Eileen Drewery never wanted to be a faith healer. In her autobiography she reveals that when her husband, Phil, suggested this was her vocation - having seen her relieve a friend of arthritis - she replied: "But I don't want to be a healer, I want to be a medium." Perhaps that is why the book is called Why Me?. Whatever, it's a pertinent question. Why you indeed, Eileen? Why did the spirit world choose yet another middle-aged, working-class woman to be its emissary on earth?
Professional spiritualism, like ballroom dancing, seems to be the preserve of what advertisers disparagingly refer to as C2s. The spiritualist movement might enjoy greater credibility if its ambassadors did not always sound like the less articulate guests on Kilroy. Can I be the only one who found Glenn Hoddle's religious beliefs more risible once he had defended himself with the words: "I did not say them things"?
So one opens Drewery's book in the hope of a good snobbish cackle, unhindered by guilt, the woman being both a quack and a friend of footballers and hence fair game. She is worthy of an autobiography only because of her connection with Hoddle, and she makes no attempt to hide this, devoting many pages to her relationship with God's Own Football Manager and his subsequent downfall. They are pictured together on the back cover, she in a cerise jacket, her eyes raised heavenwards, he scratching the back of his neck and grinning broadly. The smile has gone from his face now, and it's probably fair to say that even before he repeated Drewery's beliefs on "bad karma" and the disabled, his credibility had been destroyed by his insistence that he should have taken her to the World Cup.
In truth, the strength of Hoddle's belief is matched only by the public's belief (unproven and quite possibly unfair) that Drewery is an avaricious old pseud who has latched on to a group of young men with ridiculous amounts of money, ridiculously little between their ears and an unsurprising readiness to believe in miracle cures for hamstring injuries. Drewery is at least hazily aware of this, and there is an embattled tone to much of the book. I soon lost count of the number of times she mentioned giving her services for free.
So what is her story? In essence, it's the story of a working-class girl from a south London suburb who married a car fitter and somehow became unofficial healer to the England squad. "I knew that we all had guardian angels," she tells us. "I was, of course, eagerly awaiting the time when I would be able to have a one-to-one with my guardian angel." In 1966 (coincidentally the year that England won the World Cup, my point not hers), she is indeed visited by her guardian angel, or spirit guide, an Egyptian named Zyphos. The most striking thing about Zyphos is that he wears a medallion. How fitting that even Drewery's spirit guide should be naff.
Later, she describes a night-time visitation by the spirit of her dead chihuahua, Chippy: "I thought this might make you, who perhaps have lost pets, feel happy too, because, of course, all our pets survive." It's that "of course" that grates. What happens to exterminated rats, you wonder. Do they get in too, or only the lucky creatures who have spent their earthly lives luxuriating on DFS sofas?
There is something intriguing about the way in which Drewery's religious experiences are limited entirely by her lifestyle and her existing cultural reference points. If there is a curious banality about the book, then that is partly because Drewery's various awakenings tend to fulfil her existing expectations. Her theology undoubtedly has holes in it, and can be summed up at the very start of the book in a couple of lines: "I am delighted to have helped him [Hoddle] towards his realisation of God and God's wish for the world, which is that we love one another, help each other whenever we can, and remember that we are all equal in his eyes."
As to her views on reincarnation, one can only feel sympathy with Bishop Michael Marshall, who tells Drewery he can see she is a natural healer, only to be subjected to her views on karma. "His face was a picture when I mentioned reincarnation," she writes, and you begin to see why in a more brutal age they burnt heretics.
Such a cavalier belief must be a grave aggravation to those who devote their lives to organised religion. But then, disorganised religion is the great spiritual movement of our times. From the apparently eclectic spiritual interests of the Prince of Wales, to the embattled isolationist views of Drewery - "I don't need to visit any particular building or seek the strength of others to believe in him" - DIY religion is on the rise. Drivel though it may be in so many ways, Drewery's book is significant because there are swathes of largely unheard people who probably construct their beliefs in a similar way. In 1997 a MORI poll revealed that more than a quarter of the population believed in ghosts, but sadly did not ask whether they also believed in God. Shouldn't we be interested?
William James, a famous student of mystical paranormal experience, once noted how "college-bred gentry" like himself would suddenly come across some author on the subject unknown to them, but read by some quarter of a million readers. "It always gives us a little shock to find this mass of human beings not only living and ignoring us and all our gods, but actually reading and writing and cogitating without ever a thought of our canons and authorities. To no one mind is it given to discern the totality of truth." Which remains a very good argument for reading a book like Why Me?.