Transcript of Milli Bhatia and Temi Wilkey in conversation

This is the transcript of the recorded conversation between director Milli Bhatia and writer Temi Wilkey, recorded as part of the Royal Court Living Newspaper Clippings series. This conversation was recorded in February 2021. 

Milli Bhatia: I’m Milli Bhatia, and I was one of the directors on Edition One of Living Newspaper.

Temi Wilkey: I’m Temi Wilkey, and I was one of the writers on Edition One of Living Newspaper. I said that weird – Living Newspaper!

Milli: Living Newspaper. It is such a thrill to be talking to you about this in a more official capacity, because I feel like we talk a lot about these things over a drink.

Temi: Yeah.

Milli: And it was also such a pleasure to work on your piece in Edition One. And actually, when I was preparing for this, I was just thinking about having done the experience – and how beautifully held it was by Danny Lee Wynter – kind of that I hadn’t felt that kind of genuine, intimate connection with anyone outside of my immediate bubble for so long. And just the way that you facilitated it in your writing, and, you know, the beautiful job that Danny did with it. I know that connection, intimacy and comfort was something you kind of put in the piece that felt really important to you. I just wondered if you could talk a bit about the responsibility I suppose you felt as a writer and talk a bit about the conversations we had around the piece?

Temi: Hmm. Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting ask to write something to do with performance that is based in astrology. And I felt a bit weird, I was a bit like, am I just gonna be nicking stuff from proper astrologers? But I guess, the conversations we had about it were basically, what the creative ask is, like what do we want the audience to feel? And also I think it’s very unusual for the audience to be an audience of one, it’s a really particular and unusual ask. But we kind of just wanted, well, yeah, to translate how I feel whenever I actually read a horoscope – the feeling of someone else holding you and the sense that the universe is maybe taking care of you. And there’s a sort of overall rhythm and pattern to life that is supporting you. And there might be things that are tricky, but you’re going to weather through them. And so I think it was kind of negotiating how you could have a one-on-one experience with someone that you don’t know, that feels like they know that you’re gonna be okay. And so kind of, especially amidst the last year, feeling like, “Don’t worry, there’s a plan, it may be a slightly chaotic plan. It’s not like there’s a God who’s leading you through it, but there’s a sort of overall vessel to take care of you. And here’s some comfort, and I’ll send you on your way.” I think that was the kind of gesture behind it.

Milli: You’ve put that so beautifully. And it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot as well, because the astrology business kind of boomed during the pandemic. And actually working on your piece kind of made me think it’s something to do with that kind of deep seated reflection we’ve been forced into, but also a kind of uncertainty about our future. And I wonder if that’s sort of why people feel so drawn to it at the moment. So it offers you a kind of tangible version of a future.

Temi: Yeah. And also, it’s also not like, “This has been sent by God to ruin your life.” There’s also, it’s faceless, but it’s also, there are stories behind it. And there are, you know, there’s mythologies that are linked to things, but fundamentally, there’s like, a rhythm and a pattern and a cyclical nature to it that makes it like comforting as well, I think.

Milli: Yeah, absolutely. And also it’s open to interpretation. And the thing I’ve learnt about astrology, I think a lot of the reservations that people have – in no way to recommend to be an expert – but you know, I think a lot of the reservations that people have if they don’t have a vested interest in it, like I know you and I do, that it can feel like quite a binary offering. And I think actually, knowing more about it and sort of looking at whole charts, for example, I think you learn that actually it is open to to what you want to take from it.

Temi: Yeah.

Milli: Which I think there’s a real comfort in that during this and I thought you handled that so beautifully in your piece, and I remember that stage direction and really loving it. It was sort of, for Danny, it was something like you know, “If they’re invested, you can take it this way, but you know, if it’s a bit of a laugh you can take it this way,” which was a really lovely way to kind of hold people in that conversation. But yeah, I mean, I’m interested in, I’ve never asked you when you first became interested in astrology?

Temi: You know what, I think I was interested in it from a really young age. I think I loved it when I was a teenager – I’d always find the astrology section and magazines. I can’t remember what they were called?

Milli: Mystic Meg?

