Celebrity Most Haunted Belgrave Hall

 Belgrave Hall

Teamed with two celebrities, the Most Haunted team investigate Belgrave Hall in Leicester. Joined by Vic Reeves & wife, Nancy Sorrell

Sophie Tweedale writes ….

The clock has struck midnight and the echoes of the 12th chime are still ringing in our ears. If it is possible to cut the atmosphere with a knife in moments of high tension, then this old house is like a cake waiting to be sliced open. We are sitting in a circle in the empty hallway holding hands, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The darkness encircles us like a blanket and dim ghostly shadows flicker in the moonlight somewhere beyond us. It is not a moment to walk the long corridors alone, nor, as it turns out, a time to challenge the creaking floorboards on the stairs.

Once my eyes are accustomed to the gloom, I dare to raise my head to glance across to Vic Reeves and his glamorous wife, Nancy. They are wide-eyed and very pale. In fact, as the extraordinary events of the next few hours are about to reveal, their sense of appreciation is entirely justified; the possibilities conjured by their nervous imaginations are as nothing compared to the reality they are about to experience. It comes as no surprise when several hours later, in the bravado that comes with the breaking of the dawn, Vic confesses he was actually terrified.

This was not the type of adventure one normally associated with Vic Reeves. He is the comedian who has spent the past decade being hailed as the most original and sharp act since Eric Morecambe, who fronted the phenomenally successful Vic Reeves Big Night Out and Shooting Stars, and whose remarkable personal life has encompassed pretty much everything except macabre encounters in one of the most haunted houses in the land – until now.

His relationship with Nancy follows a marriage to Sarah Vincent, mother of his two children, which took a turn for the worse when Sarah announced she was in a lesbian relationship with her personal trainer. Vic later became engaged to actress Emilia Fox, who broke it off when, she said, he became too difficult to live with. He then moved in with Sarah, whom he’d divorced in 2001, and her girlfriend, before marrying Nancy Sorrell in January. At 28, Nancy, a former dancer and ex-girlfriend of comic Steve Coogan is 16 years his junior.

This may explain why, when a TV company asked him to spend a night in the 15-room Belgrave Hall in Leicester – which, according to legend, has been the meeting point for a motley collection of spirits for the past 300 years – he may have seen it as a refreshing chance to have a quiet night in. What soon becomes clear, however, is that there is a whole other side of Vic, one of which we are about to see to an alarming degree.

The cult TV programme Most Haunted had teamed Vic and Nancy with one of Britain’s most respected paranormal investigators, Derek Acorah, and presenter Yvette Fielding, for a night in the house. To a sceptical public, Derek is just the sort of chap you may be wary of – after all, how many of us really believe in ghosts? How many times have acquaintances related their spooky tales only for us instinctively to reach for a logical explanation? But there is something so coolly confident about Derek that I find it hard to doubt him.

The TV crew accompanying us – tough, blasé and unflappable – immediately open the debate, albeit inadvertently. Even before we begin, it is reported that a spectral sighting in the house has been captured on its closed circuit television. The image, we are told, is of a woman called Margaret Ellis, who died there around 1900. Nonsense, says the house’s curator. He insists it was simply a leaf caught on the lens.

Whatever the truth, it soon becomes clear that Vic is no non-believer. The first indications of his personal interest come when he announces he is here as Jim Moir, his real name. He’s not even bothering to act up for the cameras and is being uncharacteristically shy, moody and even a little difficult – he keeps us waiting nearly two hours while he sits in the pub. There are no wisecracks, none of the extrovert zaniness that has made him a star. He has discarded his trademark suit and tie for combat trousers and a casual shirt. Nancy has not gone quite as far; perhaps determined to take this as another job, she is dressed in a plunging top and figure-hugging jeans.

‘I’m fascinated with the paranormal,’ Vic confides to me as we prepare for the night ahead. ‘I believe in ghosts and I’d like to think I am guarded by a dead relative somewhere along the line. I think my Grandad may be keeping an eye on me because I’ve always felt his presence. It’s as if there is somebody in the room looking at me.’

