Shelly von Stunckel
As a teenager she would "attend lectures on philosophy and then go out for a burger" in the ready-to-learn-new-things city of Los Angeles. She grew up nurturing a keen interest in religion and philosophy but because no career counsellor ever suggests going full-time into astrology, she trained in retailing and merchandising with a famous chain of stores. Then, when she was 29, she changed her mind. And her career.

"I realised that retailing was simply trying to get people to buy clothes. Astrology offered something more. For the first time it crossed my mind that I could actually become an astrologer. I thought that if I didn't do it now, I would regret it later," she says.

She did do it then. And has not regretted it since. Meet Shelley von Strunckel, anointed successor to legendary astrologer the late Patric Walker. A consulting astrologer for 25 years, her predictions are read and believed by millions right across the world, Shelley writes daily, weekly and monthly columns for major publications as diverse as The Sunday Times, South China Morning Post and Vogue (both French and English editions). And starting 2001, we, the Gulf News Tabloid, will bring her daily forecasts to the Middle East.

But to go back to the beginning...

"My first client was a lawyer who wanted to know more about the case he was working on. I was able to tell him that his client was suppressing evidence without ever having met this client. The client admitted doing so," remembers Shelley, speaking over the telephone from her home in London.

Naturally, she cannot talk about her clients or how true her forecasts have proved to be. But she is willing to mention one name: Rock music impresario Pete Waterman who has, among his clients, the popular band Westlife. "He came to see me when he was just a DJ. I looked at his astrological chart and told him how to capitalise on his skills. He listened. Of course, he did all the work, I just advised him," she says with true modesty.

Shelley believes in the western view of astrology which emphasises free will. She prefers to personally prepare the astrological charts of her clients. "An astronomically accurate map of the heavens calculated according to the person's place and time of birth is a mirror of his/her capacities. I look at it as an index of his strengths and liabilities," she details. Her forecasts and her advice are based on the analysis of this index.

She compares her columns to those written by a medical doctor. "Everyone reads what the doctor has to say about a condition and finds some useful information in it. They can go to an individual doctor for a consultation if they are looking for specific information."

Similarly, readers look for general trends when they look at an astrological column. "I have seen readers turn immediately to the astrological column when they pick up a publication. I am very careful and cautious with what I write and go over the final copy. I have a strong personal relationship with my readers," she emphasises.

And when such readers reach a turning point or crisis in their lives, they may want to consult an astrologer personally just as they would visit an individual doctor, she explains.

Her clients usually come to her during such a crisis, emotional or financial. But they tend to come back again for further guidance. The astrologer provides a fresh perspective on a troubling issue, she points out. He/she can lend a new view to the situation. This can help "turn a crisis into an opportunity".

Shelley is not afraid to look into her own astrological chart. "Being an astrologer does not excuse me from life's challenges. I still have to face them. I look at my chart and work out when a crisis period is going to be over," she says.

Neither is she afraid to constantly meet new challenges. She is currently developing her own television series where she plans to focus on analysing celebrity charts and is also working on creating a line of jewellery and watches that incorporate stones with their proven healing powers. And, of course, she is looking forward to writing for the Gulf. "I have a profound personal belief in God. I share the same faith in God that so many people in this part of the world have," she says quietly.

Convincing, as always. In word as in print.