Carole's world

To Downing Street, she's an embarrassment: a scandal waiting to happen. Yet Carole Caplin happens to be one of the most influential gurus of our time. What is her secret? Can she really teach us how to lead a better life? John Walsh weighs up the evidence of her words
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The Independent Online

It's hard to know what one expects from a "lifestyle guru" these days - the person you pay to make you look and feel and behave your best. It used to be so simple. They used to be known as "ladies' maids". They brushed their employer's hair with firm but loving strokes, and replied to the odd patrician confidence with the words, "Yes, madam, he seems a very attentive gentleman". They might suggest madam wear the blue chiffon rather than the lime chenille, and passed on maids' gossip about the meanness or sexual profligacy of other employers. They combined the murmurous discretion of Jeeves with the naivete of the lady's-companion narrator of Rebecca and the sixth form loyalty of an Angela Brazil heroine.

The modern version isn't so simple. She is not just an employee who's been signed up, like a carpenter, to make your life easier. Nor is she a paid advisor who has become a friend. She is now - since she is Carole Caplin - a "consultant and writer in areas of health, fitness and well-being" , a consultant like a Harley Street specialist, only more intimate. It was clear that Caplin herself was no mere servant or courtier. On the contrary, she had turned into a full-on, 18-carat, trousers-down, card-carrying auto-celebrity, famous for nothing more than the strategic deployment of Clarins moisturiser and alternative-medicine strategies, but famous nonetheless. After trying glamour modelling, singing, PR and fashion design without conspicuous success, after years of dancing the wannabe hornpipe with increasing desperation, she'd finally hit the good ship Celebrity amidships.

And with her success came the words of wisdom. Some "lifestyle gurus" keep their advice inside the four walls of their consultancy, for fear they may not stand much scrutiny. Caplin, has no such fear. Sounding like a cross between the Oriental sages who instructed the young David Carradine in Kung Fu ("Grasshopper, even the true believer looks both ways at the crossroads") and the Harry Enfield character who dispenses unwanted counsel to all and sundry ("You don't wanna do it like that!") she became a mistress of redundant advice, limpid vacuities and the Bleeding Obvious.

Wash your hands before washing your face ... wear your exercise kit when watching an exercise video ... when travelling, take into account the climate, getting in and out of cars, colour, creasing ... drinking water is one of the best ways of losing weight .... Do people actually pay money for these blinding enlightenments? Caplin reminds me of a cartoon in which a large, glum, black musician in a battered hat sits, guitar over knee, in a psychiatrist's office, and the psychiatrist says: "You've got the blues. That'll be 25 guineas." Perhaps the key feature of the Caplin obiter dicta, as collected here, is the insight they offer into a mind filled with tiny thoughts, and an ego which inflates them into large concepts, projected onto a screen of silvery vainglory. As such, Caplin is entirely a woman of her time - the Lord Chesterfield of the Celebrity Noughties.

"A consistently clean and tidy home is essential if you are to feel motivated to achieve your goals."

'Holistix' (1990; written with her mother)

"Good dressing is not about labels, nor the cost of what you buy. Rather, it's all about selecting clothes, colours and fabrics that make the very best of your body and express your personality, in all areas of your life."

'The Mail on Sunday', 27 July 2003

"Food is my alcohol. I am on an endless quest for good food with the best-quality ingredients treated simply and interestingly on the plate."

'Evening Standard', 10 September 2003

"I'm not Miss Perfect or Little Goody-Two-Shoes - but neither is it my way to be a victim."

'Hello!', July 2003

"We cover the whole spectrum of health, fitness and well-being. We take the fad out of health and fitness. Instead of using exercise or diet in isolation, or one belief system, we take a whole-body approach, which means looking at everything, including stress, environment and your physical and emotional health."

Mission statement for LifeSmart, her lifestyle consultancy

"We need variety in the colours we're exposed to, because our bodies absorb energy through the vibrations they emit."

'The Mail on Sunday', 16 March 2003

"When people are travelling, you have to take into account climate, getting in and out of cars, colour, creasing, and many other things."

'Hello!', July 2003

"What's the point of hitting out? You'll look like shit and everybody else will look like shit. If you're seen to lash out, given your position already, will that make you look worse or better?"

Advice to Peter Foster, December 2003 (in the fly-on-the-wall TV documentary 'The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife')

"The key to being happy alone is to not live in expectation, eternally waiting for 'something to happen', but to get on with enjoying life to the full, tackling each day as creatively and energetically as possible."