Vic claims to have had his first spooky experience when he was 16. ‘I once saw a vivid egg shaped mist floating across the patio outside my parents house one night. It wasn’t my imagination – I definitely saw something. I’ve also been using divining rods since I was 12. I do it all the time – just walk around and they’ll go crazy. Then I’ll dig deep and find there is water beneath the ground. I’d like to think there is something out there, something unexplained.’

As the night draws in, a threatening atmosphere seems to envelop the house. Of course none of us mentions it, in case we are scoffed at by the others. We begin touring the rooms at the top floor in the safety of our small group while Derek goes into a trance, summoning up the spirit. Suddenly, Vic jumps as we hear footsteps above us. It’s odd – there are no rooms up there, only roof space. We all look at one another while Vic and Nancy squeeze each other’s hands. ‘I am picking up large amounts of residual energy,’ says Derek, whatever that means. I glance at the TV crew’s sound monitor. The room is completely silent, yet the dials that register sound are flickering off the scale. ‘I can’t explain it,’ says the sound engineer, baffled. ‘There’s nothing for the equipment to pick up.’

Back safely downstairs, Derek calls for the spirits, which he believes are now among us, to make contact. Within minutes, something goes wrong. His face begins to contort, like a scene from the exorcist. He shouts, gesturing as if trying to push someone away. Just as we are trying to work out if he is having us on or not, a guttural, blood-curdling deep voice booms from somewhere deep within him.

No one can make out what he is saying, but whatever it is, it is a cause for chaos. Derek starts to have convulsions and he falls to the floor clutching his neck. If it is make-believe, it’s a superb act. One of the crew notices that he has stopped breathing, and Derek’s wife, Gwen, rushes over in a blind panic. He is hauled into the recovery position and work begins to resuscitate him. Then Vic, sitting on Derek’s right, shows signs of extreme distress.

As everyone falls silent, unsure what to do next, Vic jumps to his feet and rushes past us, scaling two flights of stairs in seconds. His eyes are bulging with rage, staring fixedly at something in front of him. He’s like a man possessed, storming into a bedroom, shaking his fist wildly and cursing at the top of his voice, sweat pouring from his face. I watch as he kicks at cupboards and shakes his fist furiously at something in the room. Its something only he can see but that, disturbingly, we can all feel.

He yells out repeatedly. His voice is not his own – it is a sort of weird growl. ‘Come on out now. I know you are there, I’m going to get you!’ Some of the TV crew run to help, hauling him out of the room, trying to calm him down and jerk him out of his trance. He is given a glass of water and Nancy stands in front if him, open mouthed. ‘Are you all right?’ she asks. ‘Talk to me. Tell me you are all right.’ But Vic isn’t listening. ‘He’s up there and I’ve got to get him.’ Is all he keeps repeating. It is impossible to keep him under control.

Suddenly, he is on the landing. Something or someone that only he can see is up there, causing him to shout, swear and threaten. Eventually, some of the crew bring him back downstairs. Derek, the medium, who has recovered his breath by now, ushers us all outside. ‘No one is to go back in there alone,’ he says, insisting we would be in genuine danger. It is ten minutes before Vic is able to get to his feet. Calmed but still visibly shaken, he is wide-eyed and trembling from the whole experience. His voice faltering, he tries to explain what happened.

‘I just remember touching Derek to see if he was okay, because his convulsions really scared me. Then I felt this massive hot and cold prickly heat all over me and I was physically pushed up the stairs to that room. It was definite force. I can’t explain it, but I just felt so furious. I was swearing at him – it – and telling him to get out, but it was like it wasn’t me, it was someone else in my body.

‘I felt something go into one of the cupboards and I was screaming at it to come out. By now, I had been taken over by this complete fury, total rage. This strange force went into the nursery upstairs… he’s still there now, he’s up on the top landing, having a laugh.’

