Patricia Neal consulted spirit doctor

Patricia NealIs there anything I can add to the glowing tributes that have been paid to Academy Award winning actress Patricia Neal (photo credit: David Shankbone), who has died from lung cancer at the age of 84? I certainly can. It is a revelation that will probably surprise not only her many fans but those of her equally famous husband, the children’s writer Roald Dahl. When they lived in Buckinghamshire during their 30-year marriage they paid several visits to trance medium and healer George Chapman for consultations with the spirit of a long-dead surgeon, William Lang.

I learned of these visits whilst writing the book Surgeon From Another World with Chapman. I made contact with Roald Dahl and he willingly testified to the treatment he and his wife received, although in their case there was little benefit. The couple were among many celebrities who sought healing from this unusual mediumistic partnership, some of whom experienced impressive improvements in their conditions.

By coincidence, just the day before Neal passed away with lung cancer at her home in Edgartown, Massachusetts, USA, on Martha’s Vineyard, Donald Sturrock’s book Storyteller about her former husband was published. It is the first authorised biography of Roald Dahl and Sturrock was given unprecedented access to the family archive.

Patricia Neal and Roald DahlAmong the documents made available was an account of the death of Olivia, Roald and Patricia’s first child at the age of seven in November 1962. Dahl wrote about it in an exercise book, telling no one of its existence and it remained hidden in a desk drawer until his own death.

According to Storyteller, a subsequent conversation between Dahl and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, a month after Olivia’s death, convinced him that Christianity was a sham. Fisher had assured him that Olivia was now in Paradise, but Rowley, her beloved pet dog, would never join her there.

He shared his thoughts about this with his two youngest children on Christmas Day 1970: “I sat there wondering if this great and famous churchman really knew what he was talking about and whether he knew anything at all about God or heaven, and if he didn’t, then who in the world did? And at that moment on, my darlings, I’m afraid I began to wonder whether there really was a God or not.”

I know this from the serialisation of Storyteller that has been appearing in the Daily Telegraph. But I won’t know, until I read the book, whether Sturrock came across any papers or notes in Dahl’s archives which mentioned his and Patricia Neal’s visits to St Bride’s in Aylesbury, which was then Chapman’s home and healing centre. If not, then I’m happy to reveal what I know about these sessions. They do, after all, indicate that whatever his view of the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s beliefs about the next world, the couple were prepared to seek the help of a dead doctor who carried out spirit operations on his patients.

I wrote to Dahl early in 1978 (five years before he and Patricia divorced – the photograph of them, above, was taken by Carl Van Vechten in 1954) asking if I could include a statement from him about their visits. I knew they had not been very successful, but Chapman was keen for our book to accurately reflect the fact that William Lang was not able to cure or help all the patients he saw.

George ChapmanDahl replied that Patricia had consulted Dr Lang in the hope that he could improve the damage to her right leg, which caused a limp, but he was unable to do so. She had suffered a series of strokes in 1965 at the age of 39 and Dahl had nursed her back to health, helping her to walk and talk again. The limp was a legacy of that event.

He added: “I also went to him several times for backache. I had already had four laminectomies [the removal of overlying vertebral arches on the spinal chord] and every now and again things went wrong and I could hardly walk. The first occasion I went to him with this trouble the symptoms disappeared completely within two days. This was splendid and I gave Mr Chapman full credit in my mind. The next time I went to him, I think about a year or two later, with the same trouble, there was unfortunately no result.”

Surgeon From Another WorldI included these quotes in my manuscript for Surgeon From Another World and sent them to him for approval. I have in front of me the letter he kindly wrote (dated 23 February 1978) from his home, Gipsy House, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, which says very simply: “The paragraph which you have written about my wife and myself is accurate and quite in order. I give you full permission to publish it in your book.”

George Chapman died a few years ago but his son, Michael, is also a successful healer.

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