What seems to be the problem Doctor Coleman?

He's been censured by the Press Complaints Commission and banned by the advertising watchdog. As the host of telephone helplines, including How To Make A Large Penis Seem Smaller, Dr Vernon Coleman irritates just about everyone. So what has he got to be angry about?

Dr Vernon Coleman. He's a phenomenon. He's everywhere. I worked for almost four minutes last week but, still, he makes even me look lazy. Where to start? Well, he's the agony-uncle-cum-sex-columnist for The People. (Q: When we married my wife wore very pretty underwear... now she wears grey underwear which is about as erotic as barbed wire. What should I do? A: Take her shopping...) He's the author of 85 books, most of which he self-publishes then markets with those huge advertisements on the front of The Daily Telegraph. (You know, the ones that read: Irritable Bowel Syndrome by Dr Vernon Coleman. Remember you have nothing to lose but your symptoms! Full money-back guarantee!) He publishes his own subscription- only health newsletter and has a massive website. He also hosts some 200 premium-rate "medical" telephone helplines, the most popular of which are Oral Sex for Men and Oral Sex for Women, which he says have been rung by about 3 million people in Britain. Another is fascinatingly called How to Make a Large Penis Seem Smaller. "It's actually very popular, too," he claims.

I say that, as it happens, I have a very effective technique of my own in this instance. I just stand at the top of the stairs in my Brentford Nylon baby-dolls (circa 1972), with something of a come-hither look in my eye. That tends to reduce things nicely for most blokes. In fact, now I think about it, I might set up my own video phoneline to deal with this particular problem. I could even advertise it in The Daily Telegraph as The Ultimate Shrivelling Experience. Worried, Vernon? "Yes," he says. "I can see you might do me out of business." Might? Might? I'm heading for the Veuve Cliquot Businesswoman of The Year with this one, I reckon. I think, even, I could safely offer a peace-of-mind, money-back guarantee, too. Tragically, perhaps, Vernon does not take issue with me here.

Anyway, we meet at Exeter St David's Station in Devon. I'd wanted to visit him at his home in Barnstaple, but he wouldn't let me. "I'm a very private man." He is waiting on the platform. He is 53 and tall with fantastically mad, woolly hair and a splendid big nose. He looks like he should have been a Dr Who at some point, and not just an ordinary GP, which he was for ten years in Leamington Spa.

He didn't, initially, find it easy to be open about sex. "I remember when I had to give my first vaginal examination. I was more terrified than the woman in bed. Then I went to the sink to wash my hands, took off my watch, and rolled up my sleeves beyond the elbow. The woman didn't actually scream, but she was near it."

Anyway, I am quite peckish, and hope we'll go somewhere nice for lunch. I quite fancy something seasidey with lots of chips. After all, I can't let my cellulite slip, or my stretch marks fade. The Ultimate Shrivelling Experience rather depends on them. Disappointingly, though, he takes me over the track to The Lemon Tree station buffet on Platform 6. I would like to say I've had classier dates in my time, but as I can't seem to recollect any, maybe I haven't.

I order coffee. He orders de-caff. He's a vegan. "I don't eat meat, cheese, milk or eggs. I eat lots of veg and fruit and grains and nuts." I say I tried to be a vegetarian once, and did quite well for ten minutes but then found I just had to have a sausage. Do you ever fancy a sausage, Vernon? "No. NO! I know what's in them... 90 per cent shit and 10 per cent gristle!" There is quite a lot of anger in Dr Vernon Coleman, I think. Certainly, if I was a sausage, I'm not sure I'd wish to bump into him on a dark night. Still, I might look rather better in the baby-dolls, though.

I can now see, actually, that this anger is the main thing about him. That he is driven by anger. He is not just anti-sausage, he is anti-hamburger, too. "I call them harmburgers. Tell your subs to keep that `r' in!" He despises the mainstream medical establishment. "They've sold out to the drugs companies." He despises hospitals and their waiting lists. "Consultants who do things privately have to have an NHS waiting list, otherwise who would want to see them privately?" He is convinced GM food "is the beginning of the end". Or, if it isn't, then the over-prescription of antibiotics is going to do us in. "Infectious diseases are coming back in a huge way..."

Hang on, hang on, Vernon. OK, I'm not going to get chips out of this, but at least I thought we'd get to talk dirty? No, he says, the sexy nudge- nudge, wink-wink stuff is NOT what he's about. The People page. The phone lines. They're "fun and I'm not ashamed of them". But they exist, mostly, to subsidise his other interests. "For example, I've just done a book on animal rights. I've sent out 6,000 flyers for it, even though I know the book will never make a profit." And now he's off again.

He is a fanatical anti-vivisectionist and animal rights campaigner. He also despises mainstream publishers who, in his latest book - the suitably titled How To Publish Your Own Book - he describes as: "The pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, party-going set who vibrate between Bloomsbury and Sloane Square."

