Hypnotist Paul McKenna admits he was a 'very rebellious teenager'

Hypnotist Paul McKenna says seeing ‘immense cruelty’ while attending a London Catholic school gave him a ‘taste for compassion’ and helped him hone his mind manipulation skills

  • Hypnotist, 57, from London, attended all boys St Ignatius’ College in Enfield
  • Described time there as ‘very unhappy’ and ‘a relentless, brainwashing process’
  • Admits his experience helped ‘shape’ him and still has an impact on his life now

Paul McKenna has claimed witnessing ‘immense cruelty’ while attending a Catholic school gave him a ‘taste for compassion’ and helped him develop his mind manipulation skills.

The hypnotist, 57, from Hackney, east London, told how while he had a happy childhood thanks to his ‘supportive, kind and optimistic’ parents, he was miserable during his time spent at Jesuit-run St Ignatius’ College in Enfield. 

He described his stint at the Catholic voluntary aided secondary school – for boys aged 11–18 – as a ‘very unhappy experience’, calling it ‘a relentless, brainwashing process’ which instilled ‘guilt’. 

Paul added that he became a very rebellious teenager as a result and hung around with the ‘tough guys’ – though he was the ‘brains’ of the outfit.

Paul McKenna has claimed witnessing ‘immense cruelty’ while attending a Catholic school gave him a ‘taste for compassion’ and helped him develop his mind manipulation skills

Speaking on the podcast Life, Interrupted, hosted by Simon Thomas, Paul said he calls himself a ‘recovering Catholic’ but admits his experience helped ‘shape’ him and still impacts his life now.

‘Having seen immense cruelty, it gave me a taste for compassion,’ he explained.

‘But also seeing how Jesuits are great mind manipulators – I think Hitler had the SS trained on Jesuit model – and so they taught me a lot about manipulation. 

‘And unlike many of them, I decided to use my abilities to influence if you like, and even manipulate even though it’s usually a pejorative term, people for the betterment of the world and for their lives.’

He added: ‘Even the tough times and the uncomfortable things which I wouldn’t have signed up for shaped me so you know, I don’t feel good about them but I recognise that they were learning experiences.’

Paul, pictured in 1994, said he calls himself a ‘recovering Catholic’ but admits his experience helped ‘shape’ him and still impacts his life now

Paul told how his ‘subversive’ gang of friends, of which he was ‘the brains’, often caused mischief around the school and once graffitied a statue of its patron saint.

He recalled: ‘They would say to me, “Right, what can we do to disrupt this terrible school?”, and I said, “Well why don’t we break this pipe here because that will flood the school and we’ll have the afternoon off”. 

‘I would be the brains then we’d bring up a tough guy Karate Kid and I’d say, “Hit it there”. 

‘I also remember the Jesuits are very proud people so anything that took away from their vanity, I would do things like that. I’d say, “Why don’t we deface a statue of St. Ignatius?” I was a very rebellious teenager.’ 

Paul also spoke about his early career on pirate radio; he started off aged 16 at Radio Topshop and went on to present for stations including Radio Jackie, Radio Caroline, Chiltern Radio, Capital London, BBC Radio 1 and TV channel Music Box. 

The hypnotist, 57, from London, told how while he had a happy childhood thanks to his ‘supportive, kind and optimistic’ parents, he was miserable during his time spent at St Ignatius’ College in Enfield, pictured

He revealed that his time at the newly relaunched off-shore Radio Caroline when he was 20 was ‘one of the best real life adventures I’ve ever had’ – and he used to play the same song every day to signal to his parents that he was alright.

‘I wanted to work for Radio Caroline which had been huge in the 1960s and it had just come back in the early 80s with a new amazing ship,’ he explained.

‘I said to my parents I’m going off to work on this pirate radio show and they said, “Well are you going to be okay?” I said, “I don’t know but I’ll play a particular song every day to let you know that I’m alright.” And the song was Who’s Going to Drive You Home by The Cars. 

‘And I went off – it was all clandestine, it was illegal – so you had to go to the train station, meet someone and they then took you to this fishing boat. A bunch of you sneak out to the ship which was outside of territorial waters so that’s why we could broadcast into the UK with this huge transmitter. 

Speaking about his decision to pursue hypnosis, Paul told how he ditched his stage show on the advice of Simon Cowell in order to be taken seriously

‘In fact actually it went all over Europe, Radio Caroline did. I was really thrown in at the deep end but I really took to it. 

‘Also there’s something wonderful about the sort of camaraderie of living on a boat with other people who are also in love with radio. Some of them have different musical tastes to you but that adds to the whole diversity of it. It was probably one of the best real life adventures I’ve ever had.’

Speaking about his decision to pursue hypnosis, Paul told how he ditched his stage show on the advice of Simon Cowell in order to be taken more seriously in his craft. 

‘I think later on, because I’d used hypnosis for entertainment and then when I wanted to go into self help in a major way… people said you can’t be making somebody into a kangaroo and jumping around the stage and then expect people to take you seriously when you say, “I have a technique here to take your phobia away”,’ he explained. 

‘Simon Cowell said, “I think you’ve got to make a choice – do you want to stay in entertainment, which is fine, or do you want to go into self help?”

Paul also spoke about his early career on pirate radio; he started off aged 16 at Radio Topshop and went on to present for stations including Radio Jackie, Radio Caroline, Chiltern Radio, Capital London, BBC Radio 1 and TV channel Music Box

‘And, you know, I’d use the profile I’d created through entertainment to say to people “Look there’s actually a much wider and better use of hypnosis rather than just pure entertainment”.’

He admitted he has struggled during the pandemic ‘like a lot of people’, experiencing stress and anxiety, but believes he has an ‘appropriate level of concern’ about Covid-19 – which he has contracted and recovered from.

‘When people talk about the corona phobia, a phobia is an irrational fear and it’s totally rational to have a fear of the virus,’ he said.

‘But if you are catastrophising all day long, that’s dysfunctional, so I think I have an appropriate level of concern. I’ve had the virus, so has my wife, and we were very lucky in that we were just really ill for two days and then we came out of it. But I know it’s been really awful for some people and catastrophic.’  

In each episode of his podcast, host Simon explores human endurance through the toughest times in life in order to understand how crisis and desperation can, over time, lead to hope and inspiration. 

Life, Interrupted is available on Global Player or wherever you get your podcasts every Monday.

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