"Now I have it all. And I have a clear conscience," says Jordan Belfort, the self-styled "Wolf of Wall Street" who, as a stockbroker, defrauded thousands of people before serving 22 months in prison. Belfort was ordered to pay 1,513 of these clients a total of $110m.
So far, around $11m has been paid – almost entirely from the sale of previously held assets – and the Wolf has reinvented himself as an author, motivational speaker and business guru.
I have paid £53 for a ticket to attend his workshop at the Excel Centre in London's Docklands. In a cavernous room that looks like it should be housing thousands of Ikea sofas, Jordan Belfort has promised to reveal the secrets of his success. Does that mean we'll be learning how to lie to people across America? Perish the thought. Jordan is a changed man; he wants us to know that we should never use his selling techniques for "unethical" reasons.
Instead, there will be "Special Guests" and the chance to learn how to "create a lifestyle of wealth and freedom as an Entrepreneur and Investor". The brochure for the event calls Belfort's life the "ultimate redemption story". In this way, it is like those of a number of other prisoners-turned-inspirational-speakers. In Britain, Nick Leeson, Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken are just three examples of people who have taken their public falls from grace and parlayed them into a lucrative second career.
One of the many problems is that the event is about as boring as the film was exciting. It begins at 9am, ends well past its advertised closing time of 7pm, and is dominated by Belfort and his "very good friends" – "real estate coach" Shaun Shelton, "public speaking expert" Andy Harrington and "wealth creation expert" Greg Secker – standing on stage spouting clichés and trying to convince the audience to sign up for future events in which the cast will really, truly reveal all the wealth-creating tricks they just don't have time for today. The impression is of a timeshare scam presided over by cheesy men in suits and open-collared shirts. Belfort himself is a master, like most motivational speakers, of the platitude presented as an epigram. These "platigrams" abound. To make it in business, you have to be "sharp as a tack", an "expert in your field" and "enthusiastic as hell". "Every human being is thirsty for a vision," he opines. He stops and tells us that this is particularly profound. He tells us to write it down.
Much of the audience is far from convinced. The majority of people I spoke to – almost all of whom worked in sales or marketing – branded the event a con. "I learnt more at our company's annual conference last year," one disgruntled stationery salesman tells me. "I thought we were going to learn something but it's just a load of trailers," says another.
There are fans, though. Ethan Langley, aged 12, dressed in a grey waistcoat and grey suit trousers, is an avid go-kart racer from Wrexham. He has come along with his father to learn how to be more confident when talking to potential sponsors, which he feels that he's achieved. Ashley, a heating engineer who runs his own firm, signed up for future events despite admitting that he can't really afford it. He wanted, like a number of the young men to whom I talked, to live the hedonistic Wolf of Wall Street life. For him and some of the other men there, Belfort is an aspirational figure. The Wolf himself, still in love with his own myth, encourages this identification. He plays scenes from the film. He talks about how "Leo" [DiCaprio] and Brad Pitt competed for the rights to his book. "I would never allow myself to live a lesser life than the one I thought I deserved," he says, sounding just like Jeffrey Archer.
"I'm going to teach you how to make a lot of money on America's stupidity," Belfort's co-speaker Shaun Shelton tells us. Once upon a time, that's what Jordan Belfort did. These days, he's travelling the world peddling clichés and an insincere brand of redemption.Reuse content