We are all speechless, trying to make sense of what we have witnessed, and Derek tries to reassure Vic. He says he believes the malevolent force trying to engulf Derek himself was a spirit called Edmund. (The show’s historian later confirms that the house was built by Edmund Cradock, who died shortly after it was finished in 1709.) He then goes onto explain that what we saw was Vic being possessed by the good spirit of Margaret Ellis. Derek says that it was one of the strongest séances he has experienced in his 26 years as a medium, so much so that he refuses to set foot in that house again. He tells us, ‘Believe me, without any good spirits such as Margaret in this house, it would have been blocked up and condemned years ago. As it is, it will have to be cleaned and exorcised.’

We are all reflective about the night’s events, all the sceptical stuffing knocked out of us, and we head back to the shelter of the house’s outbuildings. By now, it is 3:30am. Vic is calming down and, with Nancy as his side comforting him, he is ready to rationalise what has happened to him. But Derek says he is still receiving messages from somewhere out there, and there are still more surprises in store, albeit nice ones.

Derek takes me to one side to say that much earlier in the evening Vic’s dead Grandfather had appeared. ‘I saw him walking behind Vic. I could see him clearly, his whole outline, his rounded face. He seemed like a straightforward, honest man, but I felt there was something almost unsaid or unfinished between Vic and him.’

‘He told me his name was James and he said he loved Vic very much and he wanted him to know he was happy where he was.’ When I informed Vic of this supernatural bombshell, he and Nancy are visibly shocked. ‘For some months now, I’ve felt my Grandad around me,’ says Vic, ‘I’ve been dreaming about him, too, I know he’s always in touch with me and Derek had verified that. I feel him all the time and it’s as if he is at my shoulder wherever I go. I often get prickles up the back of my neck because I know he’s there. I even talk to him.’

Nancy nods in confirmation. ‘It’s true. Vic talking into thin air sometimes. I’ll see him doing it. It chokes us up that Derek is finally saying Vic’s not alone and that what’s happening is real, because sometimes he’s wondered if he is sane.’ She says that Vic was particularly fond of James, a deerstalker-wearing eccentric and the source of much of his inspiration for the surreal world he creates in his comedy act. Derek, though, has more to add. ‘James is with Bill, Nancy’s uncle,’ he says, ‘He’s clasping his head in pain to the side and he seems very lonely.’ Whatever terrors are hurtling through the big house; Derek seems to have conjured up some rather more benign spirits around Vic.

He talks to Vic and Nancy in private, giving the couple food for thought. Nancy says, ‘My Uncle Bill died in controversial circumstances. I won’t say any more, but he had a brain haemorrhage, and they found him alone. It hit me hard, but he told Derek that he wanted our family to know that he still lives with them, and loves them.’

Vic adds, ‘No one could have known that Nancy and I had been talking about building a conservatory at home. But Grandad knew, and he told Derek. He advised us to get the ground sorted out first – apparently there’s something that needs doing. That was weird. Then there was some stuff about my Dad taking medicine for his legs – Derek couldn’t have known that.’

The night’s events have left us raw and shaking. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, something very strange did happen in Belgrave Hall. The TV crew and presenter Yvette are genuinely shocked, Vic and Nancy are in a daze and Derek says he’s never had an experience like this before. Trickery does seem out of the question… it may be TV, but it wasn’t show business in the phoney, glitzy sense.

As we stand in the early light, the dawn chorus stirring in the hedgerows, the haunted house firmly locked and secured, Derek has one last message from beyond the grave. ‘Your Grandad has appeared cradling a baby,’ he tells Vic. ‘That’s a sure sign of impending pregnancy – and he’s telling you something! Nancy will conceive in March, she will know about it in April. It will happen.’ Vic is amazed – and delighted – at the news. Nancy is dumbstruck.

They grasp Derek’s hands and tell them how thankful they are for what he has said – particularly as a counterbalance to the disturbing events of the evening. Tears well up in Vic’s eyes, but he seems more relaxed than he was inside the house. Maybe more ghosts have been laid to rest tonight than the spooks of Belgrave Hall realise.

First Broadcast: 23rd August 2003

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