Interview: Paul McKenna, hypnoti...zzzzz

He's rich. He has goals in life. And for the price of a video, he'll put you to sleep. But despite his dazzling talents, Paul McKenna couldn't bake a Victoria sponge to save his life

Paul McKenna, the world's most popular hypnotist, and multi-millionaire, lives in one of those fabulously expensive little mews jobs just off High Street Kensington. Certainly, it's the sort of place I'd choose to live, if I had his lucrative talent, and could make people think they're Elvis Presley, instead of having no talent whatsoever, beyond being able to make people bored which, yes, has rightly earned me a rubbish house nowhere near Kensington and an ever-dwindling number of party invites. Still, pecker up. I have great hopes for my self-help, audio tape - Boredom Power!* - which, I've been assured, might sell very nicely if it sells at all.

Paul himself answers the door. He is wearing an Armani shirt and designer specs. He is quite slight. His hair is quite thin. He has rather weak, weedy features. He looks very much like the DJ from Enfield he once was. He looks like he might dance as badly as your dad at parties. He is 34. His mother, Joan, is a home economics teacher who, yes, makes good Victoria sponges. He can not make Victoria sponges, he says. Or any other kind of cake? "Um. No. Actually." Jam tarts? "No." Scones? "No." Are you acquainted with the rubbing-in technique? "NO!" Would it be fair to say, Paul, that you're not much interested in home baking? "IT WOULD!" Is that confession on or off the record, Paul? He says he doesn't mind if it's on. I ask if he's finding this interview quite boring so far. He yawns. So you are, then? "Oh, no, no, no," he quickly protests. "It's just that I only got back from New York an hour ago. I'm jet-lagged. Knackered." Rock cakes? "NO!"

He lives mainly in New York now, he explains. He's got an apartment there, and a new girlfriend, a television presenter who "is very nice". America is a good place to be based, he says, because of all the Rikki's and Montels and Jerry Springers. "Do those shows,"he says with some glee, "and you can promote your products, shift tons of tapes." He thinks Kilroy is rubbish. "It's: `Tell me, has anyone here ever had a parking ticket?''' He isn't keen on Los Angeles, either. "I lived there once for four months, and didn't make a friend. Everyone is so into the business. It's like, you go out for dinner, and someone asks for the noise to be turned down, because it's annoying Tom Selleck's brother." I say that when I go out for dinner, people ask for me to be turned down, because I'm just so annoyingly dull. He says: "Don't you think you're being a little hard on yourself?" I say, peppermint creams? Everyone can make peppermint creams, can't they? He says: "NO! NO! NO!" But, he adds, he can make a cup of tea. Cup of tea? "Please."

So we trot down the mustard-yellow, colour-washed hall, to the kitchen. And wow! Hand-made cabinets. Dazzlingly shiny, marbled surfaces. Lots of equally dazzling, stainless steel, gadgety things. What's the point of all this, I ask, if you can't even do peppermint creams? He says: "My former fiancee designed it. She did cook." We take our tea up to the living room. The living room is very plush, with gold wallpaper, big, fat, swaggy curtains and big, fat sofas which don't look as if anyone has ever sat on them. I say the room seems more rich, old grandmother than thrusting, superstar performer, up there with Cilla when it comes to TV ratings. He says the decor is, actually, the previous owners'. "I thought he was a really tasteful guy, so I kept it." So, in short, Paul's a bloke who doesn't mind living with other people's taste.

Certainly, his own personality doesn't seem to be stamped anywhere. Perhaps he just doesn't have much of a personality to stamp. He has done a lot of work on himself over the years, and is evangelical about the benefits of self-hypnosis which, he says, has taken him from a puny under-achiever who, at school, was told he'd never amount to anything, to the focused stage and telly star he is today. He goes on to talk a lot about "targets" and "goals". He says that there was this study once, of a group of Yale students, 3 per cent of whom were found to have specific goals while the rest didn't. "And, when they were followed up years later, the 3 per cent had made more money than the other 97 per cent put together!" He adds that the first step towards achieving a goal is to visualise what it would feel like to achieve it. He says that when he started out in the business he visualised "a nice house, with me standing outside, smiling". Trouble is, I don't think he ever visualised how he would live in that house. Perhaps if you have too many targets and goals, there simply isn't room for much of a self. Anyway, what goal does he visualise now? "To get married, have children, be more successful." Aren't you successful enough? "By successful, I don't mean more of what I have. I don't mean bigger houses, bigger cars, more toys. I mean more enriching experiences, more enriching travels, meet more interesting people, contribute more to the world." He can seem quite fetchingly earnest at times.

