A view from Dave Trott

A view from Dave Trott: Repackaging the future

Princess Margaret was born in 1930.

In those days a royal birth was a huge event.

So the editor of the Daily Express decided to run a feature on what the stars held for the royal baby’s future.

He asked astrologer’s assistant R H Naylor to write it.

For thousands of years, astrological prediction was worked out according to the date of a person’s birth.

Each analysis was only relevant to that person, so Naylor’s forecast was only for Princess Margaret.

But a strange thing happened.

A lot of people wrote in to the editor.

They said they had been born on the same day, but obviously in a different year, so was the forecast still relevant to them?

And the editor saw an opportunity.

People wanted to read about their future, based on the stars.

He asked Naylor to find a way of doing a weekly column.

Naylor didn’t see how it was possible.

He said there would be 365 different forecasts, depending on the day each person was born.

Obviously that wasn’t practical.

But the editor said if Naylor could find a way of simplifying it, he’d give him his own weekly column.

So Naylor went away to think about it.

He knew the simplest astrological guide was the position of the sun at the time of someone’s birth.

So he divided the sun’s 360-degree transit into 12 zones – each one was 30 degrees.

This meant he could group people’s birth dates inside each of the 12 zones.

Then he named each zone after a different celestial constellation.

So if you were born between 22 December and 19 January, the sun would be in the constellation Capricorn.

Which meant he could describe you as a Capricorn person.

R H Naylor had just invented horoscopes.

In our terms, it was a repackaging exercise.

Astrology had previously been custom-tailored to an individual’s birth date: so that’s 365 individual predictions.

What he did was repackage it into 12 off-the-peg solutions.

Simplified and rebranded for ordinary people.

And, of course, horoscopes took off like wildfire.

Because it allowed everyone to be part of a group.

They were in a club: a Leo person or a Scorpio person.

It gave them a feeling of belonging.

And naming those groups after the constellations appeared to give horoscopes history and credibility.

It made it seem as if horoscopes had been around forever.

Philosopher Julian Baggini says horoscopes play to our brain’s need to find order in the world.


We see the 12 signs as building blocks and so we can see where we fit into the order of things.

By understanding how the human mind works, R H Naylor had created a massive industry.

In the US alone, 70 million people read their horoscopes every day – and there are two million horoscope websites around the world.

Like everyone else, I always thought horoscopes were thousands of years old.

I hadn’t realised they were a repackaging and rebranding exercise.

Invented in 1930 by a mass-market newspaper editor.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three