BEA GOVE: My fright night with the ghosts of chequers
Bea Gove was 12 when she had a chilling paranormal encounter – the first of many – at Chequers. Then she discovered that there’s a family history of seeing spirits…
Styling: Sophie Dearden. Styling assistant: Stephanie Sofokleous. Dress, ajeworld.com. Boots, Bea’s own. Make-up: Joe Pickering at Carol Hayes using Nars. Hair: Narad Kutowaroo at Carol Hayes using GHD
My first and most scary paranormal experience happened at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat in Buckinghamshire. It was 2013 and David Cameron was PM at the time. I was 12, and my family were staying for the weekend, along with other politicians and their families. I was pleased to be given a room on my own in the attic.
But in the middle of the night, I woke suddenly, overwhelmed by a deeply unsettling feeling. The room oozed with a foul energy that made me feel physically ill. All the muscles in my body constricted. I froze in my bed. Then the floorboards started creaking, as if someone was creeping up on me. I snapped out of my paralysis and sprinted to my parents’ room, crying.
Other mothers might have said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, there’s nothing there!’ However, Mum reassured me that she felt the same way whenever she stayed in that attic. I discovered that in the 16th century, an unfortunate aristocrat called Lady Mary Grey spent two years under house arrest at Chequers, having been banished from court by her second cousin Queen Elizabeth I for marrying without her consent. The room where Lady Mary was imprisoned was in the attic ‒ right next to the one I was sleeping in. All the isolation and misery she must have felt when she was trapped there has lingered, and I think that is what my mum and I were able to feel.
What’s odd is that my dad has never felt uncomfortable staying there. Talking to other families who have been guests at Chequers, every woman who has slept in the attic has not had a wink of sleep and sensed something weird. The men, meanwhile, have felt nothing. The only exception was the film director Tim Burton who, when he stayed there one New Year, was very struck by that same awful energy.
My mum started having paranormal experiences when she was a teenager: seeing figures standing around her room, or hearing footsteps when there was no one there. Her mother and her grandmother have shared spookily similar stories. It seems as if this ability to sense the spirits, or energy of people who have inhabited a space years and years ago, has been passed down through generations of women in my family.
Ever since that visit to Chequers, whenever I am in an old building, I can sense the energy of the people who once lived there. In my early teens, my parents often took me and my younger brother Will to stay with their friends, who usually lived in old country houses. Often, I had this unshakeable sense that I was being watched by something not quite human and felt as if I was never alone.
I know it may seem delusional to you, but the feeling that there are other beings around me is so strong it is almost tangible. Sometimes I will see the outline of a figure, say an old man sitting on a park bench. Other times it is a very insistent sensation that someone is there with me. It tends to happen at night, and only in older buildings; I have never felt a spirit in a new-build.
One of my most upsetting experiences happened when I was 14. We were staying in a very old Tudor house in the middle of nowhere. I was sharing a room with my brother and Mum came in to say goodnight. I was already half asleep and, when I opened my eyes, instead of my mum I saw the face of an extremely wrinkled, ancient woman. Her skin was pale grey. Her mouth wide open, as if she was trying to scream. It was like my mum had morphed into someone else. The old woman’s eyes were blank and empty. For a few seconds, all I could hear was a muted static sound. Then I blinked and saw Mum’s face and heard her voice again. She said she had never seen me more afraid in my life. I almost passed out. Mum had been talking to me, trying to calm me down, but all I heard was the strange static. I think what I saw was a trapped soul. It was very angry. Mum said she felt as if she had been punched in the back by something very cold when she stepped into that room. My brother, however, slept like a baby all night.
Why is it that only the women in my family experience the paranormal? I find that men can be quite dismissive about these experiences, whereas my female friends are always fascinated by them. Men generally see everything empirically, while women tend to be more open-minded to anything spiritual or not of this world. Perhaps that allows us to see and feel things that men can’t.
Bea sensed her first spirit at Chequers in 2013: ‘I never want to go again!’
While my dad and brother don’t accuse us of lying about our experiences, they think we are being overly sensitive, ‘hysterical’ women. I have researched why women might be more attuned to the spirit world and some paranormal experts believe it is connected to hormones. There are theories that spirits are drawn to, or even feed off, female hormones and when these hormones are surging ‒ for example, during puberty ‒ women will have more intense experiences. My paranormal encounters were definitely more frequent and vivid from 12 to 15 and when my mum was going through menopause, she had more strange experiences than usual, too.
Although I’m pretty used to sensing spirits now, there are still the odd frightening moments. This summer there were reporters lurking outside my house, so I decided to book into a nearby hotel for the night. When I checked in around 11pm, I knew something was not right. A terrible, ominous energy plagued the place. I felt so uncomfortable and unwelcome in my room that I could not sleep.
The dark, gloomy atmosphere persisted and it started to feel as though the air in the room was getting thicker. Then the bathroom door began violently swinging back and forth ‒ there was no breeze in the room, the windows were shut tight. I was so petrified that I left the hotel at 4am and walked home in my dressing gown. The feeling of relief as soon as I stepped out of the hotel was immeasurable. The next day, I learned that exactly two years before, a guest staying on the same floor in the hotel had taken their own life.
Despite these occasionally disturbing experiences, I would be sad to lose my connection with the paranormal. Most of the time I feel at peace with the spirits around me. It’s not like I am having conversations with dead people, but we can exist side by side quite easily. I do stick to one rule, though: avoid staying overnight in unfamiliar old houses. And I never want to go to Chequers again ‒ you would have to drag me back there kicking and screaming.