Get ahead, get a guru

Metropolitan life: These days every celebrity needs a superguru. But how do you tell an honest aura reader from a Madam Vasso? By Eleanor Bailey

If the scandal of Fergie's sex tapes (aka Vassogate) has shown anything it is that no self-respecting modern star can be without a guru and that, as with birthdays, royalty should have two. In June Fergie proclaimed that it was the "happiness" guru Michael Rowland who gave her inner peace. Then came Madam Vasso. Diana saw the tarot-reading psychic Betto Palko and the hypnotherapist Roderick Lane. Even the Queen saw a spiritualist about her shoulder. With the famous and the fashionable citing their gurus on their press biographies, having the right spiritual leader is the Nineties way to impress. A PR man may secure you a good deal from the News of the World, but he can't predict the future. A therapist may listen but offers no answers; but (for a mere pounds 60 to pounds 150 per hour) a guru will tell you the meaning of it all, what you are and what you should do next.

"Gurus are fashionable," says PR man Max Clifford. "Most celebrities are totally paranoid and they don't meet anyone in the course of their normal lives who can dispense good sense to them. They need someone who can take control and be firm; someone who seems to know what they're talking about."

"Few people say they are religious now," says Mary Balfour, managing director of the thinking person's dating agency, Drawing Down the Moon, "but most people like to call themselves 'spiritual'. Having a guru implies you have a fascinating spiritual or philosophical side."

Where once Demi Moore might have been proud of her 4am workouts, now she brags about her connection with the Hollywood guru Deepak Chopra, of whom she said in Hello!: "Through his teaching I hope to live to a great age. Even 130 years isn't impossible." And she'll be in good company; for Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, George Harrison and Elizabeth Taylor are also reported to be relying on Chopra to get them to the 2050 celebrity Zimmer frame convention.

Elton John says of his guru Beechy Colclough, who dragged him out of addiction: "I am now convinced that those of us too proud, too arrogant or too frightened to ask for help need people like Beechy to nourish us and help us claw our way back into existence."

And it's not just the entertainment industry. Having already come to the rescue of George Bush, the Mexican shaman Salvador Lunes Collazo was called in earlier in the year to help Bill Clinton deal with his "enemies". The shaman was recommended to the President by the former Mexican State governor, Eduardo Robledo Rincon, whose cancer had been treated by Collazo's combination of incense burning and Mayan prayer chanting.

But what exactly is a guru and how can you spot an honest aura reader from the off-the-rails types? "A guru is a teacher who has wisdom beyond their particular discipline," explains Dr Rajendra Sharma, medical director of the Good Health Clinic in Kensington, who is Tina Turner's guru and also lists among his clients Steven Berkoff, Neneh Cherry, Debbie Moore and "members of the Royal family I'm too discreet to name". Dr Sharma continues: "If you combine academic knowledge along with being wise and have a soupcon of compassion then that makes a guru." Your guru must, of course, exude a positive aura, charm and presence. Patients see Dr Sharma and apparently start feeling better before they've left the consulting room. He uses, in combination with his general wisdom, Chinese medicine and iridology so that he can back up any spontaneous healing that takes place with treatments a little more down to earth. Dr Sharma thinks the gift is in his genes. His father was a respected healer and guru, his sister is a healer, his brother a physical therapist. Sharma was reading auras from the age of four. He first met Tina Turner when he was 15 - he got rid of the TB that she couldn't shake off. "They had tried everything to cure her but nothing worked," he says. "I worked on making her body able to cure itself."

Philip Flanagan, a guru who looks a little like Nicholas Cage crossed with the larger half of Hale and Pace, describes his role as being "a revealer of life and dispeller of darkness". He admits it's not easy; the guru treads a lonely path. "You can't be adored and loved at the same time. The guru who goes too far finds himself with no friends and only fans. It's also easy for the guru to misuse his skill. He starts believing that he's God. It's a tricky position."

You don't choose to become a guru, according to Flanagan, the job seeks you. "I was a natural healer. I remember sticking my fingers on my mother's head as a child to cure her migraines. I always thought that I was normal. I thought that everybody could sense the hidden emotions in others. I wanted to be a rock musician."

Gurus do not necessarily say anything startling (most have, says Max Clifford, "a degree in the bleedin' obvious") but what they do have is the presence, confidence and command to make their generalisations sound like the most profound truths. And if it makes people feel better, then it works. We may laugh at Sarah Ferguson for sitting under a pyramid, but it sounds no more ludicrous, objectively, than many of the rituals of the world religions. Nor is it necessarily any less effective. It's just that in this country more people still sit under statues of Jesus. It's a question of safety in numbers.

The rise of the guru correlates with the decline of organised religion in the Western world and the decline of the secular role model. The Royal family, politicians and other erstwhile role models are not the pillars of respectability they once were. And if you are a member of the Royal family then the world is even more directionless. In a world devoid of heroes, says Flanagan, "a guru is someone who can get you through the swamp". And for pounds 60 a session he will do just that.

THE GREATEST LIVING GURUS AND THEIR CLIENTS

Mother Meera: A "living saint" according to Hindu philosophy. Her skills are so strong that she doesn't need to speak. People travel from all over the world to Frankfurt just to sit in her presence.

Celebrity clients: Many, but Mother Meera doesn't encourage publicity.

Beechy Colclough: Heals lost souls on GMTV. Spoke proudly of his success with Michael Jackson last year: "Just look at him - he's clean, he's well, he's got a new album out, he looks good, he's married ...".

Celebrity clients: Michael Jackson, Elton John, Liz Taylor, Paula Hamilton.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: The godfather of gurus, now 85, turned the Beatles from clean-cut boys into beardy-weirdies. We can blame him too for that awful whiny sitar song on the otherwise jolly Sgt Pepper.

Celebrity clients: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull.

Deepak Chopra: The current superguru, at least in book sales. Demi Moore got $12m for going nude in Striptease but she put a sari on and painted her hands for Chopra for nothing.

Celebrity clients: Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Oprah Winfrey, George Harrison.

Dzhuna Davitashvli: Russian faith healer extraordinaire. The fortysomething red-fingernailed divorcee in the skin-tight costumes is legendary for her work with ailing Russian Presidents.

Celebrity clients: Boris Yeltsin, Leonid Brezhnev.

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