Temi: Oh my god, yes! And also those magazines that are called Teen Bop – I’d always dig out the horoscopes in the back with Mystic Meg. But then I think, I kind of, because I became quite religious and grew up in quite a religious household, my parents told me off about it, and it became a thing that I wasn’t allowed to do. So I feel like it’s something that I’ve reconnected with only in the last, well, yeah, in the last five years, for sure. But I think also your relationship with it changes – I think I got back into it, and I had a very rudimentary understanding of it. And I was like, into it. But I think, like you’re saying, the more you find out about your natal chart, and all of the different planets, and I think, I think my relationship with it when I came back to it was like, “Oh, I don’t really believe it. It’s just kind of camp and fun.” But now I’m like, “No, I believe it. Like it’s real. It’s absolutely true and real.”

Milli: Yeah, it’s funny you say that, because I was very much raised in a, I say, raised in the house, it was my mum, really. But also my dadima. I mean, a lot my family are Hindu, kind of follow Vedic astrology, my brother and I had charts made when we were born. And it’s always something that’s been introduced into my thinking, actually, from a young age as well, and was definitely, you know, invested in the kind of pop culture Mystic Meg version of it, which I really loved. But, I don’t know if you’ve seen Indian Matchmaking, for example?

Temi: Yes, I have.

Milli: Great. So like the pundit looks at their charts to see if their compatible? I mean, yeah, that is all connected to my culture and thinking in some way. And of course, not everyone decides to go for it. But yeah, it was something that actually I think I’ve got more interested in, in the last five years, but has always been kind of present. And, you know, we got charts done when we were born and suddenly, as an adult, I was really interested in reading them. And, yeah, I mean, it’s an interesting space for self reflection. And I think, especially if you can understand that it’s open to interpretation, and take it with a pinch of salt, and you know, understand that there are lots of different interpretations of a chart as well. I found it really, really thrilling actually.

Temi: Well yeah because I think, recognising that it’s a tool for self reflection and greater self awareness – it’s something that can help guide you through the world. Because you might, this is the way that you might deal with your emotions, or this is the way that you might think about things, or this is the way that you might communicate. And with all of the other people in the world, their Manifold charts, these are the things that you could come up against because of this. And so I feel like what you’re saying about how some people, when you don’t know much about it, view it as a binary, it’s so the opposite. It’s like, the planets and the world, and where the Earth is placed in relation to all these planets, makes everything complex. And everybody basically is their own solar system of where their emotions fit and it’s sort of like, how do we help you navigate that? And how do you help, does that help you navigate your relationships? And what can you think about when you’re dealing with certain people in order to have better relationships? I feel like it’s more about embracing complexity than it is about accepting that there’s a binary or there’s a sort of 12 system binary – that goes against what binary means, but you know what I mean!

Milli: Yeah absolutely. I think you put that really well. It’s funny, because I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Recently, I hope you don’t mind me saying that we’re both, you know, in our mid to late 20s now, and of course, our Saturn returns. And to kind of have that occurring during a pandemic is kind of extraordinary on top of that. And I think, you know, we’re asking big questions about the world anyway – big questions about our existence and our responsibility with it and, you know, a lot of the conversations we had around Living Newspaper and our responsibility as artists kind of came to that thinking, as well. But I found, I suppose a lot of comfort in kind of reading about Saturn returns and kind of adapting my thinking to the questioning around it as, you know, a time that I’m coming to in my life. But, you know, of course, the big context around it at the moment kind of exacerbates that feeling. I suppose we’re all going through that in a way.

Temi: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. I think with things like Saturn returns, which, it’s meant to be like, why people get stressed out about turning 30. Really, it’s actually a cosmic thing where it’s usually when Saturn, which is a planet that’s known for constriction and things being difficult, goes to the place in the sky it was when you were born. Which kind of means that you might go through, not turmoil, but just like shit will go down. And then by the time that the Saturn moves out of that place, we’re likely to be changed in some way. And so, my favourite astrologer, Chani Nicholas, who is a legend, I think recently, she has a podcast on her app – this shows how obsessed I am!

Milli: I’m going to take notes!

Temi: Oh my God, yeah, get the app. It’s great. So basically, every week she does a podcast – deeply comforting – where she talks about what’s going on in the stars this week. And she said something recently, which was like, “Astrology is never bad, it’s never like…” – she was talking about Mercury going into retrograde, which it currently is, in case you don’t know FYI, which often means, you know, you might book the wrong train or you might, you know, mess up with an email or something. Yeah, it’s about communication going awry in some way. Because Mercury is like, appearing to move backwards in the sky. This is getting very technical. What am I trying to say?

