Rolling Stone ex Jo Wood is known for her interest in all things alternative, but her own close encounters of the extraterrestrial kind take this passion to another level. Crazy or credible? You decide…
The first time I saw a UFO, I was on a beach in Recife on the eastern coast of Brazil more than 20 years ago, but I’ll never forget that night. I was on holiday with my Rolling Stone ex-husband Ronnie, when one evening around midnight I heard him shout, ‘Jo, come outside!’ I assumed something awful had happened and raced out of our beach hut.
Hovering over the ocean was this strange object. There were lights shining down from it that reflected off the water. I watched as it slowly rose up and glided sideways across the sky. Then suddenly – whoosh – it zoomed off at supersonic speed and was gone.
It was like nothing I had ever seen on earth – nothing manmade can move like that. The next day, news of the UFO was on the front page of the local paper. We weren’t the only ones who had seen it that night.
But this wasn’t my last UFO sighting. Years later I was on a Stones tour plane, 36,000 feet above South America, when a blue-green orb floated alongside the window. My son Tyrone, who was 15 at the time, saw it too. I had the same feeling as I did on the beach in Brazil: that it was not from this planet.
Growing up, I’d always been fascinated with aliens and other galaxies. My father was interested in space travel, so I must have got it from him. I remember seeing him reading a magazine and a particular headline caught my eye: ‘Was God an astronaut?’ It really captured my imagination – was that a halo around his head or a space helmet? My sense of curiosity about outer space and alien life grew and grew. I’d often lie in bed and wonder: what’s out there? The universe is so big – bigger than we can imagine. We can’t be the only living beings. That would be incredibly lonely.
After my UFO sightings, I devoured American documentary series, such as UFO Files and Ancient Aliens, and read every book I could find on the subject. It became an obsession. So when my friend, the radio producer Mike Hanson, asked me if I wanted to make my own podcast, I knew that it had to be about aliens. With so many theories and counter-theories around about extraterrestrial life, I feel I’ve only just scratched the surface. So I want to talk to other people; to hear their stories, discover what they believe in and learn from them.
In each episode of my podcast, Alien Nation with Jo Wood, I interview a guest about their experiences of the extraterrestrial and their opinions on the theories out there. Singer Robbie Williams was such an interesting guest. He’s had a lot of paranormal experiences, such as the time he stayed in a house on a plague site in London and was tormented by dark energy. He once saw a UFO outside the Beverly Hills Hotel – a huge black square with yellow stripes hanging in the air. Another time, he saw a golden orb in the sky in the San Fernando Valley in California.
Other guests on the podcast include the poet and playwright Murray Lachlan Young. He saw a formation of objects moving at high altitude over Dartmoor that suddenly took off, one by one, in erratic squiggles and then flashed out of the sky. He told me all about the theories of the late author Carlos Casteneda, who believed that there are shadow creatures – non-physical, interdimensional beings – that come to Earth to feed off humans’ negative emotions. I’ve chatted about alien-hybrid babies with my friend the musician Brix Smith Start; we both believe that aliens have bred with humans. And I learned all about reptilian shapeshifters (aliens who live among us, said to assume the identities of world leaders) from actor Dan Aykroyd, who was in Ghostbusters.
Not all my guests are celebrities. One of my favourite episodes is with the author and UFO researcher Kathleen Marden. Her aunt and uncle were Betty and Barney Hill, an American couple who famously were reportedly abducted by aliens in the 1960s [see below for their story]. It was one of the first majorly publicised abduction experiences and their story became a bestselling book, The Interrupted Journey, and a TV movie, The UFO Incident. The couple inspired Kathleen to become a ufologist – someone who studies reports and evidence of UFOs – and to interview other abductees.
Personally I would love to meet an alien. Lots of abductees suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but I don’t think I would be scared. Sometimes I think, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if they zapped me up for a quick meeting?’ I think there are lots of different types of aliens out there – from the classic ‘greys’ with the big heads and eyes to ones that can morph to look exactly like humans and secretly live among us. I’m sure I know a lot of aliens; there are some pretty weird people out there.
I think these alien races have been visiting Earth for a long time. For example, there’s a place in Bolivia called Puma Punku with huge stones that are thousands of years old but cut precisely into geometric shapes. Experts still can’t explain how an ancient human civilisation would have the technology to do that. Some people believe an alien race called the Annunaki used to live there, mining gold to take back to their home planet. It’s a similar thing with the pyramids. Perhaps they are evidence of a past alien visitation too.
I think that some aliens might be studying us. Others might just be visiting, like tourists – ‘Let’s go and have a look at that blue planet over there’. I don’t think that aliens have bad intentions – if they were going to harm us they would have done so long ago. If anything, I think they’re watching over us, hoping that we’re going to turn things around and not destroy the Earth. Take the recent backlash against plastic. Maybe they’re putting these ideas in our heads, nudging us in the right direction, helping us to change for the better. If I were abducted, I’d say, ‘Hi! I’m Jo, what do you need me to do?’ I’d ask them how we can fix our planet.
