Ciarán O’Keeffe is a British psychologist specialising in parapsychology and forensic psychology who shot to fame when he became part of the the Most Haunted team.
But ever the studious scholar, Ciarán left the sensational world of network television in the persuit of truth and more specifically, evidence of the existence of paranormal activity.
We tracked Ciarán down to talk at length about his career and the adventures that lie ahead.
Interview with Ciarán O’Keeffe
Let’s start at the beginning. What started you on the road to being a parapsychologist?
It was the early 1980s which started me on the road to where I am today. I’ve always been fascinated by ghost and horror stories. I was reading Lovecraft, M. R. James and Poe as a boy but also modern horror writers such as James Herbert, Ramsey Campbell and King.
I was 13 years old when Clive Barker’s Books of Blood came out which was the greatest influence on my fascination with the fear side of the paranormal. I’ve been voraciously into horror and ghosts since (I guess as a Parapsychologist and a Criminological Psychologist I’ve always been fascinated by the dark depths of the human spirit!).
At the same time (early 80s), I was collecting Unexplained Magazine and delving into the non-fiction side of the Paranormal. I wet my feet with some very early ghost hunts and even did an investigation for the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) when I was a teenager. The movie, Ghostbusters (in 1984) cemented my interest in the area and specifically Parapsychology. I threw myself into reading and researching everything about Parapsychology and whilst the field is distinct and separate from what’s portrayed in Ghostbusters (and ghostbusting generally), I still have to keep pinching myself when I realise I’ve achieved my boyhood dream of being Dr Spengler… Or Dr. Venkman.
And how did that lead to you becoming involved in television?
I was employed at Liverpool Hope University where I was teaching and researching Parapsychology. I was approached by Jane Goldman to be part of her series, Jane Goldman Investigates. Jane is an amazingly knowledgeable researcher when it comes to the paranormal. We had a blast! I was also doing some consultancy work for Living TV about some “seance-based” shows they were looking into at the time. In addition, I had done some documentaries for Discovery Channel and the BBC on psychic criminology. My colleague at University, Dr. Matthew Smith, was doing Most Haunted and so occasionally I covered for him. I was approached by Most Haunted to join the team as an Investigator/Parapsychologist. Given my area of specialism, Hauntings & Mediumship, and given other decisions at the time, I jumped at the chance. The rest, as they say, is history.
So how did working on Most Haunted lead you in the direction of your latest project, Ghostlands?
People have always asked how I would do an investigation if I wasn’t with Most Haunted. With the show stopping production for Living TV (although Karl & Yvette are now back on TV), I continued my academic, scientific work on Parapsychology (and forensic/criminal psychology). I met my wife, Anna, in 2009 and for several years we had talked about filming some investigations and just putting them online for people to see how I might approach an investigation. So Anna really was the impetus and the kick up the backside I needed to make Ghostlands happen. Anna and I had both visited the 2nd World War bunker featured in Episode #1 together and so felt it was a perfect place to actually do an investigation and film it for Ghostlands.
Is everything running smoothly so far? Is it meeting your objectives?
It has been a real labour of love getting Ghostlands off the ground. We all have our day jobs (and my night jobs doing investigations etc) and so had to fit everything round them. This included the logistics of sorting out an investigation, getting everyone there, the logistics of filming, actually filming over several days, then viewing footage/audio and analysing then editing then getting the word out there. It has run smoothly in that we have a fabulous team who we love to work with and who all view this as an investigation series which happens to be filmed…so it doesn’t feel like work at all. Saying that there have been some sleepless nights fitting the hours in, some penny pinching to attempt to fund the whole thing and some logistically tough moments (channel crossing in a storm!).
It certainly meets our objectives in getting the investigations out there. It is, we hope, a series that manages to be scientific and occasionally macabre (harking back to my Barker fascination!). We’ve only produced 20/25 minute episodes because we’re restricted by budget and man hours but also because we only want to highlight our approaches and the way you can view apparent phenomena. The Ghostlands Channel will become a stepping stone for more footage, more analysis, more perspectives and a place for discussion of evidence and evidence gathering techniques.
How has Ghostlands been received?
The response has been amazing! We have been blown away by the word of support and also the valued suggestions and comments. The series only works because I’m not being arrogant by saying this is the only way to do things, it relies on debate and discussion by viewers and that can shape what happens next. For example, many viewers for the 1st episode said there was too much incidental music, that they couldn’t hear everything when investigators were walking around. For Episode #2 we removed the music.
What’s the most curious paranormal experience you’ve had?
I’ve had many curious paranormal experiences over the hundreds of investigations I’ve been part of. Most of them, however, I can explain. At an investigation I was part of at Hex nightclub in Birkenhead several years ago with Steve Parsons (from Para.Science), I witnessed a fire exit open of it’s own accord and a weird temperature “cloud” approach and surround an ongoing seance. I’ve heard footsteps and shuffling in an empty corridor in the 2nd World War Nazi Bunker (the location for Ghostlands Episode #1), and also been “spooked” in the lower class accommodation area in SS. Great Britain (in Bristol) – although there were loads of mannequins there!
And how about places? Is there anywhere that you’ve been so far that holds a particular paranormal/parapsychological interest for you?
Obviously the Bunker holds a special
place in my heart (and fascination) now. Beyond that, I’m particularly fond of Hampton Court Palace having been part of a University team who investigated there in 2000. A truly fascinating place with a reliable ghostly history going back centuries. Similarly, Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh is real treat to investigate. I’ve been there many times and never get tired of the place. There are some places worldwide where I would LOVE to investigate – The Tower of London, Alcatraz Prison and, my personal favourite, Bokor Hill Station (Cambodia).
Talking about your bunker investigation in episode 1, what do you make of the final piece of evidence that you presented? Does your scientific mind tell you that it must be something logical or natural, or would you ever be willing to concede that there are things that are beyond explanation?
That’s a good question.
I was keen to present that piece of evidence because initially I dismissed it as a fleeting shadow but in discussions with the Ghostlands team they felt it worthy to include and encourage feedback from the viewers. It highlights to me the importance of having varying levels of belief in a team (or certainly during the analysis stage) and having an objective process to the analysis (involving multiple judges). Had the decision been solely down to me and my cynical attitude (after watching hours upon hours of footage) then it might never have appeared. Would I be willing to concede that there are things that are beyond explanation? – yes, absolutely. It would be arrogant of me to say otherwise. I’d hesitate to be so dramatic and say “beyond explanation” but I would, and have done in the past, hold my hands up and say “I have no explanation” for something. A key example would be the Ghostlands “shadow” evidence (which I think could still be a shadow), or phenomena captured at an investigation of Hex in Birkinhead which you can read about in “Ghosthunters: A Guide to Investigating the Paranormal”, a book I wrote with Yvette Fielding and Steve Parsons/Ann Winsper from Para.Science.
What can we look forward to seeing in future episodes of Ghostlands?
You can look forward to an ever evolving series of investigations. We react to what viewers want – and have already done that for Episode 2 with lowering and removing music. We will also be incorporating more information about history and skeptical explanations but also making the analysis stage more transparent and incorporating the latest technology to do the analysis. The Ghostlands team have already conducted further investigations (1 of which is an 800 year old pub), it is now just down to time and money to ensure these make it onto our youtube channel.