Stylist's Collette Lyons joins the first ever all-female UFO Symposium to find out if aliens really exist...
Blame it on an early ET obsession, or my teenage fixation on The X-Files but I’ve always been fascinated by everything extraterrestrial.
I might have had a girl crush on the show’s sceptical Agent Scully but it was her colleague “Spooky” Mulder and his insistence that The Truth Is Out There that really caught my imagination. Don’t get me wrong though. Much as I might Want To Believe, my inner credulous David Duchovny has always bickered, flirted and bantered with my inner Gillian Anderson, the part of me that sees the explicable in the implausible. The part that, when faced with a flashing light in the sky, sees a shooting star, a satellite or a Take That reunion concert at Wembley, not a UFO.
Perhaps there is a way of reconciling these two parts of me though. After all, it was announced this March there could be as many as 100 potentially habitable ‘super earths’ within 30 lights years of our own solar system. Now, I may not be entirely sure how far that is in human miles or quite what a ‘super’ earth is (what does that make our planet?) but 100 planets that could host aliens, right here in our neck of the stellar woods, sounds pretty exciting to me.
So when I was offered the chance last month to attend the world’s first all-female UFO Symposium – held in Glen Rose, Texas, just 30 miles from the largest mass-sightings in recent US history – I was booking flights before you could say ‘disappointing movie spin-off’. I’d always imagined such gatherings of the galacticallyminded as men in XXXL-T-shirts, wearing tin-foil hats and giving each other the Vulcan salute. Surely a single-sex symposium would be more enlightening? Would this trip confirm that there really are people walking the earth who have seen, spoken to, even been probed by ETs? Or would it just prove that when people Want To Believe they can end up swallowing pretty much anything? Either way, I was about to find out.
When I arrive at the symposium, the first encounter I have (not of the third kind) is with its organiser, Paola Harris. She is thrilled I’ve made it. So, she thinks, are Others. “This did not happen by accident,” she says. She’s right, of course. But then I doubt anyone ends up in Glen Rose by accident. It’s Middle of Nowhere, USA, population 2,200, and it offers precious little modern entertainment – just a dinosaur theme park and Promise, a musical version of Jesus’ life. But this weekend is different. This weekend, the UFOs are coming – or at least, the ladies that love them are. That is why I have been sent – and not just by my editor according to Paola.
“Who else has sent me?” I ask.
“The cosmos cultures. You are their mouthpiece,” she explains. “Of course, I am a journalist myself. But I can only do so much. The mainstream press just won’t print the truth.”
“That’s exactly why I’m here.” I say. “To meet The Women Who Know The Truth and to share that truth with the readers of Stylist.”
“Yes!” she agrees. “The readers of British Women’s Stylist Fashion Magazine need to know!”
Somewhat bafflingly, the first night I meet the Women Who Know they are all dressed in a mix of scarlet sequins, strappy sandals and reading glasses. No natty metallic headgear, at least. Paola explains that this opening night Lady In Red event is all about visual impact. I didn’t get the memo though, so am sporting a green maxi dress. “I hope I don’t alienate anyone,” I say. Paola doesn’t laugh.
I’m escorted around the room as she explains her reasons for keeping this event female-focused. “Male UFO conventions are like carnivals – the biggest speakers act like rock stars. Here’s someone you should meet – he’s A-list in the UFO world.” She introduces me to Stan, who is wearing a beige suit and brown shoes.
“Stan is the world’s best-documented repeat abduction victim,” she explains.
I can’t help but notice that Stan is a man. I subtly draw this to Paola’s attention by pointing at him and shouting, “But Stan’s a man!”
“It’s actually Stan’s wife, Lisa, who’s here to read extracts from her new book, Extraterrestrial Contact: A Spouse’s Point Of View.”
“How do you document an alien abduction?” I ask Stan. He whips out his book, Answers, and shows me a blurry photo of a dark living room with a little alien head poking round the door. “This was taken in our house – we call him Grandpa Grey.”
“An alien lives in your house?”
“Of course not!” scoffs Stan. “He just comes to visit.”
