Fortunes in the making
LATE LAST Tuesday night, Pricewatch was troubled. Something seemed wrong and we needed to know how to right it. So, who were we going to call? Psychic Wayne, obviously.
Psychic who? You won’t know unless you watch TV3 after Vincent Browne at night, but Psychic Wayne has become a star in some circles since his Irish screen debut in the middle of last month as one of the lynchpins of Psychic Readings Live.
Wayne is, you see, a “psychic”, and for €2.44 a minute he will help you plot a course through this troubled world. When Wayne is not on screen, his place is taken by a camp German man by the name of Flathan or, sometimes, a bizarre American lady who calls herself Countess Nadia Starella.
There are also at least a dozen others waiting for your call but they are never allowed into the studio – not least because the thumbnail pictures beside their telephone numbers make them look more psycho than psychic.
When I call I am surprised to be put through to Wayne almost instantly. After just three minutes (or €7.32) on hold and another minute (or €2.44) being warned by a woman at the Hungarian call centre from where the show is broadcast not to ask about my health or any dead people, I find myself in the late-night limelight.
I have a question ready to go. I explain to “Psychic Wayne” that I have this person connected to my job who I think is stealing people’s money and I ask him what he thinks I should do. I ask if “Psychic Wayne” thinks I should expose this person.
For the first 30 seconds we get on famously but then Wayne cocks his head a little and smiles. But it is not a happy smile. It is a smile of suspicion. It is almost as if someone in a control room has alerted him that something may be amiss about this call.
Wayne reads my Tarot cards and the first card up – the cards never appear on screen, so I have to take it on faith that they exist – is the “Breathless Fool”. This card suggests I should stop thinking and start breathing (no, I have no idea what it means either). Next up, he draws the Crazy Fool. “This is a crazy question that you ask me,” Wayne says. I ask why but he ignores me. “And the last card that comes up says that you need to do what feels right. That you have to ask them why are they stealing money from you.”
So far, so meaningless.
Again I try to stop Wayne’s flow of psychic babble to find out what he is talking about, but he just ploughs on with his reading, almost as if I am not on the line. He asks me, and any other viewers, why my concerns “are not being addressed” and tells me “it is not just affecting you, it is affecting a lot of people”.
He pulls another “last card” from the magic hat and tells me this similarly unidentified card means “people are too scared to speak up. They are too scared to speak up about this situation because they know that what this person is doing is doing it to help other people. It is a bit like what he is doing, he is doing it to help many, many people in their lives. Do you understand this?”
I say no. I genuinely have no idea what is going on in Wayne’s World, but when I ask him to explain he cuts me dead with a final: “Thank you so much for your question Conor. I am so pleased I spoke to you . . . That was a fantastic reading, I enjoyed that reading Conor – I am on the ball tonight.” He is now smiling broadly as if he has just won some amazing battle of intellects with his rapier-like wit and his awesome psychicness.
Wayne disappears from the line to be replaced by some woman with an eastern European accent who half-heartedly offers me a private reading. Even more half-heartedly I say yes, and she goes through the motions, telling me in a flat monotone that I have been hurt in a relationship. Hasn’t everyone. I hang up.
When I play back my recorded telly-reading, which has just cost me more than €15 thanks to the scandalously expensive premium-rate phone service, I realise all my interjections and attempts to extract clarity from Wayne had fallen on deaf ears. Once my opening question had ended and Wayne’s unhappy smile had appeared, the producers had appeared to mute me. Neither “Psychic Wayne” nor the viewing public had any idea I may have had doubts about the validity of what I was being told.
It is just another sleight of hand by the programme-makers, who seem expert at extracting money from people.
The show appears to attract vulnerable and unhappy people looking in all the wrong places for answers, and then charges them staggering amounts of money for readings of questionable merit. There have been growing calls from bemused viewers for it to be axed. The growing controversy is not unlike the one which engulfed Play TV, an infomercial “quiz” night that TV3 eventually scrapped after complaints, fines and mountains of bad press.
But TV3 is having none of this right now. Its spokeswoman Maureen Catterson does a mean impression of Pontius Pilate as she deftly washes her hands of Psychic Wayne and his cronies.
The show is on her employer’s channel for two hours every night, but is not really there at all. Catterson says an “infomercial is produced by an independent third party and promotes a service which is licensed by Comreg”. She says it “meets all premium phone-line and broadcasting regulations. The content is commercial and not a TV3 programme or TV3 content.” When we asked how much money TV3 was making from the show we were told this was classified. When we asked for the rate card to estimate how much money TV3 was making from it, she said the channel’s “commercial rates are commercially sensitive information which we would never disclose”.
We contacted the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. It has a code of conduct for the commercial communications of fortune tellers and psychic services. It only deems such carry-on acceptable “where the service is evidently for entertainment purposes only and this is made clear in the communication”.
There has to be a “this is an entertainment service” line carried on screen at all times.
The code says “claims that future events may be predicted, other than as a matter of opinion, are not permitted. Claims to make contact with deceased persons are not permitted. Claims pertaining to matters of health, cures, curing and/or healing are not permitted.”
In a statement, the authority told Pricewatch that “to date, the BAI’s compliance committee has not taken a view on the programme, however, it will keep it under review. No complaints have been received to date by the BAI in respect of the programme.”
The reason the authority has yet to receive a complaint is that according to its rules a person must first complain to the broadcaster and then allow 30 days to elapse before contacting it. The programme has not been on air long enough.
To help the authority in its musings, we have noted just some of the quotes we heard the psychics say. “This is the one and only chance you have to have a better life,” Flathan said recently, urging people to call him. “If you want to be rich, I am the one and only person who can make you rich,” he continued, before adding somewhat improbably: “Look at me. I am rich. I am famous. I am the best at my job.”
You are on a late-night infomercial on TV3, Flathan. How good can you possibly be?
In fact, Flathan is not good. His English is poor and his hearing worse, so he frequently mishears the names of callers and calls a Deirdre “Josie”, and although she says she is in her 30s, he mishears and guesses she is in her 40s. A 25-year-old called Amanda becomes, in Flathan’s head, a 35-year-old called Samantha.
Last week a man called Mark made contact and asked Flathan if he was “a lucky person”, and off the psychic went: “In my opinion I see a beautiful, young, nice girlfriend. Long blonde hair, very nice person, you don’t know it, it will be a real new person in your life. The first time you see her is in a club and I see her in September or October. This is what I see. In my opinion.”
He told a woman not to trust a colleague who may be stealing from her and cast doubt on the viability of another woman’s relationship. “This man is lying to you. He has a tattoo on his shoulder. Beware of him. I wish you goodnight.”
Another poor woman who was distressed asked Flathan whether she would be able to hang on to her home after falling into mortgage arrears. “Will you hold the house . . .” he said. “Yes! In my opinion I will see you holding the house so don’t be worried.”