Million-dollar Hypnotricks


Million-dollar Hypnotricks

Hollywood stars idolise him. He’s got a mansion in LA and a TV deal worth £15 million. As Paul Mckenna reinvents himself as America’s self-help guru, Nicole Lampert finds out whether he is a genius or a snake-oil salesman?

By (Daily Mail)

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Published: Sat 9 Aug 2008, 2:21 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:49 PM

FLASHY, AMBITIOUS and more than a little prone to psychobabble, it is no wonder American celebrities have taken DJ turned hypnotist turned self-help guru Paul McKenna to their hearts. Chat-show hostess Ellen DeGeneres recently cried as she described how the Londoner had convinced her to quit smoking.

And last week Courtney Love, the former drug addict and widow of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain, credited him with helping her keep weight off after losing four stone in a dramatically short time.

“He’s brilliant and is totally responsible for me staying so skinny,” said the skeletal rock singer.

“Whenever I feel my resolve weaken, I go to Paul for another hypnosis session.”

McKenna is the latest in an invasion of Brits to hit American TV screens - following in the footsteps of Simon Cowell and Anne Robinson. And he’s built his success by taking selfhelp back to the Americans - with bells on.

He has a two-year deal worth an estimated £15 million with America’s Discovery Network.

As well as hosting the show ‘I Can Make You Thin’ (complete with accompanying books, CDs and downloads), he rakes in millions from his web site, with its sales of DVDs aimed at solving everything from how to stop smoking (the box set costs £40) to how to become more confident (at a cost of £50 for four discs).

New book

McKenna, who boasts he’s “the UK’s best-selling nonfiction author” as well as being “a leading expert on the power of the human mind,” already has plans for a book on insomnia later this year and is about to sign a multi-millionpound deal with a US publisher.

His second Discovery Network series has already been commissioned even though the first cable show attracted only 800,000 viewers.

The 44-year-old, who left school with just two Olevels and an A-level in art, was already rich before he arrived in the US (when asked how rich, he liked to reply: “I’ve got a Ferrari”) but success in America has taken him into a whole new league.

His home now is a £3.4 million, 4,529 sq ft fivebedroom house in the Hollywood Hills, complete with a four-space detached garage, cinema room and swimming pool. His neighbours include Britney Spears, Robin Williams, Rod Stewart and Eddie Murphy.

In LA, he drives a black Range Rover Sport while in the garage at his London HQ sits his Ferrari 575, a Jeep and a Bentley Arnage.

Other luxuries include his collection of designer watches, his Brioni suits and his regular presence at the movie capital’s hottest restaurants.

Friends include not only Simon Cowell (with whom he has just holidayed in St Tropez), but the Beckhams and Paul Sculfor, the male model who dated Jennifer Aniston and is now living with Cameron Diaz.

American life

He has thrown himself into American life, proudly showing off his buffed body, dark tan and newlyacquired transatlantic burr. While he may still plan to spend 20 per cent of his time in the UK, he has closed down his British seminar arm, Paul McKenna Training Ltd, which last year reported a turnover of just over £3 million.

And he has even moved out to LA his ex-girlfriend Clare Staples, a former model who is now his business manager, and her dog, Mr Big.

His latest project is to make a self-help film which promises to enable people to fulfil all their dreams.

Film financier Howard Davis says McKenna tried to interest him in the project.

“He thinks there would be money in doing a movie,” said Davis. “I wasn’t interested, but he wouldn’t let it go - he said it would make a fortune. I’ve never heard anyone talk so much bull.”

While the movie industry may not yet be impressed by McKenna, it is a different story for the American public.

His celebrity endorsements are a major draw in the fame-obsessed US - in appearances on shows such as American Idol he described how he has helped stars such as Naomi Campbell and Elle Macpherson.

His popularity with stars has always been a useful marketing tool; the likes of Stephen Fry, Daryl Hannah, David Furnish, Chris Eubank, Sarah Ferguson, Greg Rusedski and Sophie Dahl have all publicly sanctioned him.

Ronnie Wood is another fan, although it is unlikely the hypnotist will be citing him as an example in the near future after his recent stint in rehab.

One-man campaign

McKenna’s US web site is littered with testimonials from fans who say that he has saved their lives. And, with characteristic immodesty, he claims to be on a one-man campaign to save America from obesity, which, ironically, he blames on diets.

“I am on a quest to close down the hate-your-body industry,” he declared recently. “The reason half the country is overweight is because we’ve been dieting for the past 40 years. It’s not just that diets don’t work: they are the problem, cynically profiteering out of other people’s misery. Diets are nothing more than training courses in how to get fat and feel like a failure.”

