Paul McKenna: ‘I could hardly write about relationships when I couldn’t stay in one’

Money, success, celebrity… top hypnotherapist Paul McKenna had it all. Yet for years he was unlucky in love. He tells Julia Llewellyn Smith how he finally focused his legendary powers on himself – with astonishing results.

Six years ago Paul McKenna came to the crashing realisation he was a commitment-phobe. The hypnotist and motivation guru – who’d built a career telling people how to be thinner, smarter, richer and happier – found himself lonely with a string of failed relationships behind him. ‘My life had been lived very much at 25,000 feet; it was exciting. But I wasn’t happy.’

Paul McKenna
Steve Schofield

Paul, now 56, seemed to have it all: a fortune estimated at £75 million, a Hollywood mansion, clients including David Beckham and Robbie Williams, and over a dozen self-help books under his belt. But, tellingly, he’d never tackled the topic of love. ‘I could hardly write about relationships when I couldn’t stay in one,’ he laughs.

At the time, Paul had been single for a couple of years after a series of unsuccessful relationships with various women, including model Liz Fuller and TV presenter Penny Smith. ‘I dated lots of lovely ladies,’ he reveals. ‘But none lasted. In the end I had to go, “What’s the common denominator here?”’

Then friend and fellow life coach Ronnie Rudin stepped in. ‘He said to me, “I notice you date a lot of beautiful women but you don’t actually like them. Think about who you love to be with; who you are attracted to.”’ So Paul used his hypnotic powers to put himself ‘in a trance. Then I drew up a spreadsheet of who I really loved.’ An Excel spreadsheet? Paul laughs. ‘No, a spreadsheet in my subconscious. I’m not that much of a weirdo!’ The spreadsheet’s conclusion shocked him. It showed him the person he most loved spending time with was his PA of 25 years Kate Davey. ‘I thought, “My God, I secretly fancy her.” I felt really awkward.’

But not long afterwards, he and Kate sat down in Paul’s kitchen with a bottle of wine. ‘I said, “Tell me something about yourself I don’t know” and she turned to me and said “I love you,” and it was like, “Woohoo!”’ What happened next? Paul grins. ‘Let’s just say it was passionate.’

To begin with their working relationship made things ‘rocky’. Kate had been with Paul for a quarter of a century, first as his PA, then as MD of many of his companies. ‘We certainly had to redraw the boundaries,’ he says. Initially, they kept things secret, while spending less time working together one-on-one. They were encouraged by Paul’s 82-year-old mum Joan, who’d long urged him to go out with Kate.

The couple married in Barbados in 2016, and today, sitting in the living room of his house in Kensington, West London, with Kate, Paul seems content. ‘My values have shifted and that’s because I’m not just married, I’m happily married,’ he says. ‘When I was single I told myself, “Marriage is a trap.” But now I’ve found someone I genuinely love to be with.’

Paul’s transformation from man-about-town to poster boy for married bliss began nine years ago after his father’s death. ‘I was in a terrible place,’ he says. ‘Losing Dad hit me hard. I was probably drinking too much. Real depression is when you don’t care if you live or die.’

Eventually he realised he had to get his ‘head in a better place’. He tried various methods to help him ‘be reinfected with the joy of life’, such as Havening – a touch therapy that is thought to boost the happiness hormone serotonin, reducing anxiety and banishing bad memories. Havening features in Paul’s new book Seven Things That Make or Break a Relationship. His 19th book, it is particularly close to his heart. His aim is to help readers find love or, if they’re in a couple, keep the flame alive. ‘I could only have written the book because I got it so wrong in the past,’ he says. What Paul now knows is that if you can’t make relationships work, it’s probably because you’re sabotaging yourself. For some people, this is because they grew up with warring parents. But his were happily married. Instead, he veered off the rails after ‘getting burned’ by a girlfriend in his 20s.

Paul McKenna with Kate, his former PA and now wife
Paul with Kate, his former PA and now wife

‘I was so in love and then it didn’t work out. She cheated on me,’ Paul says. ‘After that, I thought, “I’ll never get that vulnerable again.”’

So Paul shifted his focus to achieving wealth and fame. A drive, he says, that came from seeing his father run his building company. ‘Some days business wasn’t good and he’d have to lay people off. I thought, “I don’t want that. I want to be rich.” But I hadn’t realised that having more money doesn’t mean being happier.’

Growing up in Enfield, North London, Paul left school at 17 with few qualifications and worked as a DJ in Topshop in London’s Oxford Circus. He then moved to Capital Radio, which sent him to interview a hypnotist after he’d had his heart broken. Paul was put into a trance and afterwards felt ‘profoundly relaxed’. Impressed, he began studying hypnosis and practising on his friends, before hosting stage shows, amusing audiences by brainwashing grown men into ‘dancing like a ballerina, all sorts of stupid stuff’.

His career rocketed after he realised that hypnosis could help people improve their lives, with CDs, TV shows and motivational talks. He moved to LA in 2008 and for years had a blast, partying, swimming in his pool and driving classic cars. ‘But now the pressure of having to attend two parties a night has gone,’ he says. ‘I was chatting to David Walliams [who he helped prepare for his swim across the Channel] recently. He said, “I love going out, but I also love being at home with Netflix.” I said, “I’m totally with you.” Now what makes me happy is my first cup of tea in the morning, walking my dog, being with Kate.’

The pair are very different in style. Paul is the showman, ‘but she’s the boss,’ he grins. He says they rarely fight. ‘The last argument we had was after a dinner when she said, “You paid too much attention to this person and cut me off.” I said, “No, I didn’t” and she said, “Yes, you did.” In the past I thought that you kept on arguing until one of you gives up, but Kate’s brilliant at saying “Let’s agree to disagree.” We just let it go.’

He often compares notes with his friend Simon Cowell, another commitment-phobe turned family man. ‘We were on holiday a few years ago and he said to me, “Who would have thought it?” and I said, “Exactly!” I’ve never seen Simon happier.’

It sounds as though the couple, now London-based to be closer to their friends, are having a ball, with Paul reducing work commitments so that they can travel. ‘We were in Barcelona recently and Kate said, “I didn’t know I could be this happy.”’ He beams. ‘I’m still emotional about that. I said, “Thank you. That’s my Nobel Prize. Job done.”’

Paul’s latest book Seven Things That Make or Break a Relationship will be published by Bantam Press on 13 February, price £14.99. Don’t miss Paul’s seven steps to a happier love life in today’s The Mail on Sunday.