Jonathan Cainer left school in Leeds at the age of 15 without any qualifications, and even he didn’t predict he would become one of the world’s most highly- paid astrologers. He talks about his strange life to Roger Ratcliffe.
Jonathan Cainer is more acutely aware of time than most. It’s a professional interest, given that he earns a good living by forecasting what tomorrow or next week or next year might bring for 12 million followers around the world. The complex movement of the planets, he says, are the very essence of time.
“It has been said there are just two certainties in life – death and taxes,” he quotes the author Daniel Defoe, “but actually there’s a third. I can tell you with absolute certainty where Venus will be next Wednesday night at 9pm. And it’s this relentless predictability of the positions of the planets which has led to their association with – not surprisingly – predictability. So if we can say with complete precision what the sky will look like at any given point in the future, there must be a reason for this one facility – this cosmic clock – being granted to the human race. The tradition of interpreting the sky and seeing relevance to events on earth is probably as old as humanity.”
As did Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe before the desert island, Cainer lives in York. And although born in the Home Counties he has spent most of his life in Yorkshire where, he says, time has sometimes been good and sometimes cruel.
He is able to laugh about it now, but for six months he was going through a rough patch and renting a bungalow in the village of Baildon to the north of Bradford. The cooker had an “End Time” button, which he concedes must’ve had a benign purpose to do with using the oven, but to time-obsessed Cainer it potentially had a more sinister role.
“I just kept looking at this button and taking it literally and thinking, Wow! I’ve been charged with a very big responsibility here. I was so worried I might press it accidentally. That year I was having a bit of a tough time, and I thought to myself on a couple of occasions . . . the ‘End Time’ button is only just there.”
Some years later, Cainer was living in considerably more style in a 16th century manor house on the edge of the picturesque Howardian Hills.
He was near the start of his career that would make him Britain’s highest-paid astrologer, and he and his wife Mel had five children under the age of nine. After she was seriously injured in a car accident, he says, he was cooking a quick tea for the kids between visits to the hospital when she suddenly appeared as a pale-blue flickering light in the kitchen to say she was dying.
His children have grown up and he now has a young daughter, Tia, with his new partner. They live in a large house overlooking a field beside the River Ouse, where he dictates horoscopes which will be read not only in the UK but right across the southern hemisphere, awaited just as eagerly in Sydney as they are in Sheffield, or Bali as much as Bradford. His website is one of the most visited in the UK and his premium rate phone lines have earned him sums that read like, well, telephone numbers.
His family roots are in the Jewish immigrants to England from Poland and Lithuania in the 19th century.
His maternal grandmother ran a chain of grocers around the Shipley area while his paternal grandfather was a GP with a surgery at Five Lane Ends in Bradford.
Finding the family atmosphere in Yorkshire too intense his parents escaped to Surbiton in Surrey in the 1950s where they had six children before divorcing. Then aged 13, he followed his mother, Ruth, north to Leeds where he was enrolled at Allerton Grange Comprehensive and spent his early teen years dreaming of becoming a rock star. He played bass guitar and when his maths teacher Mr Ramsden saw the name of his band, Strange Cloud, drawn in finest hippie bubble letters on his exercise book he scolded: “Cainer, you’re supposed to write your name on the cover, not your address.”
He left without a single qualification when he was 15, and drifted through dead-end jobs that included petrol pump attendant, nursery assistant and factory worker.
His real education began, he says, by attending rock festivals and falling in with a clique of counterculture hippies.
He wound up living in a London squat and helping to relaunch the famous 1960s underground newspaper International Times. For his troubles he was named as one of England’s top ten anarchists by the Daily Express, whose astrologer he would become years later.
It was in Los Angeles, where he went to try and launch the singer-songwriting career of his younger brother Daniel, that he discovered astrology. Unlike their British counterparts he’d found that the Californian rock cognoscenti lived and breathed anything that was weird or left of centre. He says of that time: “It was the match that set fire to the stack”
Still in his early 20s, he was managing a nightclub on the outskirts of LA when he met a psychic poet named John Charles Quarto, who predicted that Cainer would one day speak to millions. It took him five years, first as astrologer in the pioneering digital newspaper Today then the Daily Mail, Express and Daily Mirror before returning to the Mail.
He believes his highly developed intuition was probably inherited from his mother, who still works as a psychic healer at St. James’s Hospital in Leeds, and has led him into an unusual business venture. Fifteen years ago he bought a 650-year-old building in Stonegate, York, initially to run what he called the Museum of Psychic Experience in which visitors were shown how to identify things like their acupuncture meridians, chakras and auric fields, and how to tap into their intuition.
However, visitors detected the presence of three or four ghosts. There was one in the back room which some claimed had nearly pushed them over, and there were children at the top of the stairs.
“I don’t make a big fuss about being psychic but I’ve got a little something, I think, and I could feel them. I’ve been into every room and every cupboard, and there was something there, so I thought I’d open it up to be public.” He was worried the ghosts might object, however, and one night he went there and asked out loud in all the rooms if anyone had any objections to people coming in. He sensed the response was positive.
He decided to have some alternations done, which he believes must have disturbed something. “Suddenly we couldn’t move for spectral figures. It was like Piccadilly Circus.” It’s now run as a kind of museum of ghosts called The Haunted House, in which visitors are invited to walk through the building and investigate where ghosts have been seen.
“If you’re psychically sensitive there’s a good chance you will see them, but some people don’t have that power and they come back out saying, ‘well, we’ve walked around an empty house and we didn’t see anything’. I’ve had people wander in off the street and say, okay, they can tell the house is haunted and offer to clear it of spirits for me. I wish I had a quid for everyone who’s said that.”
He realises there are disbelievers, just as there are those who think astrology is tosh.
“When I first became interested in astrology I allowed myself to be sceptical, and I still think it’s healthy for me to not believe everything I say or other astrologers say.”
To explain it he deploys a rich analogy of the type which readers of his predictions will recognise, comparing scepticism with pepper. A small amount in the food our daily lives is healthy and stimulating, he says, but if we have too much of it we can’t taste anything.
He learned early on in his career not to predict exceptionally bad news for people even if he sees the omens, after forecasting a potentially life-changing event on a specific date for a female friend, who then broke a leg in a freak accident. The danger, he says, is that if you make such a forecast then people will start to behave differently and so increase the possibility that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
He’s used to confrontations with naysayers and it admits it’s particularly wearing when he meets those who embrace scepticism as a way of life.
“I’m constantly up against their defence mechanisms and, ironically, their own belief that all belief is irrelevant.
“Yes of course I believe in astrology, and yes of course I’ve had examples in my life which have made my jaw drop open with the amazing level of coincidence.”