Lynne Franks: Absolutely delirious
At her newly launched 'Grow' workshops, the PR queen turned lifestyle guru Lynne Franks teaches women to harness their femininity. Charlotte Cripps learns how to unleash her inner goddess
Wednesday 07 April 2004
Lynne Franks strolls across the hall at Olympia, Kensington, in what appears to be a see-through sari. The room is full of her female followers, and a queue is already snaking across the cushion-strewn, fragrantly scented room as they wait to meet the former fashion PR turned lifestyle coach and spiritual guru. All are clasping copies of her new work,
Grow: The Modern Woman's Handbook, in the hope that she will bless them with a signature.
Lynne Franks strolls across the hall at Olympia, Kensington, in what appears to be a see-through sari. The room is full of her female followers, and a queue is already snaking across the cushion-strewn, fragrantly scented room as they wait to meet the former fashion PR turned lifestyle coach and spiritual guru. All are clasping copies of her new work, Grow: The Modern Woman's Handbook, in the hope that she will bless them with a signature.
Franks is here to present the first of three "dynamic" three-hour workshops, entitled The Grow Experience. Billed as "a journey of transformation", the session promises to empower women in all areas of their lives and reclaim their "inner goddesses". I am one of 80 women here; a further 400 are expected to attend over the next three days. It may also be the longest book launch ever - as well as nurturing the goddess within, Franks plans to read 10 chapters of her latest work.
The women in attendance come from all walks of life, but all are eager to receive the self-help guru's guide to better living; Tracey, who is wearing a label that reads "I am me today", is having the time of her life; Elaine, whose label reads "in transition", has just been made redundant from the claims department of an insurance company. Irene, a self-titled "wise owl", works for Thames Valley police. "I'm about to retire and I'm looking for inspiration," she explains.
On stage - perfectly positioned in front of a poster resembling an exotic sunset - the 55-year-old Franks bears an uncanny resemblance to someone of spiritual importance. She exudes a yogi-like authority, albeit that of a yogi clad in designer sandals. She's tanned - not, as it transpires, from a stay in her second home in Deia, Mallorca, but as a result of a recent trip to South Africa - and perfectly tranquil. That peace can be yours, it seems, if you are prepared to part with the £35 entry fee that will enable you to "grow" with her.
For all the spiritual well-being in the room, however, it's hard not to feel as though she has come straight from the set of Absolutely Fabulous - the Jennifer Saunders penned sit-com that was reportedly inspired by Franks's self-obsessed personality. The comparison has never been appreciated. "Boring, boring, boring," says Franks, by way of dismissing the subject.
Instead, she is focusing her energies on the potential goddesses before her, a curious sisterhood that appears largely to be made up of fortysomething business women and lovelorn ladies looking for that special man. All crane forward to hear Franks's life philosophy - a mixture of feminism and hippie platitudes.
"Women, in having to behave like men to get ahead, have lost touch with their feminine side," declares Franks, whose repertoire also includes a workshop called Seed: The Feminine Way to Create Business. To get us back on track, Franks invites her colleague Sarah Warwick to help us hum our way back to femininity. As 80 of us hum in harmony, Franks stands to one side. She looks moved, but worried.
"Holding the energy for such a large group is quite a responsibility," she murmurs. "I have to get into the right mental state." Somehow, she manages - a feat, no doubt, she attributes to her incredible life story, which she explains to us in a manic style.
The Lynne Franks life story is impressive. At 21, she started a fashion PR company from her kitchen table; later she had two children, before separating from her husband of 20 years and selling her business to pursue her quest for inner peace. She has found it, she tells us, by meditating daily with the female order of the Brahma Kumaris, in Willesden, and by drinking juice. "The first thing I do every morning is drink a fresh juice," she announces. "Go now and buy yourself a juicer. There is a man selling them just outside, if you don't have one already."
Growing, we discover, is all about inner change. "Take off the masks," she proclaims. We nod in earnest, before reflecting on our journey with the help of "reflection time", overseen by Lucinda Drayton, a white-robed spiritual singer whose band entreats us to see "Through These Eyes". Alongside her, an interpretive dancer enacts the lyrics: "If love was a bird, I would stroke her bright feathers." Franks watches with her hands clasped, her face enraptured.
In between mantras and readings, we are lectured to by Jade Parsley, a nutritionist from the Institute of Optimum Health, who gives us a short presentation on food. She writes the letters G (for greens); R (raw); O (organic); W (wholegrain and water). You eat one gallon of pesticides a year if you don't eat organic, she reminds us. Tasty.
Still reeling from this onslaught of wisdom, we are then treated to another song. Drayton's rendition of "100,000 Angels" encourages Franks to announce the beginning of a new "Golden Age" in which the feminine will become sacred once more. In the meantime, we have a break, during which Franks will be "here if you want to talk. Or you can buy the book and I will sign it". After the break, it's on to the tricky subject of relationships, where we are told to think of a family member who we have not spoken to for a while.
It is at this point that my workshop partner Hannah, 26, starts crying. "When somebody stands there, telling you to think about this, you can't help sobbing," she says about the disconnection she feels within her family.
Apparently, her emotional outburst is an abberation. "I wouldn't normally think about my relationships," she sobs. "I would block them out - especially in a public place."
Finally, the workshop turns into a disco as we unleash our inner goddess. Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" fills the room and we are urged to dance uninhibited. "Go round the room and wink at each other," says Franks, who is letting loose with some wild moves. "Who cares what it looks like," she howls. It is only when she puts on James Brown's "Sex Machine" that I have to hide behind a pillar. I feel as though I'm a teenager watching my parents dance.
"There is no stopping Lynne," says an onlooker. "She is a work in progress." Franks appears to agree. "My vision for the world is a global garden uniting women in all ways, and inspiring women to make their dreams come true."
We read the 10 Grow Commitments, which sum up the workshop's principles - including the importance of community, and "sharing with each other" - before making our way out to the street. To her credit, the workshop appears to have enabled many of the participants to embark on a voyage of self-awareness that would otherwise have been impossible. As for me, I'm exhausted; Franks's voice is ringing in my ears, and I'm slightly haunted by what I have just witnessed. Growing can wait, I figure. If it's spiritual rejuvenation I want, I'll take a holiday.
'Grow: The Modern Woman's Handbook' is published by Hay House (£14.99); www.growexperience.com
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