Profile: Tony Quinn. The Svengali of Stoneybatter, The Sunday Times,
Some think he is a dangerous charlatan, while others say he transformed their lives. What makes him so persuasive?
It’s not a great recording but you can clearly hear Tony Quinn’s Dublin accent as he works the crowd into a frenzy. He is instructing attendees at one of his “life-changing” seminars and it is clear they are in thrall to the “qualified” hypnotist. Picture an “exotic island with a cave”, he tells them, to hysterical shouts of “yes, oh yes” and “a cave!, a cave!”.
“Go inside now and see this incredible treasure,” he instructs. “Run your hand through all those jewels. And look as far as your eye can see, mountains of treasure. It’s beautiful and it’s all yours.”
Quinn is doing what he does best. As Ireland’s wealthiest “lifestyle guru” he has made an estimated €50m convincing people he holds the key to unlocking their dreams. Just give him two weeks and €18,500, and he’ll give you Educo, a mind programme that supposedly helps people to achieve their goals, effortlessly. To his followers and himself, Quinn is a God-like genius, an extraordinary mind-trainer destined to bring about “great change” in the world. “I think I am meant to work with a large group of people, it could be millions,” he once said.
But if he still believes this, he must have been disappointed when 600 people showed up at the RDS exhibition and convention centre, in Dublin, last week to hear the bearded, red-faced 62-year-old give a “free” seminar, but only for people who had previously attended one at full price.
Quinn, who despises negativity, must have also been annoyed to see a small group of protesters outside. Among them was Mike Garde, director of Dialogue Ireland, an organisation that monitors cults. “Quinn’s organisation is cult-like and his seminars leave a trail of broken families, marriages and debt,” Garde said. “We are trying to get this message across and if the penny drops for some people, maybe we can be of some help.”
Garde says he has worked with 300 people who were dissatisfied with their experiences of Quinn. The Liveline radio show, presented by Joe Duffy, was inundated recently with unhappy callers, some concerned about family members caught up in Quinn’s organisation. Some people say Quinn simply runs a rather expensive life-coaching and fitness business, but others believe he oversees a money-grabbing, manipulative enterprise that misuses hypnosis and brainwashes some followers.
Not everyone who goes on a Quinn seminar comes back unrecognisable to their families — some even achieve the success they were promised — but questions persist about Quinn’s claims, qualifications and motives.
He is a taxi driver’s son from Arbour Hill in Stoneybatter, Dublin. An only child, Quinn was doted on by both parents. He grew up as a fan of Charles Atlas, the “scrawny weakling” who became a muscleman and Quinn, an average kid, believed he too was destined for great things despite his limited education.
A one-time apprentice butcher, he developed an interest in fitness and body-building and in the 1970s began running yoga courses.
He developed a spiritual lifestyle and messianic aura to go with the job. In houses in Kilbarrack and Howth, Quinn set up communes where people could live in a yogic state of being. Joined by followers prepared to work relentlessly on his behalf, often on limited pay, he was an enigmatic character with powers of influence and persuasion.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Quinn the “lifestyle guru” began to emerge, and he distanced himself from some hippy associates. He began practising hypnotism and became a complete master of the technique. He then developed his Educo system, spreading his word through Blueprint for Successful Living, a newspaper delivered to homes and usually containing interviews with Quinn about his “insights”.
His big break was on The Late Late Show, which showed footage of him hypnotising people who then underwent surgery without feeling pain. Hypnotic anaesthesia is a well-known but little-used procedure, for obvious reasons. The stunt worked and Quinn went on to work with Steve Collins, the boxer, when he fought Chris Eubank in a world championship fight in 1995 and during a subsequent rematch.
Collins has since played down Quinn’s role, suggesting he was simply spooking Eubank by claiming he could feel no pain once hypnotised. Quinn was, however, paid IR£360,000 (€450,000) for his services.
He left Ireland in 1993 and moved to the Bahamas, where the profits from Human Potential Research Limited, his company, were tax-free. From here he began organising seminars in locations including Egypt, California and Capri. They attracted small numbers at first, but are held several times a year and can be attended by up to 50 people. It is estimated that up to 3,000 have been on a Quinn seminar. He also runs smaller “master classes” costing €62,000 and one-on-one coaching for more than €100,000. He promises to make people happy and successful, which in Quinn’s world equates to having lots of money, a condominium, a sports car and a yacht.
While he claims his system works for true believers, he is the biggest beneficiary. Quinn owns a home on the well-to-do Hamhaugh Island, in Surrey, and has a Martello tower in Dublin, a property in Los Angeles and apartments on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, where Far Niente, his yacht, is moored. He likes watching James Bond movies and shares his life with Eve, 23, a busty good-looking South African blonde.
He returns to Ireland sporadically and boasts about not reading any newspapers or media but it’s unlikely that he has avoided all of the negative coverage of his organisation.
Quinn says he can tap into a person’s “unconscious attention”, delete the thought programmes holding them back and unlock new potential. “If you want something, believe that you have it without any inner doubt and it will come about,” is one of his mantras. But experts dismiss his life lessons.
“Simplistic in the extreme and without any acceptable research,” is how Ciaran Benson, a psychology professor at University College Dublin, once referred to the Educo system.
Quinn operates a postal request service whereby followers write down a goal and post it with a cheque for about €30 and a photograph. It can be a new bike or a cure for a terminal illness. Quinn or his followers apply their minds to the request and if the person believes in this process enough, their goal will be achieved. If it doesn’t, Quinn says, the problem is that they didn’t believe enough. “I really do feel like a magician pouring that magic energy into those requests,” he once said.
Quinn says that his Educo system can double revenues for companies which follow his teachings over three years, but in 2005 the Sunday Times revealed that his health retail empire in Ireland had losses of €1m.
In 2000, a director of a clothing shop in Limerick had to go to court to gain sole control over its finances after her husband became involved in Quinn’s organisation. The court was told that the man was acting under an “external influence”, and that he began behaving in an uncharacteristic manner after attending a Quinn seminar.
By operating gyms, health shops and yoga classes, Quinn’s followers receive a steady supply of newcomers who can be convinced to go on his seminars. One husband told a Sunday newspaper: “My wife went on a seminar and her whole life became dominated by Quinn.
“She spent every spare moment working for him at the expense of family and friends. We had money troubles because she was spending huge amounts on Tony Quinn-related things.”
Quinn’s followers have been known to sell his seminars quite aggressively, even advising would-be attendees to take out car loans to cover the cost. The pitch is that you will learn enough about success to make the money back.
The enthusiastic selling doesn’t end if you agree to go. Quinn has told people under his influence that the way to achieve success is to convince others to attend a seminar.
There is even a scheme whereby devotees can make €2,000 for each new person they sign up. Quinn tells them it will result in their “financial freedom” and calls it “the selling system that never fails”.
Clients are also given tapes or CDs to take home with them and are told to listen to them daily.
These recordings contain the same hard-sell message and some suspect Quinn uses them to reinforce his influence over listeners.
Quinn continues to be popular, despite the controversy. His supporters called Liveline to counter criticisms, and well-known business figures have attended seminars including John Boyle, the managing director of Boylesports, who credits Quinn with the success of his company.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Quinn said last week. “We are a small group of people who have made a vital difference to every man, woman and child in a whole country. Maybe even for future generations as well.
“Tell me who else can lay claim to that kind of achievement, to really be able to say they had made a difference.”
The article was sourced from Dialogue Ireland.