Man with a mission to motivate Sheffield: Top US personal development guru Anthony Robbins is appearing for free. Sean Thomas asks him why

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Indy Lifestyle Online
'WHENEVER I tell people about him - about it, about what happened at the seminar - I get kind of embarrassed. Because it was so . . . so gospel.'

Jane Marks is a 31-year-old financial consultant. A year ago, her life was changed when she went to a weekend seminar by Anthony Robbins, America's leading personal development guru.

'I was going through a bad time, working every hour I had. Then I went to Sydney and I saw an advertisement for this weekend of seminars with this guy -I think it was called 'Unleash The Power Within' - and I thought . . .

yeah, why not? It cost three hundred quid, but it was incredibly well worth it. You have to imagine this 34- year-old man on stage for . . . what . . .

three and a half days? It's simply amazing.

'He began at six-thirty on a Friday evening and by one-thirty that morning he had us walking over hot coals. Really. When we went in at the beginning we all had to sign an indemnity form in case we got hurt. I thought it was a wind-up. Then they led us out into this place where there were these red-hot coals burning away . . . and you just do it. You run across them.

'They have hoses so you can wash down your feet afterwards so no one gets seriously burned. But you're so fired up you just do it without thinking.'

Did it change anything for good, apart from your sock size?

'Absolutely. It got me moving. I don't believe Tony did anything that wouldn't have happened in my life at some point. But he accelerated me, made me think. He's simply the most impressive public speaker you've ever heard.'

Anthony Robbins, 6ft 7in, handsome in a square-jawed, white-toothed, squeaky-clean, all-American style, earns at least pounds 20m a year motivating people. He is about to turn his powers on the citizens of Sheffield. On 3 November, an audience of 10,000 is expected at the free session he will be hosting in Sheffield Arena. Staid Yorkshire men and women will be leaping to their feet, hugging their neighbours, punching the air, and yelling 'Bangstab]', 'Yowie]', 'Yes Yes]' and 'Whoosh]'

Robbins is famous as the world's top personal success guru, but his beginnings were humble. His early home life - in San Bernadino, California - was unhappy, his family 'dysfunctional'. His first business venture, running a door-to-door sales company, ended in disaster.

He ended up working as a janitor, overweight, completely broke and miserable, spending his days slumped in front of the television.

But, as one cynic put it, he 'bounced back by marketing his own techniques for bouncing back'. He got a life, he got a wife, and inspired by his own recovery, he started running motivational therapy courses. Well over a million people have since paid up for the Robbins experience. He now divides his time between touring, a palatial San Diego mansion complete with heli-pad, and a beach-house in Fiji.

The Robbins charisma is packaged in many ways: TV shows, cassette tapes, videos, a private consultancy service (he is employed by corporations such as IBM and Coca-Cola, at huge fees). And the books: the bestselling Awaken The Giant Within, the two-million-selling Unlimited Power, and his new day-to-day primer Giant Steps, full of homespun stoicism, dollops of New Ageism, and lashings of good old-fashioned get-up-and-goery.

But what has Sheffield done to deserve a massive infusion of Robbins dynamism for free?

Over the phone to Fiji, I ask him: why this grey, drizzly Northern city, when there are so many others to choose from?

'Because when I was invited there last year, I found a city that was suffering from mass unemployment. And the reason they had mass unemployment was because everyone's perception of the place was of a dirty steel town.

The identity of the city had to be changed. And that's what I'm trying to do. Change the city's identity. And as long as the city commits to me, I'm going to stick with them.'

He corrects me when I refer to him as a guru. 'I don't like to think of myself as a guru. Nor do I see myself as a motivator, really. I am a strategist. A peak-performance coach. A turnaround expert.'

What kind of lessons can Sheffield expect to learn? 'If there is one thing that I would like people to take away from my seminars, it's that they can fail. You must be brave enough not to succeed.'

In the background I can hear somebody speaking. Perhaps his wife Becky has come in from the beach to make another coconut salad. Deeper in the background I can hear the four Robbins children, laughing and singing.

There's only time for one more question. Has he ever failed? Has there ever been somebody so hopelessly lost and cynical that he felt he could do nothing to help?

Robbins exhales. 'To be honest, no. I really don't think I've met anybody I've been unable to reach.' It seems Sheffield is in good hands.

Celebrate Sheffield seminar, with Anthony Robbins, Sheffield Arena, Thursday 3 November (Photograph omitted)