'CAN you hear anything now?'' I've been chatting to Rita Rogers, a medium, for about 40 minutes when I finally ask the big question. She is clair-

audient, meaning she can give readings by phone, but I hadn't told her in advance I was going to ask.

She is quiet for a moment. ''What birth sign are you?'' she asks.

Scorpio, I reply. She asks me if I have a grandmother who has ''passed over''. ''Yes,'' I say. Suddenly her voice is more insistent. ''Who's Margaret?'' she asks. I tell her that was my grandmother's name. ''She gave you a purse or a ring,'' she tells me. A ring, I say. ''Well, you should wear it, really,'' she says. ''It brings her closer to you.''

This is a little weird. Still, at this point in the reading I can't be sure. Margaret, after all, is a common name and lots of grandmothers give their granddaughters jewellery. She has also asked if I know a William on the other side, and I don't.

On the other hand, Rita Rogers has a 30-year record of giving acccurate readings to a massive range of clients, including the police. Her most famous was Diana, Princess of Wales, who became a close friend. With a profile like that, Rogers, 62 this year, has attracted her fair share of scrutiny, although her integrity remains intact.

There is nothing fake about her manner. Our conversation takes a meandering path as she digresses into one anecdote after another in her rich Nottinghamshire accent.

We have been discussing her new book, Learning to Live Again. Her fifth title, she wrote it to bring comfort to the grieving by reassuring them that their loved ones live on as spirits.

She had a bad year herself when writing it. One of her four daughters was injured when she fell 15ft, and another, Mandy, was diagnosed with cancer. ''It wasn't the fact that she was going to die. I know there's life after death because I talk to them every day and I knew her dad would fetch her and take care of her. It was the fact she's got two little boys and a daughter who depend on her.''

Thankfully, Mandy had the tumour in her kidney removed and is under observation. The experience, however, meant Rogers put her ''heart and soul'' into Learning to Live Again. Not that she needs an excuse to write about grief. Not only did she lose her husband, Dennis, when she was 38, and her mother two years later, but every day she receives 50 letters from bereaved people asking for readings. She also receives 1000 letters through a national magazine, for whom she writes a column. Given such demand, she has dispensed with private sittings.

Although she replies to every person, she can pick only one letter each day from her own postbag and 10 from the magazine's to follow up with readings. She does not tend to pick those with lots of information in them as, ''you know, it's no achievement''.

Choosing is tough: they are all ''sad, beautiful letters. But I always say spirits pick their own letters, because a voice in my head will say, 'Choose that one'. You'd be amazed how much difference that phone call can make.''

She mentions Margaret, a woman whose children, Vicky and Steven, died in a car crash. Margaret went into shock, and although she did not believe in mediums, had a reading with Rogers after an appointment was made on her behalf. ''The children came through lovely for her,'' says Rogers. ''And you know what she said to me afterwards? 'I could skip down the road'.''

During the reading, Rogers told Margaret she had put something on Steven's bed that morning, something to do with the USA and fighting. ''To be completely honest I could not believe what I was hearing at this point, for only that morning I had put Steven's WWF (American wrestling) quilt cover on his bed. No-one could have known that detail as no-one had been in the house that morning.''

Rogers will often describe to someone changes they have made since the bereavement which, she says, are passed on to her from the spirit who has visited the house. They do not, she says, visit their graves very often, although they do enjoy their funerals. ''I had a lady the other day and she told me she loved the service and the way they had written her name in lemon and white flowers.''

It is hard not to smile at these asides. Yet, while she talks with ease about spirits, as a child she shrank from the prospect of being a seer. She claims to have been talking to spirits since she was four. When she was 10, her father's mother, a Romany and a clairvoyant herself, told Rita she had the gift. ''I says, 'No way, no how, no chance','' says Rogers laughing. '' 'I'm not doing it,' I says, 'I'm going to be a policewoman'. By the age of 10, I'd had that many spooky things happen to me, I was scared of it.''

She also learned it could get you into trouble. Her mother, who was not Romany, did not like the idea. One day, Rogers came home from school very excited to tell her mother she had seen a neighbour, Mr

Bingham, by the river. Mr Bingham had been causing concern because he had not been out since his wife had died. Rita had seen him and he had told her he was happy. ''My mother just looked at me,'' Rogers recalls. '' 'Rita, have respect for the dead,' she said. She knocked me round the kitchen. Mr Bingham had committed suicide in the River Maun that morning. Can you imagine the shock for my mum?''

These days, people tend to believe her. In 1984, she helped police locate two soldiers who got lost in a snowstorm in the Cairngorms. She gave precise directions, but, sadly, neither survived. Most of her work, though, is putting people in touch with relatives who have died.

''Your grandma comes to visit you,'' she tells me. ''Is there a five or an eight in your house number?'' Yes, I confirm. ''I do feel this lady believed in God.'' I agree she did. ''She didn't like drink either.'' I feel a twinge of guilt. Then she says my brother's name and I am, for a second, lost for words. She waits for a moment, then continues. ''She's a stickler for

proper names, your grandma. Her name was Margaret Anne, Anna.'' I don't know what her middle name was, I confess.

After the interview, I ring home. My dad answers and I ask him what my grandmother's middle name was. ''Anna,'' he replies. I've been wearing the ring ever since.

Learning to Live Again, Rita Rogers (Pan, (pounds) 6.99).

Befriended, and loved, by a lonely princess

''I know she's very happy now,'' says Rita Rogers about her most famous client, Diana, Princess of Wales.

Rogers was introduced to Diana by a mutual friend in 1994 when the princess requested a telephone reading.

After that, the pair spoke regularly by phone.

Rogers describes Diana as someone who spent a lot of time alone. The woman who glittered in front of the cameras at charity events and official engagements often returned home to empty

apartments where she would eat in front of the TV and then call her friend for a chat.

The two met face to face a year later, when Diana drove herself from London to the medium's

semi-detached home in the

Derbyshire village of Lower Pilsley.

''When she came to visit she used to throw her arms around me,'' says Rogers. '' 'Oh, Rita,' she said, 'I do love you.' She always used to leave me a present, like the trinket box which played You're Simply the


''We had such laughs and such a fantastic relationship, much like mother and daughter. She used to say, 'As soon as I hear your voice, Rita, I feel calm'.''

The last time they met was on August 12, 1997. Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, came

to Derbyshire by helicopter

and stayed for an hour and a half. They both died in Paris two

weeks later.

Since then, Rogers has declined to discuss the readings she did for Diana.

''I was offered (pounds) 250,000 to talk about her private life, but how

could I? She was my friend.''