Stan produces his iPhone. “This is a video of the alien listening device we found in our hallway last month,” he says. Lisa nods again, sagely. I squint at the tiny, flashing object on the screen. “I can show you a photo of my implant later too, if you like.”
My inner Scully chuckles wryly as I decline this kind offer. The score so far: Scepticism 1 – Aliens 0. I wonder if even Lisa truly buys it. But then Stan does conform to my upsidedown-colander-hat-wearing male UFO fans prejudice. The isn’t the feminine intuition I’m here for.
A tiny blonde with a Manchester accent has been eavesdropping. “You’re the British journalist!” she exclaims. I sneak a glance at my programme – this is British expat Tracie Austin, author and presenter of TV show Let’s Talk Paranormal. “I’ve interviewed hundreds of people about their abductions for my new book, Alien Encounters In The Western United States. There’s a whole family of abductees in Houston. The aliens still try to talk to them telepathically, but they’ve invented special hats to stop them,” Tracie says.
“Can I have their contact details? I’d like to know what their special hats are made of,” I ask.
“I‘ve lost their email address. And I’m not sure they live there anymore. Plus, people don’t like being identified – it’s the stigma, you know. The world thinks they’re mad.”
“Do you think they’re mad? Because they sound a bit mad.”
“Of course not,” she says. “I saw my first UFO back in 1987, in London – a flashing, spinning cone-shape. It changed my life. I turned my back on music, and made the paranormal my life’s work. I’m working as a timeshare saleswoman at the minute, based in Las Vegas, but once my show is back on air, I’ll give that up to concentrate on my TV career.”
“You said your first sighting – so there have been more?”
“All the time. I’ve been abducted once too, maybe twice. I’ve probably got an implant, right here,” Tracie points to the top of her head. She describes her abductors – ETs straight out of central casting. “They have grey-green skin, upside-down teardrop-shaped heads, almond eyes and three spindly fingers. Sometimes four. Occasionally, five,” she says. “They’re what we call Greys.” She shows me a drawing of one on her iPhone.“They floated me up through the ceiling, onto their craft. They laid me on a table and examined me, but didn’t hurt me,” she explains. Tracie wells up as she describes her emotional parting with the Alien In Charge. “He looked me deep in the eyes, and did this...” Tracie draws a heart in the air and sighs.
Tracie has met less sentimental ETs too. “There are hundreds of types Once, a group of shrouded, faceless ones, the height of a three-year-old child, came into my bedroom and I just blacked out. I’m missing four hours of my life and I’m sure they planted a chip in my head but I would need an MRI to check and I can’t get a doctor to sign it off. You know what the healthcare here is like,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Amazing!” I say. “You are a UFO magnet! An alien whisperer! Would you mind if I abducted you myself?
Tracie is a willing victim. “I wouldn’t say I could summon them exactly, but I do have a pretty high hit rate.”
I drive her to a field 15 minutes away, where she totters through the grass, then stands, swaying slightly, eyes closed, palms lifted to the skies. I look up, hopeful. I’ve got good reason to be. Four years ago, on the ranches in between Glen Rose and the next town, Stephenville, hundreds of people reported seeing a mile-long craft, followed by military fighter jets. If anyone is going to show me They are up there, it’s Tracie. The Scully inside me is silenced. I am entirely swept up in the moment. As the sun fades and the dusk rises up from the ground to meet it, I tilt my head towards the cosmos. There is an eerie calm as I close my eyes, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I turn my own palms, now slightly sweaty, towards the heavens.
Then I open one eye just a crack, to see what Tracie is doing. She has her hands on her hips, and looks a bit bored. “I’m sorry about this!” she shakes her head. “It usually works in Vegas – silver balls of light show up, mostly.” All I can see is a bat. We decide to call it a night.
I am met at the conference hall the next morning by Paola, who asks where I got to last night. Paola’s brow furrows when I tell her. I get her point. Tracie is a great raconteur, but she has a book to sell. I wonder if it’s all a bit of an act.
