NEIL Oliver’s latest book entitled Hauntings: A Book of Ghosts and Where to Find Them is, predictably, haunted by the spectre of Oliver himself.

Because judging by the description of the author on the book’s jacket – which conveniently forgets to mention his role as a GB News presenter – the publisher would very much like prospective readers to believe that there are two Neil Olivers.

One is a soft-spoken presenter known for his TV documentaries about archaeology and history. A man who writes books in a gentle, professorial tone and whose retellings of Scotland’s past may once have been trusted by the general public (if not by respected historians).

The other Oliver, however, is a bombastic broadcast journalist enthralled by the idea of exposing shadowy cabals of global elites. He is a man who believes climate change is a “money-making scam” and who compared coronavirus lockdowns to Nazi propaganda.

Mercifully, it appears that the first Oliver won out during the writing of Hauntings. At least, he does for most of the book. 

READ MORE: Boris Johnson was 'bamboozled' by Covid-19 graphs and data

Hauntings is ostensibly a book about ghosts. Or rather, it is about 25 places around the UK associated with stories or sightings of otherworldly beings.

In truth, it often reads like the blethering of a history buff attempting to shoehorn his favourite subjects into the theme of the supernatural.

We get chapters on Dambusters (the ghosts of war), Henry VIII (the ghosts of his wives), and Ernest Shackleton (the ghost of the ‘third man’). It’s like a list of subjects your grandad might raise at the Christmas dinner table.

Still, Oliver is a perfectly serviceable writer of popular history.

While his prose is often waterlogged by rambling metaphors and Dickensian turns of phrase (nobody ever owns an area of land, it’s always a demesne) it’s certainly readable.

There are times when he evidently fancies himself as a writer, like when he describes reported sightings of ghostly Second World War planes by claiming that “glimpses linger, like smoke, or perfume, clinging to the fabric of time”.


But equally there are many fascinating stories about ghosts and their alleged appearances throughout history.

Yet any reader aware of the presenter’s more recent work will find themselves searching for glimpses of the ‘other’ Oliver, which either by design or the heavy hand of an editor’s pen have been all but expunged from the book.

There are moments, though, where the author’s barely suppressed rage at the contemporary world bleeds through.

The death of his father is discussed throughout the book as a means of connecting the exploration of historical hauntings with the raggedly personal experience of grief.

But it also gives insight as to why Oliver’s crusade against coronavirus health measures has often felt so raw.

For example, he mentions reading the James Hogg poem ‘A Boy’s Song’ during his father’s funeral.

READ MORE: Royal Navy nuclear submarine saved moments before sinking

“I did my best to read the whole of it, all six stanzas, as part of my eulogy for him at his funeral,” he writes.

“It was during lockdown when funerals were for immediate family only. My wife and our three children had to sit apart from my mum and sister.

“My in-laws were there too, also in a row of their own. And that was it – nine of us in a crematorium, my dad in a wicker coffin.

“I was the one nominated to speak, watching my children cry”.

It is, like most funerals, a pretty sad scene. However, it’s also evident that sadness isn’t Oliver’s only emotion. He’s angry, too.

Angry that his father’s funeral felt like an isolating experience. Angry that his family members were sectioned off from one another at a time when togetherness feels most important. Angry at those who imposed such restrictions.

It makes Oliver’s embrace of anti-vaxxer culture somewhat understandable.

The National: Neil Oliver has been a presenter on GB News since April 2021Neil Oliver has been a presenter on GB News since April 2021

The coronavirus pandemic saw growth in conspiracism precisely because it was a moment of enormous instability which exposed many political problems.

Wealthy politicians grew rich off government PPE contracts while nurses worked tirelessly without adequate protection or recompense.

Millions saw their incomes decrease or entirely disappear while lockdown restrictions coupled economic devastation with loneliness.

“In the West we are becoming cave dwellers once more, one way or another,” writes Oliver.

“Technology makes it easy to stay at home behind closed doors and drawn curtains. We call it working from home, but it’s also about hiding from the outside world.

“We no longer have to speak to others, communicating instead via apps, texts and emails, holding them at arm’s length. The future looks lonely, and also quiet.

“Uncounted millions are demonstrably anxious and unhappy; young and old are rattling with sedatives and anti-depressants to help them cope with lives made insular and isolated.

READ MORE: Mairi Gougeon: Independence could boost Scotland's marine sector

“We are withdrawing, retreating into caves of our own creation. Nobody and nothing waits for us there, except ourselves.”

The subtext here, though, is not that we should critique the structures we know have led us to this point. It’s not that contemporary capitalism harms our minds, our bodies and our planet.

Instead, the blame is somehow shifted onto the individual – as if those who embrace working from home are somehow contributing to the decline of humanity or are just mindless sheep being shepherded towards doom by the World Health Organisation.

It speaks to another pivotal problem in harmonising the two versions of Oliver being sold to us: his seemingly entirely arbitrary decision-making process for believing or disbelieving in science.

While in Hauntings he will happily discusses scientific consideration of string theory or praise the late astronomer Archie Roy as a “man of science”, on GB News he will falsely claim that coronavirus vaccines result in more hospitalisations than the virus itself.

Indeed, in the wake of his resignation from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, one could hardly describe Oliver himself as a “man of science”.

As such, readers may find themselves raising an eyebrow when he takes third-hand ghost stories as incontrovertible truth.

READ MORE: Israel-Hamas hostage deal could take place 'in coming days'

He asks: why would they lie about it? A grace he is apparently unwilling to give eminent professionals in the field of climate science.

The acknowledgements section reveals a man unmoored by the history he lives through.

“I wrote the Story of the World in 100 Moments when we still had one foot in the world that existed before the Covid debacle,” writes Oliver.

“Hauntings is therefore entirely a product of where we are now, and the principal ghost of the book is made of all I used to think I knew”.

The publisher-friendly historian is haunted by the doppelganger of himself as a controversy-courting right-wing news presenter railing against a post-Covid world.

It's a co-existence that even Oliver appears to know is untenable. 

Hauntings is published by Bantam Press -  an imprint of  Transworld Publishers, a British publishing division of Penguin Random House.