Karen Kingston may look entirely ordinary as she sits in her paprika trouser suit and sips an apple juice, but she is anything but. "Look," she says, leaning forward, "even five years ago I wouldn't have talked about this to someone that I didn't know."
She still seems a little nervous, but then she is New Age with capital letters and has come to explain to me something she invented called "space clearing" and to discuss her best-selling book on the subject.
But first we talk numbers. "It's sold 50,000 copies here and 50,000 copies in the States in a very short time." The first UK print run was only a few thousand, and there have been six reprints in the UK during the first year. "In the States it's gone completely mainstream and has been put right in the home decorating sections."
Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui may have some some terrific chapters on how to clear your clutter, but the rest is about space-clearing and there is nothing mainstream about that. "The best way to describe it," says Karen, "is that each place has an atmosphere or energy frequency and I have devised a 21-step programme to clear out the old atmospheres and put in a new one of your own."
Confused? Let's start from the beginning.
"I rented lots of places and some of them were ghastly," she explains. "I had been worked very hard to develop my intuition and I had started being sensitive to places.
"The turning point for me was a ground-floor flat. It just had this awful energy. It was so dark and despairing and I noticed that while I was there I began to change. I became insular and started to become depressed. I had an unhappy love affair when I was in that place."
Karen, now in her forties, was New Age long before it was fashionable. "It was in that flat that I started to do these space-clearing techniques that I had been developing."
What, like spring cleaning? "No! I go around clapping and ringing bells and this kind of thing."
So, more like an exorcism? "No, I've never experienced any spirits or anything like that. It was a house built in the 1920s and it had never been lived in by anyone who was affluent or very happy. This energy had simply built up and got lodged there. I had moved in and it had affected me.
"Then I started changing the energy, through various techniques using sound. I just used clapping and an old school bell."
Space-clearing takes in many aspects of feng shui, the Chinese art of home arrangement, and other New Age practices, but the lessons of that first flat still stand. Karen is convinced that places, like people, have patterns. So if one couple quarrels continually in a house she would expect the next couple to do so. If the company that was previously in your office went bankrupt, start to worry now.
But the first thing you have to do is clear out the clutter. You cannot space-clear a house if you cannot get in the front door (as was the case with one of her Australian clients years ago).
The idea is that everything that you don't either love or use must go. Otherwise energy becomes stagnant and people get stuck in ruts. Many people never get beyond this part of the book, as they send for a skip and head for the attic.
Karen believes that as people sort out their belongings, they also sort out their lives. Of course, some go overboard. "This one woman wrote to say that she was moving to a new house and that all she was taking was my book, her husband, the children, animals, plants, a bell and some candles. I get letters like that."
The key to Karen's success is the way she manages to promote her esoteric theories in practical ways. It is impossible not to laugh at some of her stories (or to be envious of a lifestyle that involves living half the year in Bali and half in London: she fell in love with the island after a chance visit and was astonished to find a culture in which space-clearing has long been a way of life). For instance, she tells this one about how she found true love.
"After I'd been going to Bali on holiday for four years I decided it was time to get a man to go with the lifestyle." She grins at this. "So I wrote my shopping list. You have to be specific about these kinds of things. Height, eye colour, sexual stamina, everything.
"By this time I was doing a lot of feng shui work and I knew I had to create space for this new relationship. At the time I had two wardrobes of clothes. I knew that one had to go and I cleared it. I also had a big chest of drawers. I thought that he would be travelling light - I knew I wanted a Balinese - and so I only cleared one drawer. I would lie in the bath every morning and visualise this man in my bed."
Then she went to Bali. Within weeks she had found Mr Right. Within months he was on his way back to England. When he came to the flat Karen showed him his wardrobe and drawer. "He said `My God, were you expecting me?' Since then, nothing surprises him."
Except for the fact that she gets paid for space-clearing. "He thinks that is a hoot!" She charges pounds 100 an hour and makes a good living from her triangular career of author, workshop presenter and space-clearer. She is upfront about money, and her attitude towards feng shui is refreshing, too. "Fish tanks? Don't use 'em." But the feng shui boom has fitted her own purposes - it is no mistake that it appears in her book title - and she seems aware of all sorts of bottom lines. "Are you going to put the phone number in? I'd like to create some work for my team."
Then she goes rather cosmic again: "The great clue for trying to create something in your life is not to care whether something happens or not. It didn't matter to me how the book sold. I make more than enough money from my workshops and consultations, so the book was an extra. This meant I was able to set impossible goals for it. I wanted to see it in every airport in the world, and I wanted it to be in WH Smith. People kept saying, `But Karen, WH Smith does not buy these kinds of titles.'" They were wrong - and Karen also claims to have seen it at several airports. "Of course, it may be that they take the stands down after I pass by!"
Her new project is a book called Clear Your Clutter and Change Your Life! It will come out next year. Her hands outline a shape. "It has to be small so it doesn't constitute clutter!"
She says people are fascinated by the subject. "People come up to me and say: `Karen, can I just ask you one quick question?' That's the phrase they use. I think it is a fundamental part of human nature to want to know about yourself."
I bite my tongue and swallow my one quick question about what it means to have a seriously out-of-tune piano in one corner of the lounge, even though, for one moment, I really thought I needed to know.
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