Enter Steve Consalvez, motivational speaker and new breed of psychotherapist, with the suit of a game-show host and the psychobabble of a Californian mind guru, who is warming to his task in the conference suite of a Newbury hotel. "Your brain has 200 billion neural connections, so you're all pretty smart," he tells his audience. "So today we've got to get you to use your brain to full capacity."
The 70 expectant firewalkers have already been clapping along to "Hot, Hot, Hot", "Relight My Fire" and other pyromaniac anthems, but in five hours they will each take seven or eight bare-footed steps along a shallow trench of red-hot embers burning at over 800 Centigrade - hot enough to melt steel. First, they must look at their own lives because as Consalvez says, "We've all got a firewalk to go home to, right?"
When they are sent off to complete "the new behaviour generator" questionnaire, however, doubts about the exercise are immediately raised. "I can't think of anything I've got fears about," moans one. "It's like being at an evangelist's party," says another. After the break, Consalvez tries to convince Kenny, a volunteer from the audience, about the power of positive thinking. "Close your eyes and think of a good experience," he urges. "Sorry, I can't think of one," replies Kenny. Fifteen minutes later the experiment has made little progress.
"Kenny's quite unusual," Consalvez eventually concedes, through gritted teeth.
It's nearly six o' clock, and the firewalkers are trying out similar motivational techniques while clouds of smoke appear behind them. The mood is far from the required electric. The seminar resumes with more mind games for beginners, until Newbury's own Paul McKenna has the firewalkers shouting out their chosen anchor word. "Yerbaby," the volunteer from the audience hollers, his glasses steaming up in the excitement.
"Are you ready to walk the fire?" Consalvez asks the throng, which leaves him in no doubt with yet another affirmative. It is not long until the adjoining room is cleared for the rehearsal, and the firewalkers are soon striding purposefully across the hotel carpets, firing their anchors aloud with arms raised like zombies on Prozac. Consalvez fans the flames of mass hysteria. "Where do we look?"- "Up"; "What do we fire?" - "the anchor" goes the chant. This sports-day-from-hell seems finally to galvanise the group, which then surges like a lynch mob towards the fire chanting "easy, easy, easy".
Beneath a now star-filled sky, the metamorphosed firewalkers stop at the edge of the layer of heat ahead of them like pagan worshippers. The keenest, Mick, pushes to the front, and after several primeval barks, heads off down the track of burning wood, stumbles into the bowl of water at the end, and emits a celebratory cry so loud, the whole of Berkshire can hear it. "You don't see or hear anything, all you hear is a voice inside your head saying 'Yes I'm going to do it'," he explains. As each walker takes their first step with the chant "yes, yes, yes", the garden echoes like a thousand motel bedrooms. "It's much better than sex - more like a million orgasms rolled into one," affirms Mick.
Carol, another first-timer, is more philosophical. "I feel quite proud I've done it, but it's not the experience I thought it was going to be," she says. Colin agrees: "There's nothing to it. It's over really quickly and you don't feel a thing." Even Sue, earlier a shell-shocked housewife brought along by her sports-mad son, took the purposeful strides as calmly as if she were walking into her local greengrocer's.
Back in the crude light of the hotel, they all euphorically clean the charcoal off their feet. Soon they will be driving off into the night, back to face their own particular firewalks waiting for them at home.
Success Formulae will hold its next firewalk and seminar on 22 Oct. Details: 01344 874101Reuse content