Suddenly I came across teachers who weren't telling me I was worthless

28th February 2003 at 00:00
My mother was a teacher and my parents sent me to what they thought was a good school, based on its exam results. But only the top few kids were allowed to do O-levels, everyone else did CSEs, so no wonder the results were good.

School was a negative experience for me. The ongoing message for most of us at St Ignatius college was that we were worthless, and the aim of the brothers who taught us seemed to be to lower our self-esteem. I was continually told that I would never amount to anything. It was a violent school in those days (mid-70s); there was a lot of cruelty and abuse. I complained to my parents, but I think they thought I was exaggerating until one of the teachers was sent to jail for molesting a pupil.

I survived, but I became introverted and it took me a while to sort myself out. Then I went to East Hertfordshire sixth-form college and suddenly I came across teachers who weren't telling me I was worthless. They encouraged me and made me feel I could achieve, especially Alan Burgess, who taught art. I could paint pretty well, in a traditional style, but he taught me to experiment and take risks with my work. He'd say, "Loosen up, don't try to paint like a photograph".

I left college to become a DJ, first in Top Shop and then on radio. My teachers were Tommy Vance and Kenny Everett. I learned by watching how they did things. I was working as a radio broadcaster when I was sent to interview a hypnotist. I asked him to hypnotise me and was amazed at how relaxed and euphoric I felt afterwards. He lent me a book by Dr Richard Bandler, the American hypnotist, who was to have a profound effect on my life, and was far and away the best teacher I ever had.

I read Richard's book and started hypnotising my friends, helping them to lose weight, quit smoking, become more motivated and confident, and his techniques pretty much worked consistently. The boy next door came round and asked me to hypnotise him because he had a biology exam the next day and couldn't remember anything. When he got his results, he'd got Ds and Es in everything but biology, in which he had an A. I'm fascinated by the power of the mind and interested in all kinds of self-improvement. I think self-esteem classes should be offered in schools; it's more important than maths or English.

When I heard that Richard was coming to London to do a seminar I went along. The audience was largely comprised of academics, psychiatrists and men with beards, and Richard had them crying with laughter. He's a striking man, who looks like the actor Dennis Hopper. He has long hair, which he wears in a ponytail, and wears a leather jacket. I guess he's in his fifties. He is half showman and half clinician. His lectures are hilarious.

Richard taught me that there is a place for humour when dealing with a serious subject and it doesn't trivialise it.

He is a fantastic communicator. He's the smartest person I've ever met. For instance, he has designed a format that enables people to overcome most phobias in about half an hour. He is also very generous with advice.

Richard and I work together a lot now, teaching people how to help themselves, and others. Our philosophy is, "If we can do it, so can you".

Most American self-help books feature Richard's techniques. They are used in training by top corporations around the world and have been adopted by pop stars, actors, sportsmen and presidents. One of Richard's pupils trained Bill Clinton in communication techniques and I have used his methods with Robbie Williams, David Bowie, Daryl Hannah, Nigel Benn and Nick Faldo. He's written 36 books. He's my mentor and my friend.

Hypnotist Paul McKenna was talking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1963 Born in east London

1974-79 St Ignatius college, Enfield

1979-80 East Hertfordshire college

1980 Begins working as a DJ at Top Shop

1984-86 DJ with Radio Caroline

1985 Becomes a hypnotist

1985-90 Combines being a hypnotist with DJing on Radio Caroline, Chiltern Radio, Capital Radio and Radio 1

1993-97 TVseries The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna is shown in 42 countries; first book The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna is a bestseller February 2003 Publication of How to Mend Your Broken Heart (with Hugh Willbourn)

2003 Series of self-improvement shows on American television

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