We’ve been telling fortunes for more than a century
Resort clairvoyant delves into the history of her family’s psychic ability and tells us why she loves Blackpool ...
We’ve all got our opinion about whether it was the chicken or the egg which came first – but how about Blackpool sticks of rock, kiss me quick hats and fortune telling?
Sarah Julie Petulengro (she answers to both first names) is convinced the answer is fortune telling came first – and she has every reason to be right.
Born in Blackpool, the 51 -year-old mother-of-four and grandmother-of-three, has lived in the resort all her life but her family’s sand grown roots stretch back much further.
“My mother, grandmother and great grandma all lived here,” she says. “We probably go back even further because my family arrived in Blackpool well over 100 years ago.”
And as long as they’ve been here the Petulengros have told fortunes. She’s been doing them for 36 years
“I was 13 when I did my first reading for somebody but it took another two years for me to be able to do the public and for my mother to have enough confidence in me to do it,” she says. “My two grannies used to do this, my great granny did it, my daughters do it, it’s a big generational thing.”
Six members of her family still do it.
“Clairvoyance is something you’re born with, from the age of two my mother knew I had the psychic ability,” she says citing examples of things she could predict but not explain at the time.
She’s still not entirely sure how to explain the “gift.
“It’s all different things, if it’s reading the lines on your hands, everyone’s got major lines and that gives you an idea, it’s more to do with yourself, with a crystal ball it’s a clairvoyant and spiritual reading, it’s images, that come into your mind by looking into a crystal and it’s things that you feel or sense. Crystals are handed down but saying that I’ve known my mother or gran if they haven’t had a crystal just use a saucer of water. If you’ve got that psychic ability, it’s just knowing how to tune into it.”
For the last four years she has plied her trade at the Pleasure Beach.
“I was on North Pier for about 25 years and before that at Coral Island. But I did an event for the Pleasure Beach and they really liked it so I became the first gypsy asked to go on there for quite a long time.”
She acknowledges the irony that Blackpool’s original gypsies were thrown off the same land to make way for the Pleasure Beach expansion.
“My father’s grandmother, Sarah, was one of the first gypsies on there, things have gone full circle.”
But in this modern age what do people expect from a Blackpool fortune teller?
“Everybody’s different, some come for a laugh because they don’t believe in it, some expect you to tell them everything - dates, names, Lottery numbers – but I think most people are open minded. I do get a lot of people who come every year for a reading because they are happy with what I’ve told them.”
Does she get tired of the same old questions?
“Yes, they always want the Lottery numbers, but with any job you get sick of certain things, I just tell them if you’re going to win, the numbers will be in their hands, if you’re not going to win they’re not.”
Recent years have seen a boom in the clairvoyance and spiritualism business so has she been tempted to swap her Blackpool booth for a national theatre stage?
“I really don’t think I could do it,” she admits. “I think there’s too much going on in a theatre, it’s more showmanship and I like to do personal one to one readings, I think they are more accurate.”
The family’s Blackpool roots are reflected in their community involvement.
“We are always up for helping charities out and helping things like the local heritage,” she says. “It’s nice to see all the changes in Blackpool, it makes us as a family feel good because there’s no place like Blackpool, really, when you think about it. It’s got everything - the piers, the shows, the beach, the Pleasure Beach, the Tower, everything. And the Petulengros!”
So if it’s so unique why does it come in for so much flack?
“Well, there’s a bad side too. There’s the stag and hens which I’m not keen on and you get too many people pestering you on the promenade, but that’s being clamped on now. They buy a tinker’s licence …..but I’m not going to say anything about that because I’ll probably get stabbed.
“Blackpool is a place to bring all the family, there’s been a lot going on that’s brought Blackpool down a little but it seems to be changing with the new laws.”
She concedes it’s all part of a changing world.
