`Remember you are pure love with skin on.' Got that?

He left school at 15 and became a labourer. Now his one-liners are gladdening the hearts of the stars. How did Richard Wilkins become a guru?
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The Independent Culture
IF RICHARD Wilkins has his way, the next time you idly gaze at a billboard you may be confronted by his words of wisdom. It might say: ``Remember you are pure love with skin on,'' or even: ``If your living room window is grubby, you don't go out and polish the view.'' Some may need a moment to fathom all this. Not so, the many British celebrities who have taken Wilkins's books, full of such one-liners, to their hearts.

Ringo Starr has ordered 20 signed copies of each of his works. Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell describes the musings of Wilkins as ``inspirational quotations which kind of bully you into feeling better''. They ``brighten up'' Stella McCartney's day, and Anthea Turner finds them ``truly inspirational... especially on the down days''. To Richard Branson, they are simply ``delightful''.

Wilkins, 49, a former labourer from Northampton who left school at 15 with no qualifications, is at a loss to explain the source of his insight. Sitting on his sofa, surrounded by throws and candles, he says: ``It amazes me to this day when I write something that's good, show it to Gillian [his third wife] and I say: `Look, that's really good isn't it?', and I wonder where it comes from... where does the music from Mozart come from?''

Wilkins, who sports matching dappled hair and beard, started writing in 1990 after going from being a ``self-made multi-millionaire'' living in a mansion, to unemployment benefit and bedsitland within a matter of months. Raised on a council estate, he left school to work in a local boot and shoe factory. At 21, he became a labourer but was soon in a position to take on his own staff and started specialising in refurbishing pubs. Six years later, Wilkins had his own building firm. By 37 he had a mansion with 13 bedrooms set in 70 acres of land and could afford a fleet of classic cars including a pounds 240,000 Lamborghini and a Porsche worth pounds 350,000.

But he faced a costly divorce at the end of 1989 and the recession hit the following year. Within months he was bankrupt. ``The worst thing of all was that I lost my self-worth,'' says Wilkins who peppers his conversation, delivered in a Northampton accent, with therapy-speak. ``I found myself at rock bottom. I felt very lonely and tormented. One night I thought I would take my own life, and I actually found some peace in that.''

Instead of ending it all he found a new beginning when he overheard someone saying: ``Fred will get there one day.'' ``The word `there' stuck with me,'' he recalls. ``I thought: `Where's there?' I had had the sort of money that most people dream of, I'd been married, had children, I had my health but I never really thought I was `there'. It was never enough and I was always on to the next thing. Then it dawned on me that I had never met anyone who said they were `there'.

"I realised I was on to something big and I was tingling. I was being shown something. Everyone is trying to get `there' through their jobs, their hobbies or lifestyles, but are we all just barking up the wrong tree?''

Wilkins started writing down his thoughts, which he refers to as ``comic faxes'', and showed them to his friends, who encouraged him to collate them in a book. Turned down by every publisher he approached, he and Gillian, 38, borrowed some money from a relative and, in 1996, they published 150 Ways To Make Your Life Ten Out of Ten. ``They [the publishers] thought it was too simple,'' says Wilkins, adding that they questioned whether people would buy a book full of "one-liners". He says the following year Random House, one of the publishers who originally turned him down, offered to take him on. But Wilkins refused, fearing his work would not be given sufficient personal attention, and Gillian set up her own publishing house.

They went on to produce to more collections of one-liners - The Yellow Book and Mental Tonic. His first book of poetry, From Black & White To Colour, is out this week.

Wilkins is overjoyed with their success. While not quite rivalling Paul Wilson's Little Book of Calm, which has sold almost 2.5 million copies in the UK alone, Wilkins's three collections of ``wit and wisdom'' have sold some 60,000 copies, and are now available in mainstream bookshops.

Readers may find a ring of familiarity to some of his work. ``Many a tear is born of haste'' will remind many of "Look before you leap"; ``There is a beginning with every ending'' is similar to "When a door shuts another one opens"; and ``You can be happy with money but money won't make you happy'' is surely the same as "Money can't buy you everything". But Wilkins says people understand things put in different ways.

There is also a certain amount of stuff which seems too obvious to be truly wise such as: ``People may hand you the bullets but you don't have to use the gun.'' Then there's the tortured analogies of: ``Your body is the car which takes you through life. One day the car will be scrapped... but that isn't the end of the driver ... is it!''

Wilkins, who also gives ``inspirational'' talks, can ramble with great gusto, and at great length, about his ideas on life, some of which are instantly recognisable: be happy with your lot, follow your dreams, hope for the best, and your mind affects your body.

He describes his view on happiness as ``quite controversial''. He adds: ``I think happiness is a big con trick. There are so many articles, books, tapes and seminars on how to achieve real happiness. And I really think that if there was a secret answer to happiness someone would have discovered it. My belief is that it's natural to have the down sides to your life as well.'' If not controversial, then it's certainly unoriginal - who has not read, or been told by a parent, that to appreciate the good times, one has to go through the bad?

But clearly there are many ears craning for a new prophet with ancient wisdom. Such is his standing that Wilkins has received countless letters of appreciation from people he has inspired; one of his poems is read out at funerals around the country and he was once asked to give a sermon at a Church of England service. He says he is not religious, but ``spiritual''. ``I think it's Shakespeare, or someone who's famed for saying: `Life's no dress-rehearsal. That's exactly what I think it is - a dress-rehearsal. I happen to believe there is another life, life just doesn't finish when you die.''

As well as his dream to see the billboards bearing his utterances - which he hopes the Government or Richard Branson will fund - Wilkins would like to see his quotes on prison cell walls. ``The way things are going I could see perhaps a little TV chat show. You know like you get a Mr Motivator? Well, Mr Mental Motivator - that sort of thing. I could easily see that happening. We've just been to Jersey and we worked it out that about a quarter of a per cent of the population who came to our talk.''

Wilkins, who lives with Gillian in a rented three-bedroom house, insists that his motivation is not to make another million, but to help others.

``It makes me feel good,'' he says, putting his hand over his heart. ``When someone contacts me to say that something I said really helped them, I get a feeling inside me which I never got from owning a Ferrari or living in a mansion.''