Goodness, Vernon, is there anything in life that pleases you? "Oh, yes. A good book... a nice bit of countryside... watching an old movie.... I like Five Easy Pieces very much.... cricket, because it confuses the Americans... I don't really watch telly, except to check Ceefax from time to time to see if the world has ended... nature... animals."

He is totally potty about animals. Indeed it was his cat, Alice, that first got him into self-publishing in the late Eighties. He had written a book "with her" called Alice's Diary which no publisher would touch. So he went it alone and "in the first year, sold 20,000 hardback copies."

Alice, who contracted mouth cancer, had to be put down a few years back and, yes, it has taken Vernon quite a while to recover. "I was inconsolable for weeks. Just getting to the point of not spontaneously crying took about six months. It was exactly the same mourning process as if I'd lost someone close to me."

We have quite a ding-dong about whether animals can suffer as humans can. He insists they can. He keeps sheep. He has a sheep called Karen, "who is black-faced, get it?" No. "Five Easy Pieces... clue!" Still not with you, Vern. "Karen Black! Ha!" Honestly, Vernon. You're too clever for me. Must be all that fruit and veg and grains. "Anyway, Karen had a sister called Cilla. Get it?" I think so. "Cilla was one of the first sheep in Britain to get BSE. She had all the symptoms, kept falling over all the time, then neurologically lost her personality. I had to separate her from Karen but, just before she died, I took her to see her.

"Karen's eyes went wild and she looked terrified. She started to go towards Cilla but then ran away. She could not cope with the pain she was feeling..." I am minded to say that I hope Cilla eventually made a nice jumper for someone. But decide against it.

I wonder, naturally, what Dr Coleman's human relationships are like. I note he is wearing a wedding ring. You're married then, Vernon? "There is a lady in my life, yes." And you're married? "I'm wearing a wedding ring, yes." Children? "No." He is, yes, frustratingly private. What is your house like? "Just a box." What's your earliest memory. "I can't remember." OK, what about the one after the one you can't remember. "I can't remember that, either." I don't think he means to be difficult. And I actually rather like him in his eccentric way. But he's rather like those crazed nutters who go up and down Oxford Street with huge sandwich boards proclaiming, say, that the end of the world is nigh. They just don't want anything to get in the way of the message. The message becomes who they are.

He was born in Walsall, then lived in Staffordshire, and now in the East Midlands. His father, Edward, was an electrical engineer. His mother, Katherine, was a housewife. He was an only child, who decided to become a doctor at 12.

"I used to go to the local library and, for reasons I don't understand, I started getting out medical books." He was, he says, "enthralled" by the idea of becoming a GP - "the old-style sort who was the patient's friend". But after training and then going into practice, he became quickly disillusioned.

"It wasn't the patients. It was the medical establishment. The bureaucracy. The over-prescription of drugs. The way drug companies sent leggy young blondes round to sell whatever it was. Free pens. Golf balls. It just seemed to me doctors were becoming the marketing end of the drugs companies."

Almost inevitably, he ran into trouble with the local bureaucracy, primarily over his refusal to write his diagnosis on sick note forms. "I considered it a breach of confidentiality." He was fined by the DHSS.

He exists, I think, to irritate. He is possibly a workaholic, but not for the usual reasons. Money does not especially interest him, he says.

"I went through the materialistic phase about 10 years ago. I had the big house, and the stuff that goes in it, and the Rolls Royce and the new Bentley and the classic Bentley and the usual crap. The turning point came when the guys looking after the classic Bentley told me I needed a special pressure washer to hose it down after it had been out in the mud. I thought this stuff is starting to own me, and walked away."

Most workaholics are workaholics because they are seeking some kind of approval. Vernon, however, seems to actively seek disapproval. "I've fallen out with just about everybody," he boasts. He says, mysteriously, that he has to keep moving house because "I have a lot of enemies." This is, I think, how he defines himself.

He's managed to just about irritate everyone. He's been censured by the Press Complaints Commission. He's been banned by the ASA. He's been injuncted in the High Court. He can, it is said, be a great pain as a columnist, creating a stink if so much of a comma is moved. True? "Yes. I try to write a column so that it flows. If there's a comma there, it's for a purpose, to give the reader time to pause for breath." He can be spectacularly vain.

I don't know where Vernon's anger comes from. Or why he seems happiest when he's being a thorn in someone's side. We didn't get especially close in The Lemon Tree on platform 6. Yes, he's something of a crackpot but, as I've said, I'm rather pro crackpots and while he doesn't do any harm, he might occasionally do some good. Certainly, he was writing about BSE long before anyone else was taking it seriously. Anyway, time to go. He walks me to my platform to catch the train back to London. We say our farewells. I feel quite battered, one way or another. Some of his tirades seemed endless. By the time I get home, I find I'm very tired. I even go straight to bed without doing any of that come-hither stuff at the top of the stairs. Funnily enough, my partner doesn't seem to especially mind. He might have even muttered. `Thank you, God. I owe you one.'

`How To Publish Your Own Book' is available by mail order from Blue Books, Publishing House, Trinity Place, Barnstaple, Devon. E32 9HJ

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?