Still, I wonder about this "goals" business. Don't you have to be a control freak to either pull it off, or think you can? Is Paul a control freak? Possibly. Indeed, the one personal touch I do detect in his house is, bizarrely, the Post-It note stuck to the underside of the loo seat that says: "Down!" Do you consider yourself a control freak, Paul? "I do like to be in control, yes. Are you?" Certainly, I reply. I'm so in control that if I say, "Right, I'm not drinking tonight", I'll have just six bottles of wine then add, "What I meant was, I'm not drinking more than six bottles tonight". Paul laughs pityingly. Then says: "I can be spontaneous too, you know. The other day some friends rang to see if I'd go skiing with them and I said yes, even though I've never been skiing before."

Perhaps it's this control thing that makes him so brilliant at what he does. Although I've never much gone in for his TV shows - The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna, The Paranormal World of Paul McKenna - I did see him live on stage once, and he was terrifically good, making people think they were electrical appliances or Elvis and all that. And, of course, up on stage he is totally in control. Of everybody. Anyway, he'll be returning to the London stage in February, after a break of three years and the court case in which one of his stage volunteers (Christopher Gates) attempted to sue Paul for turning him into a schizophrenic. Gates lost the case. But can hypnotism ever be dangerous? "That's like asking if communication in itself can be dangerous. Or a hammer. It depends whose using it, and with what intent. But, still, I would say, no, it isn't. Over 500,000 people have been stage hypnotised in this country, and there have only ever been 25 complaints." And? "None of them were ever upheld. Apart, that is, from the woman who fell off the stage and broke her leg."

Paul was born and raised in Enfield, north London. His father, John, was a builder, while his mother was, interestingly, a home-economics teacher. Scotch pancakes? "NO! Look, I can just about open a can of beans, OK?" Paul grew up not liking himself very much. "I didn't feel attractive. I didn't think nice things about myself. I didn't have rewarding goals." He worried about his looks. "You know, big nose." He went to a Jesuit school which he hated. "We were beaten with sticks and belts. I was told I'd never amount to anything." He retreated into music, then left school at 16 to become a DJ, ending up hosting a breakfast show for a commercial station in Bedfordshire. One morning, he had a professional hypnotist on the show. The hypnotist put Paul into a trance. "And it was just the most amazing feeling." This ignited his interest.

He read all he could on the subject, then started practising on family, friends and the boy next door, who came round on the eve of his biology O level, to say he was never going to pass, could Paul help? Paul put him in a trance, telling him he would remember everything he had ever been told in his biology lessons. The boy went on to fail all his O levels bar biology. "He got an A!" In 1987 he put a small show on in a pub in Cambridge. The next year, he filled the Duke of York's Theatre in London. Today, he can sell out the Albert Hall.

He no longer, he says, feels inadequate on any level. The combination of success, self-hypnosis and defining goals means: "I feel a lot happier, and good about myself most of the time."

Hypnosis is a great therapeutic tool, he continues. He treats people either via his tapes - Motivation Power!, Stop Smoking for Good, Sleep Like a Log - or privately. He has worked with Frank Bruno, Nigel Benn, Greg Rusedski, Pat Cash. He's helped Spike Milligan with his insomnia and Paula Yates with her migraines. He says hypnotherapy is far more useful than, say, psychoanalysis, "which takes 23 years, and still people don't behave differently".

He is good with phobias, too. Spiders and flying, he adds, are the most common, but he has also had to deal with "helicopters, speed, door knockers, balloons, bridges and buttons". Buttons? "Yes. This person would only have Velcro."

He says he'll hypnotise me if I like. He could help me feel better about myself. I might not be as boring as I think I am, although that seems unlikely. I say, anyway, that I'm a disaster when it comes to being hypnotised. I once went to see Alan Carr, the foremost hypnotherapist for giving up smoking and, afterwards, had six fags just on the way to the bus stop.

Are there people who can't be hypnotised? "Some are more resistant. But I don't think there's anyone who can't be."

He makes me relax on one of his big, fat sofas. He says: "When you arouse from this trance, you will be refreshed and full of MOTIVATION POWER! As you listen to my suggestions, and focus your intentions, your motivation will get stronger until you have all the CONFIDENCE YOU NEED to ACHIEVE YOUR TARGETS. Now, yawn. Relax the muscles around your eyes. Let your eyes close. Drop your shoulders, until they feel quite free, quite relaxed. You are now in a deep state of trance..."

I say I'm not. He says I might be, I just don't know it. I say I don't think I am. He repeats I might be.

This goes on for some time, until I pretend I am. Anything for an easy life. His voice ultimately goes very low and slow. He sounds like someone whose batteries are running out. I have to imagine my targets. I am too pathetic to confess that, tragically, I don't have any targets to visualise. Afterwards, he says: "How do you feel now? Better?" I say: "Rice Krispie squares?" I don't think I'm cured quite yet.

* Boredom Power!, pounds 487. Steep, I know, but if you want something boring, this is it!

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?