Paul McKenna says he can help people lose weight and stop smoking. Image Credit: Supplied

Under hypnosis, a burly man in his early twenties into jungle music, drum and bass and rare groove is told that when he wakes up he will be the world’s biggest Take That fan and dance wildly around the stage waving a scarf above his head while declaring his undying love for Robbie Williams.

Another man in his thirties is informed that when he opens his eyes he will become a World Cup referee and every time the audience laughs, he will yell at them and brandish a red card.

At the same time the subconscious mind of a woman has been tricked into believing that she has lost a contact lens on the studio floor and needs to look for it.

In the 1990s this used to pass for entertainment. It was an early incarnation of Paul McKenna’s stagecraft and at the time, it was hilarious. But since then Paul has moved on. Instead of hypnotising people for laughs he does it for nobler means – to stop them smoking or putting on weight. He is also a prolific publisher of self-help books. Titles such as I Can Make You Thin, I Can Make You Rich, I Can Make You Happy and his latest book, Hypnotic Gastric Band, have earned him the accolade of being Britain’s bestselling non-fiction author.

He has an ever-increasing list of celebrity clients including actor and author David Walliams who asked for Paul’s help when he swam across the English Channel for charity and one Russell Brand, who claimed he was hypnotised by Paul to stop him from thinking he was in love with Australian model and actress Teresa Palmer. An extreme measure even by the outspoken comedian’s standards.

“I did hypnotise Russell but some of the things he said were exaggerated for comic effect,” Paul clarifies. “He actually did say to me ‘do you mind if I write this up in a comedic way?’ He is a law unto himself is Russell, but he’s very lovely as well.”

Paul clearly gets a buzz out of helping his celebrity friends overcome their phobias but he’s not averse to taking advice from them either. Another famous friend, Simon Cowell, helped to make up his mind to stop hypnotising people into riding imaginary racehorses and take himself more seriously as a practitioner.

He recalls, “After my TV shows in the 90s Simon said I had to make a choice. I could either remain a TV entertainer, which is a perfectly decent profession and one that I was good at, or do the training and events stuff, which I was starting to enjoy more. I’d also started writing books as well as finishing my doctorate, so having people jump around like a kangaroo wasn’t really compatible with being Dr Paul McKenna.”

He began his career as a presenter on a UK radio station at age 16, which peaked when Paul had a short stint at BBC Radio 1, but with his increasing interest in hypnosis, inspired by a guest on one of his radio shows, he decided that a move into television would provide the perfect medium for the practice to be used as mass entertainment. He hosted The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna, which included the mind-tricked Take That fanatic and shouty football referee, and 
ran for four years on British television, pulling in 12 million viewers at its height.

Paul looks back to those heady days fondly and without a tinge of regret. “Those shows enabled me to become well known, which then enabled me to show that hypnosis works. Millions of people from all over the world saw those shows. That made me famous and gave me an audience. Now I leveraged that with ‘you know I can hypnotise you and hypnosis works because you have seen me do it, so how about I use that to help you lose weight, or get a good night’s sleep, or help you get confident?’ And fortunately a lot people decided that yes, they would buy into that.”

The 50-year-old’s latest project is a series of live self-help seminars, which he is hosting in Dubai entitled Change Your Life in Two Days. Paul will show the assembled audience how to master their own emotions, how to ‘switch off’ fear and desperation and create confidence and motivation in minutes. The event is being staged at the World Trade Centre on October 31 and November 1.

“It’s a sort of edu-tainment event,” he explains. “There are two events. One is called Change Your Life in Two Days. It’s very simple. I believe that success and happiness are not accidents that just randomly happen to some people and not others. I think they are created by certain ways of thinking and acting. I will help people overcome blocks from the past. Usually I will ask people to come on the stage, one at a time, and I will demonstrate to them and the audience. Nobody has to do anything they don’t want to. We use visualisation techniques in order to make people clarify the things they want in their life and I show them some strategic ways to go about achieving them.

“I’ll help them get more control over their thoughts and feelings so they feel more emotionally stable, 
more powerful, more confident and motivated. They will feel more optimistic about the future.”

The other event is entitled Persuasion, Influence and Presentation Skills. It sounds more like a business seminar and Paul agrees it could be beneficial for managers and sales teams. “It’s not teaching people to be manipulative, but to be more authentic and powerful as communicators. To get across more effectively what they want to say in an influential way. In a way that a professional communicator would, like a lawyer or television presenter. They can use that as a social skill or in sales or with their own children if they want.”

No topic of conversation seems off-limits to Paul. He is happy to talk about his personal life and his darker moments. He’s even willing to cast a retrospective eye over an exhausting and potentially damaging court case in 1998 in which an audience member accused Paul of turning him into a schizophrenic after taking part in his stage act. Paul won the case but believes it was a waste of public money.

“The judge didn’t actually say this should never have come to court but he might as well have. There’s no way you can get schizophrenia by going on stage and doing some role plays under hypnosis. What I was asking people to do was not that much different from karaoke. With karaoke you get up and sing very badly. With a hypnotism show you lower your inhibitions with relaxation, reinforce this with suggestion, then people start doing daft things. You can’t catch schizophrenia like you can a cold! It’s a pre-determined, genetic brain disorder.”

He’s happy, too, to fend off the brickbats that have been hurled at him by the scientific community querying the validity of his methods. One of the milder criticisms branding it ‘New Age Pseudo-science’.

Paul mounts a vigorous defence. “The science on hypnosis is just overwhelming,” says Paul. “Behavioural changes are just about the best thing in the world for losing weight or quitting smoking. There’s very little that can beat it. When people come to our events they are sceptical, but I would say benevolently sceptical. By the time they have left, the majority of people are transformed. I don’t know anything that works every time for everyone – but we do know that what I do, works most of the time for 
most people.”

Of all the hang-ups and personal issues that occupy many of us, the one most of us want to tackle head-on is weight loss. It is also a topic that has brought Paul the most success as an author and self-help supremo. It is a subject on which he has very forthright opinions.

“The diet industry, or as I like to call it, the ‘hate your body’ industry, is just one great big con. The dieting organisations and clubs are not in 
the weight-loss business, they are just selling food, namely low-fat chemical rubbish – that’s how they make their money.

“We constantly see images in the media of anorexic women and normal women are supposed to conform to this. I think it is less than one per cent of the population that has the genetic inheritance to be a supermodel. So it is a ridiculously high bar to be setting.

“We’ve now got an obesity epidemic because people are continually starving themselves on diets and slowing their metabolism. Then they fall off the diet, and start binging. Most people gain more weight when they come off the 
diet than before they went on it.

“There was a study from an American university that concluded that weight loss is a behavioural issue. It’s not about the food. All the thin people I know eat cheese, chips, pizza – they just don’t eat it to excess and they move their bodies more. They think differently to overweight people. So it is all a question of 
re-programming our mind.”

A few years ago Paul was almost on the psychiatrist’s couch himself after a series of crushing personal tragedies but says now, mentally, he is in a very good place. “I did have a tough time a few years ago. My father died and a number of my friends died and I was working with people with post-traumatic stress and depression, and became affected myself, so I was down for a while.

“But I’m in the best place I’ve been in probably ever now. I’m just making a new show for American television, 
I am in the process of writing my 12th book and I’m pretty healthy.”


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