Standing just behind the reporter, she says, "is a tallish man, someone close to you who died suddenly of a heart attack. Just to the side is a man who died of cancer." Frankly, nobody here sounds even vaguely familiar, though the British-born Altea's warm tone and disarming manner inspire an eagerness to believe.
But never mind. Altea (pronounced al-TAY-a) is blessed with an abundance of true believers. She says her waiting list has hundreds of names and her autobiography, The Eagle and the Rose, in which she recounts her experiences as a spiritual medium and healer, is selling briskly on both sides of the Atlantic. For $200 for a 45-minute personal session, the 49-year-old Altea will put her alleged skills into play in the service of customers—who include, she claims, CEOs, royalty (don't ask, she won't name-drop), socialites and lesser earthbound mortals. Those unable to travel to her three-bedroom bungalow in Worlaby, a village in northern England, can tap into Altea's hot line to the spirit world by phone or write to her.
Feeling dubious? Well, declares Altea, so was she—once. For many years she simply thought she was loco when she saw ghostly apparitions. "I'm one of the bigger skeptics," she says. "It's a healthy way to be, provided you're open-minded." According to Manhattan psychologist Arlene Kagle, "Psychics require so little of us except money. It's a way of confronting questions that are often unanswerable."
Altea says that she has been pestered by the spirits since her grim childhood in Leicester. Her father, William Edwards, a career military man attached to the Royal Engineers, had a fierce temper, she says, and "smacked" his scrawny daughter often. Her emotionally frosty mother, Lillian, warned Rosemary that if she didn't forget all that foolishness about voices and visions, she would end up in the local insane asylum like her grandmother Eliza, who Altea now believes was more psychic than psychotic.
Marriage was no escape. Altea's husband, Line, a clothing company manager she married in 1965, was a philanderer, she says, who walked out when their daughter Samantha was 9.
Her life began to right itself when, by chance, Altea met British medium Paul Denham, who, she says, persuaded her that she had a special gift. "It was like coming out of the darkest dungeon and stepping into the sun," says Rosemary, who began seeing clients in 1982.
Altea isn't in the sun alone. At her side—unseen by skeptics or anyone else—is her conduit to the spirit world, Grey Eagle, an Apache Indian, who she says lived in the 19th century. "It does seem rather bizarre," she notes, "but I believe we knew each other prior to my birth."
Altea shares her spiritual insights most eagerly with the bereaved, particularly with parents who have lost children. "I don't summon anyone," she explains, "I ask if there's anyone around who would like to talk to me."
Altea has little patience with those who simply want to commune with the spirit world to extract a hot stock tip or to get the skinny on the future. And she gives short shrift to women who want to know if they are going to meet a tall, handsome, rich stranger. "I tell people if I saw one, I'd keep him for myself," says Altea, who would like to remarry but has no kindred spirit at the moment. "I think," she adds, "that I make men nervous."
When it comes to Samantha, now 25, Altea relaxes the rules, occasionally giving her bulletins about beaux on the horizon. "She often gets feelings about whether someone is good or bad for me," says Samantha. "I've grown up with all this, so it seems very normal. Grey Eagle is part of our family."
To her fans, Altea is a psychic phenomenon. "I was truly amazed," says Larry King, who met the medium when she was booked on his show in May. "She described my deceased parents perfectly." Others who have encountered her on her media blitz to promote The Eagle and the Rose are unimpressed. "There were no thunderbolts for me," declared Diane Sawyer when Altea, during a segment of ABC's Prime Time Live, claimed to be talking to a spirit about a disorganized fellow "named Mark or Mike" (Sawyer's husband is director Mike Nichols). "Does a wife need a psychic to tell her that?" asked Sawyer.
Altea shrugs off the naysayers. "I'm not here to convince you that what I do is real," she says. "I'm only here to tell you my story." Grey Eagle couldn't have put it better.
JOANNE KAUFMAN in New York City
PSYCHIC ROSEMARY ALTEA AND A reporter appear to be the sole occupants of a townhouse courtyard on Manhattan's Upper East Side. But by Altea's lights, the joint is jumping.