I’m convinced the authorities have more information on alien life than they are letting on. I think governments around the world have found alien spacecraft but they’re keeping it a secret until they can fully understand the technology. There’s one man in particular I’d love to have on my podcast – Bob Lazar. Back in the 1980s he says that he worked as a physicist near Area 51, the top-secret military base in Nevada, USA [see below], where many people think the government keeps UFOs that they’ve found. Bob says his job was reverse-engineering one of nine flying saucers they have there, figuring out how it worked. He describes the interior of the spacecraft as being completely smooth, without a single hard edge. The US government has always denied that Bob worked for them, but when I watch interviews with him online, I believe him – he knows too many details to be making it up.
I am absolutely aware that people will read this, or listen to my podcast, and think I am nuts. It doesn’t bother me. Alien life is a subject that I’m really interested in, but we can’t all share the same beliefs. Life would be pretty boring if we did. I don’t mind having banter with sceptics; in fact, I’m inviting an academic who doesn’t believe in aliens on to the podcast so that we can have a good argument.
Once, I was pilloried on Twitter because I said that aliens might have come to Earth and tweaked DNA in the primates we evolved from. People told me I was full of rubbish. But I think that generally people are becoming more open-minded. When I talk about my UFO sightings, some will say, ‘Oh, Jo, come on, it was just a drone.’ But more often they’re willing to believe it might be true. I think this shift in attitude is due to social media; people share their alien sightings and it makes other people feel more confident about doing the same.
I follow a lot of accounts on Instagram, such as @ufo_hunter_uk and @ufolovers, which post videos of UFO sightings from around the world. Yes, some of these might be fake – but there are just so many, I think some of them must be real.
I’m not sure if certain people are more likely to have alien encounters than others, but I think that if you’re closed off to the idea of alien life you probably won’t see anything. And before you ask, I don’t think it has any connection to drugs. When I took them, I never saw anything. It’s only since my head has been clear that Ihave.
I often stand outside my house when the weather is clear, staring at the night sky, thinking, ‘Come on, show yourselves.’ Even though I know I was born on this planet, I feel that maybe my ancestors, or a part of my DNA, might have come from a different one. My friend Brix calls it a ‘star seed’. I love learning about our universe, exploring what civilisations might have come before us. Humans have been on Earth for a tiny fraction of its history. Thinking about the bigger picture gives me perspective. We get so consumed in our day-to-day lives that we forget to look up at the stars and realise it’s a miracle that we even exist. We’re like little ants spinning around on a rock in the middle of space. How insane is that?
The universe holds endless possibilities, and none of us has all the answers. But when it comes to the ultimate question – are we alone? – I really hope that the answer is no.
Alien Nation with Jo Wood, produced by Mike Hanson for Pod People Productions, is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify UK and all major podcast platforms
As told to Hanna Woodside
Famous close encounters
The alien abduction stories that hit the headlines
Antonio Villas Boas, Brazil, 1957
At the time of his supposed abduction Antonio Villas Boas was a 23-year-old farmer who was working at night so as to avoid the hot daytime temperatures. He says he saw a red star in the sky that grew ever closer, until he made out a spaceship that landed on three legs in his field. He tried to escape but was grabbed by a small ‘humanoid’ with blue eyes. He then claims he was taken aboard the ship and covered in a gel-like substance before being forced to have sexual intercourse with a female creature (who nipped at him on the chin with her mouth), in order to conceive a human-alien hybrid to be raised by the aliens. He was escorted back to Earth four hours later with burns on his body, nausea and headaches – a doctor diagnosed him with radiation sickness. He stuck to his story until he died in 1991.
Barney and Betty Hill, US, 1961
Barney and Betty Hill’s claim that they were abducted by aliens in rural New Hampshire in September 1961 was the first widely publicised report of an alien abduction in the US. The middle-aged couple were returning home from a holiday in Canada along an empty road at night when Betty said she saw a light moving in the sky, quickly realising that it was a craft that seemed to follow them. When the couple eventually reached home at dawn they were dirty, Betty’s dress was torn, their watches had stopped working and there were two hours of the trip they couldn’t account for. With the help of a psychiatrist, they recalled what they could of their alien encounter: that grey beings had walked them into a metallic disc. Once inside, the beings examined the couple before erasing their memories.
Travis Walton, US, 1975
A 22-year-old logger, Travis Walton, disappeared without trace after he and his colleagues had spotted a UFO in Arizona in November 1975. He reappeared five days later, insisting he had been taken into a space craft by alien creatures. The group had been leaving work when they spotted light through the trees. Driving closer, they realised it was a metallic disc, and Travis left the vehicle to get a better look. He remembers being hit by a huge force, which his colleagues assumed had killed him, prompting them to leave to seek help. Travis then says he woke up on a spaceship surrounded by what he believes were aliens. The next thing he knew he was outside his town, with no idea he had been missing for five days. ‘I am certain I am not the only one who has been taken,’ he says. ‘This is real and it’s important that the general public come to a gradual understanding of that.’