'The Mail on Sunday', 8 June 2003

"We're not gurus. We recognise the value of all the different philosophies, therapies and systems that can help improve your health and well-being. We don't rely on one system or claim to have miracle cures. We don't separate exercise and lifestyle. There's no point in exercising for a couple of hours a week and living like a slob for the rest of it."

On the LifeSmart website

"The vast majority of people who seek my advice on looking and feeling better are badly over-caffeinated, and, without fail, feel better when they eliminate it from their systems."

'The Mail on Sunday', 31 August 2003

"If you want results yesterday, and expect us to do all the work for you; if you're going to light up a cigarette every time you walk out of the gym; if you've no sense of humour, or are not prepared to listen; if you're too stubborn to address the areas that are sabotaging your well-being, then LifeSmart is not for you..."

On the LifeSmart website

"My aim is to point people in the right direction. It is up to them to change."

from 'Holistix'

"If a war were to break out in Britain tomorrow - not in another, faraway country, but on our own doorsteps - would you have the basic physical stamina, strength and fitness to survive? Fortunately, we don't face such a grave threat. But the pace and pressures of modern life for many of us are now akin to a mini war zone."

The Mail on Sunday, 23 March 2003

"You've got to tell the truth, you know."

In 'The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife'

"The last seven or eight months have been horrendous and sometimes I feel like sitting on the floor and having a good old scream and a shout and let out a few choice swear words."

'Hello!', July 2003

"I've had a lovely time with Peter. I've had a fun, funny, lovely time. It just so happened I got pregnant, as we know people do in this day and age. "

In 'The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife'

"Media is not my expertise, so let the men play..."

'Hello!', July 2003

"Approaching a marathon as though you're a hero, pushing your body beyond what it can endure, continuing to run despite injuries, tiredness and mood swings - all these are common mistakes."

The Mail on Sunday, 23 February 2003 (shortly before Alastair Campbell ran in the London Marathon)

"I was pregnant and very worried. I asked Peter Foster to fax through the papers to me while I was in Cherie's flat. Cherie told me it would not be right for her to read them as it was not her case, so I folded them up, put them in my bag and took them home, basically. At no stage did Cherie speak to Peter Foster about this. I'm appalled that her phone call to the solicitor, which was a simple act of friendship to me, is being interpreted in this way and I have apologised to Cherie for the embarrassment and difficulties that has caused her."

Statement to press, December 2002

"By their very nature, diets emphasise what we can't have, driving us into resentment and depression."

The Mail on Sunday, 22 June 2003

"Peter knows what is and isn't the truth, for himself. It's kind of not my business. If there's something else that comes out, I'll take him aside and I'll ask him about it."

On her then-boyfriend, Peter Foster, in 'The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife'

"Women feel pressured and obliged to achieve climax not to lose face, and, even worse, not to hurt the man's pride. But nothing will ever improve if you don't take steps to change it."

from 'Holistix'

"We pat male sex addicts on the back, and deride female ones."

'The Mail on Sunday', 20 April 2003

"People say naive, stupid... Absolutely. I have to throw my hands up and say, 'This is really embarrassing'."

Interviewed on LBC, February 2003

"Romance, intrigue and excitement are important but, as many of us have learnt by now, it's what happens after the honeymoon period that really counts."

'The Mail on Sunday', 8 June 2003

"I'm pretty canny about when something's real or not."

In 'The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife'

"Whatever's going on inside there, I'm clueless about."

On 10 Downing Street, 'Hello!', July 2003

"Drinking plenty of water - which, of course, contains no calories - is ... one of the best things to do if you want to lose weight."

'The Mail on Sunday', 3 August 2003

"I thought I was going to throw up. I've got such a thing about self-promotion."

To Peter Foster, December 2003, in 'The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife'

"The sun, in my view, gets the blame for many skin and health problems caused by our own self-destructive behaviour."

'The Mail on Sunday', 25 May 2003

"How can I possibly continue to be the Blairs' lifestyle guru when I am no longer a part of their lives? How can I style the Prime Minister's clothes when I am no longer allowed anywhere near him?"

Quoted in 'The Sunday Telegraph', 14 September 2003

"If you think you can bypass the harmful effects of junk food, caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes by popping pills, think again. The only bypass you're likely to experience is of the heart variety."

'The Mail on Sunday', 11 May 2003