But Tracie is but one believer in a room of 100. There must be someone who can convince me. “I’m not convinced yet,” I say.
“You don’t have to believe. We’re not talking about god here! This is real. I’ve seen them,” she says.
From the hall’s ceiling hang flags from all over the world. It looks like the UFO UN. “Dr Carol Rosin, over there, is trying to get world leaders to sign a treaty banning weapons in space,” Paola says. I recognise Carol, with her ethereal mane of white hair, from the programme, which describes her as a “former missile defence consultant and the first female aerospace executive”.
“Where did you get your doctorate?” I ask her. “It was honorary. From Nigeria. I was given it by an archbishop in a ceremony with lots of drums.”
“And where did you train in engineering?” I enquire.
“I didn’t. I was actually primary school teacher. But then I found out about the weapons in space. Now, we are in a pivotal position in history – arms manufacturers are pulling the wool over our eyes,” she says. “It’s my life’s work to stop this happening. My treaty would bring peace.”
“How do you plan to do that all by yourself?” I ask.
“I am collecting money to go to nine countries to get them to sign.” Carol points to a cowboy hat with $22 in it. “I can’t tell you which countries, as powerful forces are working against us. I just need $50,000 to go to the first one. I would fund it myself, but my mother cut me out of her will. She thought I was crazy.”
“Where do the UFOs come in?” I ask. “Not everyone believes in aliens but nobody wants giant guns flying around in space. Maybe more people would get behind it if you just left out the aliens bit?”
“I’ve tried that,” she says. “Nobody listened. I know that the cosmos cultures are in a holding pattern above the earth. They are just waiting for my treaty to be signed, so they know they are safe before they land, to save us. It will change everything.”
“How do you know that though?”
“They talk to me,” she says, “When I’m in the shower.”
I find Carol’s unique blend of conspiracy theory and the Second Coming oddly appealing. Are there weapons in space? Are the cosmos cultures the only ones that can see them? If so, and they’re that clever, why haven’t they blasted us into the next millennium? Carol wants everything bad to get better, and the little grey people are her saviours. But this is my biggest issue with the whole ET deal. It’s not that I don’t believe they couldn’t be out there, but why do they have to be better than us – cleverer, more technologically advanced, with Lycra spacesuits that don’t sag around the crotch after a couple of washes? They could just as easily be amoebas. Or giraffes. Giraffes who have never even thought about building a flying saucer, let alone controlling Carol’s mind in the shower.
But then, I still haven’t actually seen a UFO. And seeing is believing. Luckily, a woman with a serious, bookish air shows me an iPhone photo of a mysterious white blur as we leave the convention centre.
“I found it today. It’s a vortex,” she says.
“What’s a vortex?” I ask. “Might it have UFOs in it?”
“Yes,” she nods. “It might.”
I follow 67-year-old Dwanna Paul’s motorhome to a gate, in a field. “What makes this field special?” I ask.
“I was led here by Them,” she says. Dwanna’s two apprentices, who have popped out of the caravan, are snapping away at the gate.
“The orbs are coming out of the vortex!” shouts one. “Look!” she shows me her camera. Sure enough, there are orbs everywhere. “Can I have a go?” I ask, “Or does it only work when you’re taking them?”
“I don’t think you’ll be able to do it,” she says. “But you can try.”
I press the button on her camera and watch the flash illuminate the clouds of pollen and insects in front of the lens. I have summoned my own orbs. She gasps, grabbing my hands.
“As I thought,” she says, “You have the M of the mystic on your palms.”
My inner unbelieving Scully is doing a victory dance, what with the talking showers and vortexes spewing ‘orbs’ made of insects. Internal Mulder admits defeat. I just haven’t seen a single thing that is in any way convincing. So what on earth has brought these people together? Because it isn’t the UFOs hovering above it. Then it hits me. Every single one of these people believes they have been chosen. That a force more potent and profound, has something to say only to them and that makes them feel special. For me, the truth is not Out There. Although I am considering investing in a tin-foil hat. You know, just in case.
Image credit: Rex Features