Milli: Mate, I’m learning things. It’s great.

Temi: Oh my god, great! Well, yeah, basically, I think with a Saturn return, it’s really interesting, because I actually got quite freaked out when I was realising that I was about to go into my Saturn return, I was like, “Oh, no, I need to look up all of the information about it, my life’s going to go to shit like it has because of the pandemic. Like, what? How could it be worse?” But I found that really comforting to hear that, you know, the astrology is never bad, it’s just something that you need to work with. And when you’re aware that something is going in a certain way, because of what’s going on in the stars, you can work with it and go with that flow, rather than pulling away from it and getting stressed out about it. And I think there’s something quite interesting about that, with regards to a pandemic. It’s like, “Okay, this thing is happening. I’ve got to work with it. What’s the good I can take away from it? Oh, I have to make more of an effort to reach out to my friends and connect like, what am I learning through that? Oh, I have to really get comfortable with being alone? Why have I not spent so much time alone? What am I afraid of within myself? How can I enjoy my own company? I feel like, it’s almost forcing you to sit with what’s uncomfortable and live with it in a really specific way.

Milli: Which we’ve had to do anyway, haven’t we? I mean, I love the language you’ve used around it as a sort of tool. I think that’s a really useful way of thinking about it. And again, certainly, how I think I’ve thought about it and engaged with it during this time. What kind of research did you do for the piece? Because they felt really, yeah, you talked a lot about the responsibility of writing them and they felt really thorough, but also really generous. I thought you did them beautifully. But what was that process like?

Temi: I mean it was, like I did feel guilty. I just felt like I was like ripping off what people, you know actual, qualified, incredible astrologers who have deep, you know, deeply know their craft. So, there was a bit of guilt around it. I basically just looked up different horoscopes from the week that we’d be going into. But I kind of, I guess, the difference is, you know, they’re making an offering as a tool for guidance, whereas I was making offering as a moment of comfort. So it’s recognising the difference of what I was doing creatively with it. And, you know, as an astrologer, you’re speaking to your audience, and they maybe come to you every week, or every month, depending on how you, you know, put out your horoscopes. Whereas, this is the first time and the only time that you’re going to meet Danny Lee Wynter, and he’s going to give you a tidbit or gem. So there was a bit more, I guess, not spectacle, it was more of an event – a way of making it an event. And also, if you’re going to, like someone’s horoscope weekly or monthly, you know that you’re held within something. Whereas it sort of became, it felt important to acknowledge the pandemic and to acknowledge what we’re going through, what you might be struggling with, but then to send them off with a bit of hope. And, I can’t remember what was going on? I think there was maybe a new moon coming up the week that I was working on them. But I think, and also I think it was in Capricorn season or just about to go into Capricorn season. So, there was something, it was kind of interesting, because all of the Earth signs I think, no, we were in Sagittarius season, it was definitely Sagittarius season.

Milli: I think we were in Scorpio.

Temi: Really?!

Milli: Yeah, it wasn’t long after – I think it was November – it was not long after my birthday, so I think we might have been in Scorpio or Sag, I think.

Temi: I think it was Sag because I seem to remember all of the Earth signs were being told to kind of hunker down and almost get ready for an Earth sign season because Capricorn season was coming next. But also it was kind of interesting because it’s like, so the astrology from what I gleaned from the several sources was not fun for us. But I wanted to give comfort and joy. So, really what was being said in the stars was, you know, just do some internal work and sit back, so that you can, you know, make a moment for yourself in a few weeks. But I didn’t want to be like, “Hey, stay home. That’s what you’re already doing.”

Milli: You have artistic licence, which you’re entitled to.

Temi: Yeah. So I sort of had to do that. And also find a way of, kind of, yeah, encouraging. Basically, when the astrology was a bit boring, or suggesting that you need to be a bit boring, that’s probably not what somebody wants to hear, when they’ve maybe come to the Royal Court and they’re about to have, you know, an event. So yeah, just kind of finding a way to elevate and uplift it. If that isn’t necessarily what the planets were telling them to do.

Milli: Yeah, I believe that is called artistic licence?

Temi: Yeah.

Milli: Totally fine.

Temi: Yeah.

