How I became a teenage cult member: Michelle Ticktin explains how she was drawn into a Glasgow sect by its charismatic leader

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Indy Lifestyle Online
IFIRST met Hamid when I was at secondary school in Glasgow. I was 14 years old. Hamid was 28 and was just beginning to establish himself within a group of teenagers, some of whom were my school friends. He would visit us at lunchtimes and chat to us about the mental 'conditioning' that we were being put through by our school and families.

Like most young people, we were rebellious towards our parents and society.

We were also vulnerable, impressionable and in search of identities.

He dressed entirely in black at the time - later it was blue - and he urged us to wear photographs of him around our necks. He referred to our parents as bears - because bears are frightening - and he said he could protect us from them. He said we could do anything as long we were with him.

When I met him, I was spinning in a world of teenage confusion. My best friend had cut off all communication with me six months previously after she had joined his group. I had been hurt and I was angry with him for taking her away, but I was also in awe of him. Under his influence, my friend had changed completely. Once, she had been outgoing and fun, but after joining him, the only time she spoke to me was to insult me.

I wanted my friend back. I felt like an outcast, rejected by my best friend and ostracised by members of his group. I was torn between my own family and my need for a 'social' family, which he controlled.

Hamid's philosophy was fluid and he was always on the look out for a new 'religion'. He went through phases and was inspired by powerful characters from films and novels and would endeavour to be like them.

After seeing Bladerunner, he bleached his hair and wore black like Rutger Hauer's character; he shaved his head to mimic Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now; and later, seemed to fancy himself as Ken Kesey, the main character in Tom Wolfe's novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Hamid's ideas were spiritual and powerful and he seemed truly to believe in them - that was what made him so charismatic. Even those who did not share his faith were intrigued by and drawn to him.

Eventually, of course, many fell for him hook, line and sinker.

His philosophy was that purity of soul and body was the way to God. This involved a staunch anti-drug stance that extended from illegal substances to aspirin. He ruthlessly adopted any broadly promoted idea to achieve purity of body. Fasting among his followers was common and when Leslie Kenton's book on Raw Energy came out, Hamid's followers ate nothing but raw cabbage and carrots.

The group played power games which, at the time, seemed fun. One game was called 'Kings'. Four or so people were picked at random out of a group of 20, and for a certain length of time everyone else became slaves and had to do exactly what they were told. If anyone did something that he saw as a 'crime' (ranging from smoking dope to saying something negative about Hamid or having a relationship with another group member) they were put on 'trial'. The punishment was a period of slavery even harsher than the game of 'Kings'.

One victim was ordered to walk up and down one of the main shopping streets in Glasgow's west end, wearing a white sheet and sporting a billboard with the words 'I am a criminal' written across it. Another young man was ordered to clear all the bushes on a certain mile-long route.

If you did not go along with all this, you would be forced to leave the group. That meant not only giving up your social scene but losing the feeling of elitism conferred by group membership, which Hamid had ingrained within each individual. Ordinary people were 'dorks' because they were not 'enlightened'; he said they were still 'unconscious'.

Not long afterwards, in October 1986, I left Glasgow to go to Sussex university. I returned occasionally, and found Hamid was still around. In 1987/88 a new phase had taken him - he had made contact with a Sufi sect and had changed his name to David, his original name.

The sect's base was a Mosque in south London, which I visited for a day in 1990. Hamid told me I should become a Muslim. This was the only time I was actually asked to join his 'inner' circle.

He tried to scare me into joining his group by saying there was going to be a mighty Jihad that would destroy the Earth and that only the 'chosen ones' would survive by going to a secret location. It was then that I noticed Hamid had had cosmetic surgery - to pin back his ears] It made me realise, finally, how false he really was.

When the Sufi connection started to break up, Hamid had plans to set up a Skateboard park in Glasgow, located in a church. In 1989 it opened under the name 'Angel Lights Skatepark'.

I recall that the Berlin Wall had just collapsed and Hamid laminated a newspaper picture of that scene, making a connection between Nostradamus's prediction of the end of the world and the collapse of the wall. The laminated picture was placed on the front desk of the park for all to see, including the younger kids.

Some people still have problems with what he put them through.

Still, somehow, he retains a following even today. Two of my erstwhile best friends are still with him.

I am now well out of it all. But I still fear his presence and I don't think I have heard the last of him. Looking back on those years, I feel sick and angry to know what he has done. His effect on me still has not worn off - and I wasn't even one of his closest followers.

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