Alan Godfrey, Yorkshire, 1980
The ‘alien abduction’ of police constable Alan Godfrey has become one of the UK’s most celebrated cases. Alan was on patrol in the early hours of 28 November 1980 when he saw a glowing mass straddling the main road through Todmorden, West Yorkshire. His car’s radio failed, so he sketched what he saw, then blanked out. When he regained consciousness 25 minutes later, he was 100 yards further up the road with a split boot and an itchy red spot on his foot. After hearing that three other police officers had seen a strange light on the same night, Alan made a report. It found its way into the papers, caught the attention of ufologists and led to a series of hypnotic regressions where he recalled being examined by aliens aboard a UFO. Alan was also the man who, in the same year, found the body of Zigmund Adamski five days after he vanished from his home near Wakefield. Adamski was found 20 miles away in a coal yard in Todmorden with a series of mysterious burns, covered in an unidentifiable ointment.
Amy Rylance, Australia, 2001
The 22-year-old had been watching TV at the home in Gundiah, Queensland, she shared with her husband Keith when she was supposedly abducted. Her friend Petra walked into the living room to find Amy being carried in a sleeping position on a beam of light to a ‘huge ship outside’. The curtain was torn and the bushes outside were burnt. Keith and Petra called the police who found no clue as to her whereabouts. Then, 90 minutes later, Keith received a phone call from a woman in Mackay, Queensland – an eight-hour drive from Gundiah. She was with Amy, who she had found by the side of the road and who was now in hospital, dazed and dehydrated but uninjured save for red marks on her feet. She remembers lying on a bed surrounded by tall figures, reassuring her and taking samples. When she was found, her body hair had grown considerably, suggesting that she’d been away longer than the short time she had been missing.
The UK’s UFO hotspots
- Sefton, Liverpool. Between April 2014 and October 2015 police dealt with 18 reports of alien activity, including two cases where people attended a police station claiming to be aliens. In 2015, a Ryanair flight delayed landing due to a UFO sighting over the River Mersey.
- Warminster, Wiltshire has long been known as the country’s UFO epicentre. In the 1960s a spate of UFO sightings and paranormal incidents led to the legend of the Warminster Thing, a mysterious object spotted in the skies.
- Bonnybridge, Scotland has reports of more than 300 UFO sightings every year, and forms part of the ‘Falkirk Triangle’, an area that’s said to have had reports of mysterious incidences including flashing lights and flying saucers.
Area 51: Will the raid happen?
The iconic US military base has inspired countless conspiracy theories – and its secrets could finally be revealed later this month
If all goes to plan, on the 20th of this month some two million people may try to raid Area 51 in the Nevada desert in the hope of finding out whether there really is extraterrestrial life out there. This US Air Force base has long been the subject of wild conspiracy theories, mainly due to the intense secrecy that surrounds it (the US government only acknowledged its existence for the first time in 2013) and its connection to classified research. There are those who believe that alien visitors are tucked away there, or that it’s a site for meetings with extraterrestrials, or that it stores crashed alien aircraft. Other theories speculate that the US government filmed the 1969 moon landings in one of its hangars. The site stands on the ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’ – state highway 375 – which has received numerous UFO sightings and activity.
What started as an internet joke has become one of the most anticipated events of the year. The ‘Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us’ Facebook event was created in June this year by California college student Matty Roberts, with the rallying cry, ‘We will meet up in rural Nevada and coordinate our parties. If we Naruto run [running with your arms stretched out behind you, after the manga ninja character of the same name], we can move faster than their bullets. Let’s see them aliens.’ While Roberts later said it was meant in jest, two million people have clicked ‘Going’ on the event while a further 1.4 million have expressed interest. The nearby town of Rachel, Nevada (also on the Extraterrestrial Highway), has no hotel vacancies on that date, nor does the town of Alamo, 50 miles away.
Conspiracy theories were fuelled when the event was suddenly deleted from Facebook in August with no explanation (before being quickly reinstated). AFacebook spokesperson claimed the removal was a ‘mistake’. Roberts even received a visit from the FBI, who wanted to make sure he wasn’t receiving death threats or that anyone was trying to radicalise the event. ‘I was kind of scared at this point,’ he said, ‘but they just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t an actual terrorist making pipe bombs in the living room.’
The US military is aware of the event – and is not taking any chances. A statement from the US Air Force to ABC News said, ‘The Nevada Test and Training Area is an area where the Air Force tests and trains combat aircraft. As a matter of practice, we do not discuss specific security measures, but any attempt to illegally access military installations or military training areas is dangerous.’ A spokeswoman added, ‘The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets.’
But now Roberts has announced plans to rebrand the event, and instead host Alienstock, a three-day music festival and ‘celebration of aliens’ in Nevada, to be held in Rachel on the weekend of 20-22 September. ‘I just created a joke while I was playing video games and it has taken off to be this wild monster,’ he explained. ‘I want Alienstock to be something positive, enjoyable, safe and profitable for the rural area of Nevada.’ The site’s website even hosts its own official song, ‘They Can’t Stop Us All’.
Meanwhile, perhaps mindful of the huge interest in the subject, 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has pledged to reveal whether aliens really do exist if he is elected to office.
Have you had an unexplained encounter? Tell us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org