An old man in a pink vest leaps through the air, prancing barefooted around the near empty church as a hypnotherapist in a glittering silver cape grins maniacally down from the raised chancel. “Engineering epiphany is my obsession,” says Tom Fortes Mayer, 41, the Harley Street hypnotist behind tonight’s strange event. “How do you create experiences and environments where people can have paradigm- shifting moments?”
It’s a question he’ s been juggling for 15 years, ever since a mysterious encounter with an Indian holy man rocked his beliefs. “I started to laugh uncontrollably. I had no fear. I understood how everything had a place, and everything was perfect,” he recalls. “I drove my motorbike to the top of a hill and had a meltdown, a very beautiful meltdown.”
He dived deep into philosophy and psychology and, after a decade working as a professional hypnotherapist, the answer to his riddle finally surfaced: WeAreOne.
The drink and drug-free party, which takes place every month inside a church in Camden, combines the mind-altering tricks of his trade with loud dance music to create un-chemically enhanced euphoria. They are raves aimed at anyone who secretly wishes the “best night ever!” didn’t always have to end with a half-remembered kebab dunked in a bucket of booze.
It is a revolutionary concept, one that threatens to send what is arguably the greatest pillar of British society tumbling drunkenly into the gutter. “I know!” Mayer exclaims. “And for good reason. There are more people who are really struggling with happiness than ever before. Four hundred per cent more children are on anti-depressants than 10 years ago. We’ve become addicted to this idea that if we can take something, or drink something, then we can be happy. There are an awful lot of people who are lost.”
Party time: Charlie gets jiggy with the beat (Picture: Adrian Lourie) At Mayer’s Harley Street practice clients have to cough up £90-£300 per hour. At WeAreOne, however, participants can enjoy some of the benefits of Mayer’s life-enhancing therapy at a smidgen of the price. The event is also a fundraiser for his FreeMind charity, which aims to spread happiness through self-awareness. “Fear is the problem,” says Mayer. “Love is the solution.”
WeAreOne, then, is an attempt to help people relocate their true selves — if, that is, your true self is a hug-happy hippie with a penchant for expressive dance.
When I arrive, at seven o’clock sharp on a Saturday night, fear certainly is the problem. Ancient, awkward adolescent instincts take over and I make for an isolated chair in the furthest corner of the hall. I desperately, desperately want a drink.
So far I’m the only early bird refusing to spread his wings. As the night’s DJ, a cheery guy in a Hawaiian shirt who answers to the name Be Sublime, plays his warm-up set, a half-naked man covered from head to toe in gold paint swirls unselfconsciously across the floor. A lady dressed as a fairy warmly embraces each new arrival and invites them to pick up a random love letter, written personally for them by past attendees.
It’s unconditional love in action. “Love people not because of who they are but because of who you are,” Mayer exhorts. I sidle over to the table and let my hand hover over the tray of letters. A small scrap of paper, folded meekly in the corner, calls out to me. “You are a unique and lovely being who is loved by so many,” it oozes. “I hope that reading this letter will make your light shine that little bit brighter today.”
Fancy-dress fun: Meeting some unicorns (Picture: Adrian Lourie) I shudder. This is pretty much the exact opposite of my idea of fun. In day-to-day life I’d almost rather be mugged than accept an embrace from anyone in a T-shirt reading “Free Hugs”.
The urge to drink becomes almost overpowering but the only substance on offer here is an “ancient Mayan plant medicine”.
“It can bring some emotion up,” warns Mary, 46. “Just allow the tears, the laughter, the anger, whatever it is, to flow through you,” she adds, handing over a cup of brown sludge — hot chocolate to you and me.
Mary is a devotee of the cocoa pod god. The spirit of the plant came to her Guatemalan shaman — Keith — in a vision. “He can communicate directly with the plant,” she says. “It told him it’s the food for the shift. The planetary shift.” I nod and quickly gulp down thick, bitter chocolate.
“I don’t feel very party,” I complain to Lorna, a glitter-caked 42-year-old yoga instructor. “You don’t need anything outside of yourself!” she yells, sprinkling fairy dust over my head. “Some good music, some great people, what more do you want in life?”
Before I can answer, the music cuts out. The Fabulous of Unicorns, a young and beautiful party troupe with sparkling horns, trot around the church, herding people towards the stage. The time of the hypnotic shift is upon is.
“All of our challenges come from a sense of separation,” Mayer’s soothing voice suggests. “All of our fear, all of our struggle. This is a space for us to come together in unity. Just practice, for a few hours, being amazingly loving towards each other. And if we don’t like it, we can just go back to the way it was before.”
Happy ending: Charlie finally attains enlightenment (Picture: Adrian Lourie) The 80 or so people who have showed up face the altar, eyes closed, heads drooping, as Mayer winds everyone down. My head, too, begins to sink, my eyes to close, and my cynicism slowly dissolves.
“In a moment’s time you’ll hear the ‘love trigger sound’,” says Mayer. “If you listened to the preparatory recording this will be really powerful.” Before attending, we were all encouraged to prime our minds with a half-hour-long hypnotic mix tape, containing a sonic trigger to set us free. “When you hear this at WeAreOne,” the tape instructed, “let it deepen your most powerful intention. And let yourself be flooded with your happiest joy.”
“Set your intention,” says Mayer — to relax, to have fun, to let your troubles go. “And, as you listen to this tone, trust that all will be as it is supposed to be. We. Are. One.”
The love trigger sound booms out of the speaker stack, an angelic harmony rises and then falls to a colon-wobbling pitch. The base of my spine starts to tingle, my feet feel light and an uncontrollable grin spreads across my face. I slowly open my eyes and look around.
Most of the next hour-and-a-half is a blur. I skip, I prance, I jump for joy. On reflection, I probably look quite mad. The old man in the pink vest and I chase each other around the floor. Mayer, now wearing a mirrored disco ball as a hat, bashes a bongo inexpertly on stage. A great moose of a man presses me wordlessly to his chest.
Glitter and sweat intermingle as people embrace, then dance, and then embrace each other again. I’ve never been this high without drugs and yet everyone here is stone cold sober. It is exactly as Mayer intended it to be: an epiphany.
While some of the people present are approaching middle age — as Mayer says, the post-rave generation looking for a healthy way to get their kicks — the crowd is diverse. An 11-year-old boy dances with a pensioner, and midway through a young Muslim woman disappears to a quiet room upstairs to conduct her prayers.
“I’ve always loved dancing,” says Pat, 59, a straight-laced lady from Belfast, “but I find as you get older it’s harder to feel comfortable when you go out somewhere. But here you can just relax, go with the music, shake whatever bits will still shake!”
After 90 minutes of continuous movement the music steps down a gear. It’s time for the mass-cuddle. Everyone in the room sinks to the floor, a carpet of interwoven humanity.
“The human heart just needs a little excuse,” says Mayer. “We’re such a loving species.”
Outside the church, however, free hugs are not the new drugs. Drunks pelt each other aggressively with greasy clods of fried chicken, and a young woman who’s lost her friend cries in a doorway. I want to reach out, to tell her that she is not alone, that we are one, but unconditional love doesn’t live for long on the bitter streets of London.