Milli: Yeah, I mean, it’s such a big responsibility and that’s why I always feel like I have to preface conversations I have with people about astrology by saying, “Look, it’s my interpretation. You know, my experience of it, and I obviously read it through a specific lens. And when people hear at parties that you’re kind of into astrology they go, “Tell me what this means in my chart?” And you go, “Oh god, I can’t deal with that responsibility!”

Temi: Yeah. Also, because you’re drawn to different signs. I feel like there are certain signs that I have a bit of a blank with – I don’t know why, Libra?

Milli: You mean, tips and relationships? Or do you mean, you know, as in you feel less inclined to kind of read or learn more about them? Really?

Temi: Yeah. I think probably a combo of both. I think I’m not close to that many Libras. You know, sometimes, I think that was the interesting thing about writing the horoscopes is there are certain signs, it’s like, I’m just going to write this for my friend. I’m just going to, what does that person need based on what I’ve read from horoscopes? But also, what would I want to say to my true good friend who is a Scorpio? And I think it, yeah, there are just certain signs were I don’t have many close friends but also I’m less inclined to find out about them. And so yeah, it’s kind of interesting – the responsibility that I have then writing their horoscope, I was like, “Ooh Libras, love you guys, but like, don’t actually know that much about you? Like, Good luck, comfort, there you go!”

Milli: Perhaps we should have prefaced that experience by saying “Written by a Cancerian.”

Temi: Yes, because that was the thing, when I came to write Cancers, I’ve never had to write my own sign. It was actually a really, I was like, “I’m just writing what I need to hear,” which is a really interesting creative challenge.

Milli: Yeah, that’s kind of extraordinary. Do you feel, looking at your relationships and friendship groups, that you are drawn to particular signs? Or do you think when you find out people’s signs that you feel a different sort of connection with them? This has been said to me before by people that are sceptical, you know, that you might dismiss someone because they’re not, you know, a star sign that you like?

Temi: That’s the thing. I think that’s when, it’s like that binary that we were talking about earlier. That’s when it’s reductive and that’s when it’s kind of not used for its good. But it is freaky, how often I’ll be like, “Oh, you’re a Scorpio. That makes sense. That’s why I’m in love with you. This makes so much sense.”

Milli: Thank you so much, Temi.

Temi: You’re so welcome! But, Scorpios, other Water signs, I’m such a little Cancer crab. But Leo’s – love them. God love them. But I also have a lot of Leo in my chart. So yeah, I think it’s really interesting things that you chime with.

Milli: But it’s totally about the whole chart, isn’t it? It’s not just about the Sun sign, you know?

Temi: Yeah.

Milli: It’s about various placements within the chart. But I mean, I agree – I’m also really drawn to Water signs. And, you know, we’re good friends, but also, lots of my female friends are Cancers. My mum’s a Cancer – I’m totally enamoured by her always have been, we’re very close. I think that probably also has a big influence on the way that I think about that. But I do sometimes question, you know, what does it mean if I don’t ask someone and, you know, I’m sure you’ve sat on a first date and gone, “How soon is it until I can ask them what time they were born?”

Temi: Oh, my God. Yeah, absolutely.

Milli: Yeah. But you know, it’s about the whole chart and learning about my Moon is really interesting as well.

Temi: Yeah.

Milli: Kind of learning more about that, in the last couple of years, has made me kind of question more about how I process emotions and logic, and I found that really useful. This is a conversation that you and I will continue to have, I’m sure.

Temi: So much.

Milli: That’s kind of the beautiful thing about it: for me, the knowledge about it is cumulative.

Temi: Yeah!

Milli: And it’s totally not binary – there’s loads more that I kind of love to read and absorb about it.

Temi: Yeah, I feel like I’m still at the beginning, which is kind of amazing given that I feel, in some ways I feel like an expert, sort of. And in some ways I’m like, “I have no idea what’s going on.”

Milli: Well, please keep sharing your learnings with me. And also you named your favourite astrologer. Can you say what their name was again?

Temi: Chani Nicholas. Absolute legend.

Milli: Mine is Chris Corsini.

Temi: Ooh, okay.

Milli: Seda, who I think you’ve met, sent me them on Instagram. And they also speak ASL.

Temi: Oh, I think I’ve seen them. Yeah.

Milli: Yeah, they’re brilliant. So I’ll leave you with that: Chris Corsini.

Temi: Thanks.