1 trench warfare — “people died… nurse… nurse…” After taking one in the shoulder, Jacobs is sent home, and lives out his days running his own food shop. When asked if he’s got a family, “I’ve got a van,” he says, snickering. She tries again, asking if he met anyone. “No,” says Samuel. “Got a van. I like driving me van.” The rest of the session consists of a corpsing Joe Pasquale endlessly waffling on about his big grey van, and Samuel dies with the final musing on life that “it was okay… just looked after me mum.”

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For once, the historian’s got plenty to work with, with both Samuel’s full home address, and the address of his shop. There’s no record of these places existing. But then there’s the license plate of his beloved van, which they hope to trace back to its owner. It doesn’t contain enough characters, and is in a nonsensical order. Fine. However, there’s still hope, as Samuel talked of having his photo taken, and they play it up as incredible that Pasquale could have known cameras existed back then. They even find that grey vans were around in those days, and you couldn’t know something like that without having driven one in the past! Pasquale’s chat with Phil does bring up the whole Jacobs issue, and that, along with Samuel’s shop being on Stella Street, and his local boozer being the Jacobean Arms, rather brilliantly renders the entire exercise one massive, subconscious joke about men’s testicles. And yet, in an amazing example of that nu-Ager, conspiracy-buff thinking, where everything ‘spiritual’ or fringe must all be true, our soul-whispering hypnotherapist remains convinced that Joe’s past life was 100% real. Joe’s got a family now, having learned from the lonely mistakes of Samuel, who only had a van, see?

Though this show hasn’t changed my perception on the reality of reincarnation, it’s only further made me wish it were true. In this life, I can’t even drive, but just think, someday, in some other life, I might even be able to have my own van. And be named after a ballbag.

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on September 1, 2018.

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