“Things are different from when I first did readings. The people we are getting in now are different. Women used to stay at home and look after the children, husbands used to go out to work, now the women are working as much as the men, sometimes even more. Years ago if they got a new microwave it was wonderful, now it’s iPads and whatever - now everything has changed – except for the fact that they come and see us.”
So why do they?
“It’s something traditional, when people come to Blackpool they want a kiss me quick hat, a bar of rock, a ride on a donkey, perhaps a candyfloss and a fortune reading. It’s traditional and you can get it all in Blackpool.”
So what can be done to improve matters?
“The council clamping down on things that have been going on is good but it needs the Blackpool people too - everybody has to work together because everybody’s got different views, the pubs, family entertainment, gift shops, everyone should come to an agreement and should work together.”
So what’s best about the town?
“There’s nothing better than getting yourself an ice cream, walking down North Pier to the Carousel Bar, looking at the lovely views, listening to the organist in the Sun Lounge, there’s nothing like it, it takes all your worries away.
“And we do the Illuminations every year, we get all the grandchildren and children, get our fish and chips and go right through the Lights and the Pleasure Beach at night time when it’s all lit up, that’s something you can’t miss.”
So if she didn’t live here would she come on holiday?
“Yes I would, I’d love to come, book for all the shows, take the children to the see the sights, what more could you want, what’s not to like? The only thing I’d not be sure of would be going along the Promenade on a Saturday. You see some funny sights, I get embarrassed when I leave work and drive down the front with my husband.”
On a darker side does the family experience any prejudice in Blackpool?
“You do get some people but it’s the same with anything, I’m not really bothered, but we do get it. We are Romany gypsies - the Romany word for that is Romanichal – after more than 100 years here we are not travellers.”
But with her mother living next door and her sister “round the corner” they are very much a family.
“Christmas is fun,” she laughs.
So no plans to move?
“I wouldn’t like to live on Blackpool front but there are some lovely places around Blackpool. Most people only see the front but I think Blackpool is definitely on the up, it just needs some really good ideas and putting them into action.”
“Foxhall Road and the shops round there should be made like The Shambles in York, boutique shops and wine bars. I’ve been thinking about that for years.
“It would be something different, I think it would get upper class people coming to see it and that’s what Blackpool needs, to get away from its working class roots, it needs a mixture of all different kinds of people, which it has started to do, changing things round would help.”
With so many ideas has she ever thought about standing as a councillor?
“Oh yes but I can’t read and write very well so that would hold me back. My husband Mark and myself are really passionate about Blackpool, there are times when we’ve put our views forward, sometimes we’ve been listened to, sometimes not, everyone has got to give and take a bit.”
With six members of family still telling fortunes plus their various other business interests in the resort the dynasty looks set to flourish for generations.
“I’ll never retire, unless I won the Lottery, and I’m not going to do that because my mum has said I’m not.
“Anyway in this profession I think you get better as you get older. You get used to seeing the little hand lines that most people wouldn’t make any sense of, you pick them up better, the little lines make reading more interesting and when you first start off you don’t notice them, like anything the more you do it, the better you get at it.”
But like winning Lottery numbers she can’t predict what the future for Blackpool (or Blackpool Football Club) is going to be.
“I’d have to have someone very important involved in them to do a reading for, it would have to be channelled through an individual. It’s like the question ‘didn’t you see that coming?’ which I get every day. All I can say is that at least 50 per cent of my business is repeats - which is very, very nice.”
But she sees good things for North Pier’s future in the hands of family friends the Sedgwicks.
“It will take time. It’s a big project on which they have spent fortunes - but it will get done eventually. It’s already looking nicer and it’s good that the three piers are in local hands, the Sedgwick family are business people but they want North Pier to be good for Blackpool as well as themselves. Like the Pleasure Beach – it’s family run.
“Like us, we want to give Blackpool a good reputation, there are other places they could go for readings but people have always been happy with what they get here.”
But what is it about fortune telling and the seaside? Something spiritual perhaps?
“It’s tourists – holiday makers,” she says. “We go where the business is – and it’s here.”
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