But while he may rail at those who peddle diet regimes, it is hard to say exactly where his advice differs.

Indeed, one Los Angeles Times writer described him as nothing better than “an old-style snake oil salesman constantly espousing the magical powers of television.”

Comparing McKenna’s shows to “infomercials” an advert masquerading as a factual programme - the writer Jon Caramanica continued: “They feature a tooperfect, too-compliant studio audience barking out answers in unison - they also have a whiff of televangelism.”

McKenna’s magic formula for losing weight is based on four golden rules.

The first is to eat when hungry, the second is to eat what you want, the third is to “eat consciously” – meaning chew slowly and relish every mouthful - and the final and most important part is to stop eating when you are full.

It is a simple, commonsense message that he has managed to turn into a multi-million-pound industry, although there are some who question just how revolutionary, and how effective, his techniques are.

Experts disagree

Top nutritionist Ros Kadir says of his concept: “There is nothing new in what he is saying. Everybody knows that to lose weight you need to exercise more and eat less, but that is not going to stop people overeating.

“Even if it does work in the short term, I would love to know how many people have kept the weight off after four or five years.

There is no doubt Paul McKenna knows how to make money, but he does not have the magic formula to weight loss - if he did, he would be even richer.”

Last year, Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority banned his regional advertising campaign for claiming his approach was “the most effective weight loss system available. Lose weight and keep it off.” The assertion was based on two surveys of people who had attended the hypnotist’s seminars, which showed that 71 per cent of participants had lost weight.

But the watchdog said the evidence was not strong enough to support the claim, concluding the evidence “was inadequate to support the implication that all participants would lose weight and keep it off for ever.”

When it comes to being rich, thin and confident, McKenna is the best advert for his own advice. But as the hypnotist knows from his research, being rich and confident does not necessarily mean you are happy.

Family life

Indeed, for someone whose ethos is about people getting in touch with their emotions in order to change their lives, he appears not always to take his own advice. While for many people true happiness lies in finding a partner and starting a family, he admits he does not know if he is emotionally equipped for either.

Born the elder of two sons in Enfield, North London, to a builder father and home economics teacher mother, he grew up a nerdylooking dyslexic who was bullied at school and failed to excel at anything.

But a searing ambition to emulate his hero Kenny Everett saw him work his way up from working as a DJ on Topshop’s in-store radio station in its Oxford Street branch in London to joining Capital Radio.

It was while working as a DJ at Chiltern Radio that he discovered a new calling after interviewing a hypnotist for his show.

He practised on friends and then put on shows.

Realising the potential, he quit his job as a DJ, leaving a note for his boss predicting he would be a millionaire by the age of 30.

Despite his many protestations since then that all he wants to do is help people - “if I was interested in making money, I’d be in banking or oil” - money clearly has always been a motivating factor.

He reached his material ambition thanks to the ITV show ‘The Hypnotic World Of Paul McKenna’ where volunteers were hypnotised into performing funny tasks. Viewing figures reached 13 million in 1994, and it was sold to 42 countries.

But he soon realised the freak show aspect of hypnotism could take him only so far and began to use it to help people with problems or phobias.

And after meeting Richard Bandler, the Californian founder of NLP, a form of psychotherapeutic counselling developed in the Seventies, he started to run seminars and talks.

No qualifications

Although he has no qualifications in therapy or nutrition, he is very proud of being a PhD - twice over.

His first qualification was from La Salle University in Louisiana, which turned out not to be accredited. He went on to get another doctorate from the International Management Centres Association, Buckingham, looking at human behaviour.

Bristling at the suggestion he was somehow a fake, he sued a newspaper for libel for claiming that he had a “bogus” degree.

He was not, though, able to take action when his credibility was knocked by the Little Britain caricature of him as the creepy hypnotist who seduces women by getting them to “look into my eyes, look into my eyes.”

Indeed, never one to turn away a celebrity, he helped Little Britain star David Walliams to prepare for his charity swim across the Channel.

Career-wise, things have only gone up and up. Yet, for all his wealth, McKenna is the first to admit his life is far from perfect. His selfconfessed control freakery - every cushion in his house has to be perfectly straight and there is not a book out of place - means that he struggles to maintain relationships.

As someone who wakes up and meditates on his failings every morning, he realises he has a problem - but he seems unable to solve it.

In a recent interview he resorted to psychobabble to try to explain himself - he “wasn’t the major shareholder”

in his own feelings and felt he needed to “reset the emotional thermostat.”

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