Hans Snook has always had a reputation for being an enigmatic hippy among pinstripes. Now the British tycoon has gone from mobiles to colons in his new venture, a clinic mixing eastern and western diagnosis. Judith Woods reports from London

The future's bright, the future's colonically irrigated. Hans Snook, the charismatic British entrepreneur who transformed Orange from a struggling telecommunications outsider into a household name, has the good grace to chuckle when I suggest he update the mobile phone slogan for his latest venture: a medical centre in London that combines orthodox and alternative healthcare.

Snook, you see, has long been passionate about enemas: he saw in the new millennium with his (now ex-) wife, while being rinsed out at a spa in Thailand and is notorious for chatting about the contents of his colon at the drop of a wet wipe.

"Actually, we don't do colonic irrigation, because we're purely a diagnostic clinic,'' he says. "But we could, of course, arrange one.''

I know this already because I have just spent two-and-a-half indulgent, if surreal, hours at the Diagnostic Clinic in Marylebone, London, having a £300 health MOT.

I had my saliva and heartbeat assessed by a nurse and my chi, or energy flow, calibrated by a handsome physician (who, I feel obliged to point out, had peculiarly cold hands). My tongue has been scrutinised three times, and my organs have been palpitated by a doctor. I have been tested for allergies to (among other life-threatening substances) plantain pollen and geese.

My likelihood of developing herpes, ovarian cysts and psoriasis has been assessed and I have had more electrodes attached to me than Frankenstein's monster. My Chinese pulse has been checked, hair samples have been sent off for analysis and a DIY stool kit has been discreetly popped into my handbag.

But by far my most bizarre encounter was to be strapped (head, wrists and ankles) to a bioresonance machine, an incomprehensible gizmo that measures everything from predisposition to illness such as Parkinson's to emotional imbalances.

"On first glance, I'd say you were allergic to angora goats,'' the bioresonance therapist announces, with a perfectly straight face. "Either that, or you have a fear of being abandoned – it's difficult to say at this early stage. Until we look at all the results, we won't have a full picture.''

Hans Snook's vision

This, in a nutshell, is the essence of Hans Snook's vision: a clinic where western orthodoxy (the palpitating doctor) meets eastern medicine (invisible chi flow), leading to a broader diagnosis of health, both present and future.

From a patient's perspective, it is a marvellously cossetting (if navel gazing) experience. On the one hand, the realist in me is relieved to discover that my ECG is normal. On the other, my hypochondriac side is thrilled at the prospect of an exotic allergy to cricket balls or South American tapirs.

When I tell Snook that the bioresonance machine has stretched my faith in alternative healthcare to the outermost limits, he initially demands to know why. But when I pull a sceptical (come-off-it) face, he visibly softens.

"Yes, I do know what you mean, and two years ago, I would totally have agreed with you,'' he says. "But then I had bioresonance, and I was told that I should avoid strong flavours, such as many herbs used in Indian cookery, because they disagreed with me, which was absolutely true, as I can't tolerate spices.''

Snook, 54, who resigned as chief executive of Orange in 2000, after it was bought by France Telecom for £26 billion, has spent the past two years on something of a medical odyssey. In the course of research for his clinic, he has submitted himself as a guinea pig to all manner of treatments, comparing and contrasting conventional and eastern approaches.

The result is the Diagnostic Clinic, where people can walk in, without a referral, and have their health assessed. The findings can either be sent to the patient's doctor (NHS or private), along with recommendations, or the clinic itself can arrange appropriate treatment.

"There's no single medical system I've found that combines western and eastern medicine in a totally integrated way, like this,'' he says. "Our slogan is For Every Body, because everyone is different, so they should be treated individually; that should be central to any healthcare system.''


Snook has always had a reputation for being something of an enigmatic hippy among the corporate pinstripes. While his shrewd acumen was never in doubt, eyebrows were raised at his outre black leather jacket, his roadie ponytail ("I look back and can't quite believe I ever wore one'') and his penchant for New Age treatments.

"There are two descriptions that I object to: that I looked like Gary Glitter's drummer and that I was a faded hippy,'' he says, with mild exasperation. "I've never been a hippy; I don't do drugs.''

These days, Snook's beard has been downsized to a neat moustache and a single kisscurl is jauntily quiffed above his forehead. His skin is preternaturally smooth (a combination of good genes, no soap and lots of antioxidants), and, dressed in a natty blue silk Nehru shirt.

As he twinkles at me, it's evident that he is quite a charmer. In 2000, he left his Macau-born wife of 22 years, Etta, for Helen Seward, a 34-year-old former employee in Orange's marketing department. The couple now share a three-bedroom flat in South Kensington, but Snook declines to talk about whether he is contemplating divorce, remarriage or starting a family.

"Children have never been a big driving force for me, even though I'm very interested in developmental psychology,'' he says. "Maybe I just can't bear the thought of having to put the theory into practice.''

Snook, who was born in Germany to an English father and a German mother, was brought up in England before the family moved to Canada when he was nine. After leaving university, he joined the hotel trade and worked his way up through the ranks.

Then, in 1983, when he was 35, he and Etta went backpacking around the world. Six months in, he needed cash to continue his travels and took a job in Hong Kong, doing a month's consultation work for some friends who ran a computer and paging company.

The month became a year, and when the business was bought by the conglomerate, Hutchison Whampoa, he was asked to stay on. A transfer to Britain led to him taking over the firm's fledgling Orange brand, which, even before its 1994 launch, was written off by analysts who believed that its stupid name and weird advertisements were doomed to fail in an overcrowded marketplace.

Three years later, Orange's London stock market flotation was massively oversubscribed and it is now one of the biggest mobile phone operators in Britain. According to industry insiders, Snook's instinctive genius lay in understanding his target customers' needs and making their lives easier. He regards his foray into healthcare in much the same light.

"It's the same philosophy that we had with Orange: it sounds a bit naff, but we wanted to create a better world, and I still do,'' he says. "But this isn't altruism. Altruism is giving something of more value to you, for something worth less in return. If s