Britain's most famous hypnotist has declared war on the diet industry. Celia Walden meets Paul McKenna
'I believe I can cure most psychological problems," Paul McKenna announces calmly from the plush and eerily perfect confines of his mews flat in Kensington, "and quite a number of medical ones."
The British hypnotist and self-help author has something of the religious zealot about him - as well as a strong whiff of money. Last week he earned himself a £15 million television deal in the United States.
The man with the most powerful eyes in television was born in Enfield, Middlesex, to a builder and a home economics teacher.
He first discovered his "powers" in his twenties, when he hypnotised the boy next door into achieving an "A" in his biology A-level: "I couldn't believe it worked, and started trying it with everything."
Twenty years later, the 44-year-old has a multimillion-pound self-help empire and a number of well-known clients, including Sarah, Duchess of York, Sophie Dahl, David Bowie, Little Britain's David Walliams - whom he helped to mentally "shrink" the perceived distance of his cross-Channel charity swim - George Michael and Robbie Williams.
He smiles involuntarily when I mention them, unashamedly impressed by the whole celebrity "thing".
And then there are the freaks - my word, not his - such as the woman who came to him with a phobia of jelly, those suffering from trichotillomania (where you pull out your hair and eat it), and one man who couldn't stop himself doing a kind of silent, celebratory scream in the middle of sentences.
"When I asked him why he did it, he said that he would imagine he had just scored a goal at Wembley. He was using it as stress release, because it made him feel good. Like every other habit or tic, it was essentially just a chemical?muscular equation."
He places his teacup almost too precisely on the black veneer coffee table, and suddenly I can't help but to start visualise the contents of his ordered fridge: individually wrapped leftovers, probably labelled and relegated to their own specific areas.
Formerly a radio disc jockey, McKenna's main focus now is helping people to lose weight. He is a food evangelist with a pathological hatred of the diet industry.
Sitting on his black velour couch, he cuts a tidy, anxious-to-please figure - and one who can't abide the messiness of fidgeting. Instead, McKenna's tirades about the misconceptions surrounding weight loss are peppered with nerdy, schoolboy expletives. "It's got sh*g all to do with food and everything to do with psychology," he says.
"There is a better case for banning diets than banning smoking," he continues, not pausing to draw breath.
"Diets simply make people fatter, leading to obesity, which is a massive drain on our health services. Any regime that restricts what you eat just means that your body gets good at storing fat, and so the second you come off the diet - slam!," he shouts, and I wonder if the sudden shift in volume works as some form of mind control, "the weight goes back on. If it weren't so tragic, it would be funny that in the early part of the 21st century a load of people tried to starve themselves to make themselves thinner and actually made themselves fatter."
McKenna's weight-loss seminars, which he tours around the country, preach a simple sermon: to eat what you want, consciously, and only when hungry. He has, he says, been working with a group of doctors to make his self-improvement strategies available on the NHS, and hopes to meet up with the health minister later this year.
"The only worry is that the diet industry is so big and so powerful that there may be too much at stake there. Politicians, I'm sure, have been bought - I can't think that they haven't." I disagree, disappointed that, after making so much sense, this last point just sounds barmy.
When I ask about celebrities and their promotion of fad diets, McKenna becomes so agitated that I fear he might take off, levitated by the sheer passion of his convictions.
"There's a new kind of anorexic now: there's your professional anorexic, and there are quite a number of famous people like that. They are right on the edge, walking around thinking, 'I am so in control. You want to look like me, don't you?' These people are getting their serotonin highs from perceiving themselves as being better than other people."
Is he alluding to people such as Victoria Beckham, whose excessive slimness seems to be their primary accomplishment? "I don't know whether she has an eating disorder," he gives a wry smile, "but I can say that some people just white-knuckle it. Every day it's just a question of getting through the day, and sometimes they binge, and sometimes they starve or they become bulimic or anorexic."
McKenna assures me that he refuses to work with the food fanatics, unless, of course, they allow him to concentrate on their underlying problems.
"An actress I won't name came to see me recently, telling me she needed to lose 10 pounds. Now, she was anorexically thin, and I thought, 'Not on my watch.' So instead, we worked on her body dysmorphia, which most people have. They look at themselves in the mirror and go through a checklist of abuse: 'Funny eyes, fat face, look at the state of my bottom…'
"But it is as if they are looking at themselves in one of those seaside mirrors. In her mind, the actress will never be thin enough, so I worked away on her for 45 minutes until eventually it just popped. Before she left, she said, 'You know, I did used to get more roles when I was a little bit bigger. Actually, I look OK.'?"
It's as we're shaking our heads indulgently over human frailties that I realise I have smeared mud across McKenna's opulent cream carpet with my boot.
To distract him, I turn the subject to sex. Now, McKenna may not come in the traditional Lothario packaging ("I'd like to come back in my next life and be liked for something other than my mind"), but he does have a long back-catalogue of Amazonian blondes.
After a relationship with GMTV's Penny Smith, presenter Liz Fuller famously dumped him live on air. Now his beautiful former fiancée, Clare Staples, is said to be stepping out with his close friend Robbie Williams. "I like a pretty girl," he admits.
After splitting up with his girlfriend of 18 months at Christmas, McKenna is currently single.
He doesn't go for skinny girls, "because I just want them to go and eat a pie", and laughingly concedes a liking for unbalanced women: "I love a mental case, because then I can fix them." The next question is so obvious, McKenna poses it himself.
"Have I ever used my powers to seduce women?" he asks with a smile that screams "Yes, yes, yes!", but he replies: "Well, that would be rather sad, don't you think?"
There is, he goes on to explain, something called speed seduction, where one can work a woman into states of arousal, simply by making her remember how she'd felt when she'd once been in love - and then touching her on the arm, thereby linking those thoughts to you.
He claims never to have tried this himself - and a yearly income that already stood at £2.5 million and that new deal in America, may never need to do so.
He still has some work to do, though. As we leave the room, he sees the mud and a flicker of panic disrupts the placidity of his features. I picture him on his hands and knees, scrubbing frantically at the stain, as soon as I've left the building.