Paul McKenna: How love has cast its spell on the master of hypnotism ... and he's never felt better
TV star Paul McKenna has made a living out of helping people control their emotions, but is now at the mercy of his own. He tells Gabrielle Fagan why, after a period of loss and trauma, he's being swept away by romance
World famous hypnotist and self-help guru Paul McKenna is in an emotional situation he can't completely control, and he's finding it "terrifying". This is quite an admission for a man who's made millions teaching other people how to control their emotions in order to transform their lives and find everything from happiness to success.
Yet, out of the blue, it appears that McKenna, who's never married and is a self-confessed commitment phobe, has been derailed by that most powerful of emotions – love.
"Love has hunted me down like a wildebeest," he says of the relationship with his new girlfriend, whom he won't name but has dated for eight months.
"I've never felt happier in a relationship than I do now. Eight months is a bit of a record for me. I can never usually get beyond six months, that was my limit in the past.
"I've previously felt that I'm not built for relationships, and I've said in the past 'no commitment' and I'm used to that lovely feeling of detachment. So really caring about what someone thinks and how I feel about them is very scary and terrifying."
This newly revealed vulnerability, and happiness, has come after a period of great challenges for the 50-year-old DJ-turned-hypnotist.
Because, McKenna, born in Enfield, North London, and written off as a dyslexic non-achiever at school, might have gone on to become a multi-millionaire (his books, including I Can Make You Happy/Sleep/Thin/Rich, are estimated to have sold more than any other non-fiction author in the UK), and he might have helped a host of celebrities, from Robbie Williams and David Beckham to Russell Brand with their problems.
But two years ago, he discovered wealth and fame couldn't protect him from a period of intense emotional turmoil, which – despite all the skills he uses to help others overcome their problems – he struggled to weather.
"I had a very tough time – my father, Bill, died, which was devastating. Following that, several of my friends died in quick succession, then my dog died, which hit me much harder than I expected.
"I was extremely down, depressed and in a very dark place for quite a time," he says during the interview at his luxury mansion nestling in the Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles.
"I had to claw myself back from the edge of the abyss and my friends were very worried about me. They kept saying, 'You're not your normal, happy self, what's wrong?'. All I could answer was, 'There's no point in anything', and I literally believed that for a while."
In typical McKenna-style he turned to a Zen master who advised him to look within himself to unlock his deeply buried feelings.
And it all came back, in part, to unrequited love.
"In my early twenties when I had my heart broken by a girl for the first time, I vowed I'd never let those emotions hurt me like that again," explains McKenna.
"That was, in fact, one of the reasons why I got really interested in self-improvement because I wanted to feel better.
"I became very good from then on at not feeling certain things. My friend made me realise that any time things got emotionally difficult for me, my reaction was to suppress or repress my emotional messages."
Despite this revelation, more blows were still to come for McKenna though, when he was almost killed out horse riding.
"I really thought I was going to die. I was inches away from being decapitated as my horse, Elvis, galloped under an overhanging tree branch, but forgot I was riding him. I now know what people mean when they say their life flashes in front of them," he says quietly.
Shortly after that he says he became very ill, although he won't reveal what he suffered from, and also discovered some business associates had not been entirely honest with him.
Despite all the unforeseen emotional battering, he still strongly believes that controlling emotions is essential.
He says: "While I am a 'control freak', it's not in a negative way. I've always realised you can't control everything – but if you can control your thoughts to a degree, and your behaviour and feelings to a large extent then you will have reasonable control of your life and be happier. Thankfully I seem to have served my 'difficult' time now and I'm happy, healthy and feeling in really good shape."
Throughout the bad and good, he's been helped by music mogul Simon Cowell (54) who's "like an older brother to me, although as he always says 'not that much older'.
"He's my best friend and has always been wonderful in advising me over the years on what I should or shouldn't do and in helping me with personal decisions."
His own personal contentment coincides with his friend's – Cowell is expecting a baby this year with his partner, Lauren Silverman.
"I'm very happy for him," McKenna says.
"Children for me? It's much too early to speculate about that. I've never thought about anything like that, but we'll wait and see."
He also won't speculate on whether his perfectionist streak and belief in control might have taken a toll on his previous relationships, which have included romances with TV presenter Penny Smith, model and Welsh TV presenter Liz Fuller and his longest, a five-year romantic partnership with his manager Clare Staples, which ended 15 years ago.
He will, however, speculate on what he admits is a career crossroads. "I've achieved everything I set out to do 20 years ago. Now I'm weighing up whether to retire from my self-help work and try to fulfil my potential in another way," he says.
A new TV chat show in America is one project in development, and he hints that his latest book, Freedom From Emotional Eating, might be his last, "I think this is my definitive work on weight loss".
Instead McKenna, who says he's a reformed workaholic, hopes to spend more time on his personal life and 'that' relationship.
"Am I really in love for the first time? I don't know but we share the same sense of humour. When I'm working I have to take control to help people and sort out their problems but in my personal life I'm quite playful, a practical joker, who sees the funny side of life," he says.
In fact, the man, who in past TV hypnotism shows has convinced grown men they were washing machines, jokes: "Actually, I think she's embarrassed to go out with me so she doesn't want me to reveal too much.
"Also, when the hypnosis wears off, she will wake up one morning and say, 'You're not George Clooney! ... what are you doing here?'!"