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Welcome to Camelot Castle, Cornwall’s hotel of Scientology

article-1325617-0BDD7769000005DC-966_634x422Last week, Maria and I spent a few days in Cornwall. We visited Tintagel castle, and decided to stop off for a coffee at a flash-looking hotel right next to it, called Camelot Castle. It boasted a fancy restaurant, a bar overlooking Tintagel, and ‘the best coffee in Cornwall’. As we drove up, we passed a rather strange large sign, saying TED STOURTON, THE MASTER OF VENICE, IS HERE! With a photo of a man in a cream-coloured suit and hat holding a paintbrush and palette. Ted who?

We went into the hotel. The entrance was filled with photos of famous celebrities, who may or may not have stayed in the hotel. We went into the cafe, which looked surprisingly dingy for such an apparently posh hotel. We ordered two coffees and sat down on a sofa. I was struck by the incredibly garish paintings on the wall, which all seem to have been done by the same artist. They were grotesque, like Van Gogh’s untalented younger brother.


Then I picked up a special newspaper that had apparently been printed by the owners of the hotel. It appeared the owners were a couple, John and Irina Mappin. John was the heir of a two-century-old jewellry business, and Irina was from Kazakhstan. Irina didn’t seem shy of publicity – she’d put photos of herself all through the paper.


Irina was apparently the patron of a painter called Ted Stourton, whose lurid art-work was all over the walls of the castle.


He is the self-professed ‘master of Venice’ from the sign outside the hotel. The paper was very enthusiastic about his work.



There were lots more photos of John, Irina and Ted with various celebrities. Plus there was some slightly weird stuff:


Then Maria showed me a brochure for something called Excalibur: Mappin Private Family Office Services & Consulting, which she had found on our table.



Excalibur Consulting looked more or less like a consultancy for affluent families, offering consulting services with things like philanthropy, private education and legacy planning. But then shit got weirder. The brochure offers clients a service called ‘Survival Planning’ (survival from what? Kidnapping? Death?) with the mysterious words ‘perhaps the jewel in the crown, or the holy grail of Excalibur Private Family Consulting is that it delivers access to a completely new technology that deeply impacts family survival’.


Excalibur also offers to resolve both local and international conflicts. Quite a consultancy. It says:


What is this ‘factor’? It doesn’t say! But it sounds kinda a big deal.

The brochure carried on getting weird. Another service that Excalibur Private Family Consulting offers is ‘artistic rehabilitation’. Looks like ol’ Ted Stourton – ‘one of the most prominent artists of the age’, no less – has been helped by this ‘completely new technology’ too! You have to hand it to Excalibur, it really offers its clients a comprehensive range of services, from financial planning to international conflict resolution to artistic rehabilitation. But it doesn’t stop there…


To cap it all off, Excalibur Private Family Consulting can offer its clients ‘An End to War’. Yes, forever! Again, rather mysteriously it speaks of a ‘totally new technology’ that has the capacity to bring peace on all continents. Well, what is this new technology? Is it Camelot’s famous coffee? Is it Ted’s migraine-inducing paintings? The brochure is coy with the details.


By this point, Maria and I were laughing away in the cafe, and I said ‘this sounds very Scientology’. So we googled Camelot Castle and the Mappins, and sure enough, the internet is full of stories about Ted and the Mappins, who own the hotel together, and how they use the Castle to promote Scientology to the unfortunate guests and even to the residents of Tintagel village.

Guests have complained that they were sent Scientology literature after staying at the hotel. I noticed at the hotel a box where guests or visitors could ‘write a letter to Merlin’ – the box encouraged them to leave their address and email. Merlin apparently responds to letters with Scientology literature!

Most of the reports on the internet are one or two star Tripadvisor reviews by guests who have shelled out £130-200 plus to stay at the hotel, thinking it was some grand posh place, only to find out it’s a really creepy castle filled with terrible art, where the rooms are quite dingy, and the owners are Scientologists. I can see that would be a bit of a downer. Most of the guests staying there seemed to have booked from abroad, poor sods.

One thing that intrigued me from the hotel newspaper was two adverts giving the hard sell about something called ‘the light box’. What is the mystery of the light box, I wondered! Is it a light-bulb shaped like L. Ron Hubbard?



Well, one guest has shared their light-box experience online:

In the lounge there were albums of Ted Stourtons paintings and another small album full of people praising the ‘LIGHT BOX’. I have to say that I was intrigued. The staff were very sparing with the info they imparted about this particular ‘mystery’ and so I asked at reception about seeing it. one evening (BIG MISTAKE!!!) after returning from a local pub where mum and I dined out. .. The young chap at reception said he would see if Mr Stourton was available…..after a few minutes he emerged, dressed in a cream dinner suit with white polo neck, took my hand, kissed me on the cheek and told me how lovely I looked (also my mother) then took us downstairs into the bowels of the castle. We were brought into a room where we sat down and were told a sorry story about the hardship of artists, then brought into another room where our photo was taken,(which I believe will be sent to my e-mail address, have not checked yet as just got home) Then we were taken into a further room where a guitar was produced and we were serenaded with a song. Finally, the room with the light box. A black box with a dimmer light behind it. Very good effect, we were shown pictures whose perspective changed depending on the amount of light behind it. Mother and I were polite and made complimentary murmurings, as some of the effects were very good. HOWEVER…. after the showing Ted asked which pics we thought were the nicest and we innocently told him (there were 3 we liked,but not to buy). He then turned on the lights and started his sales pitch starting at around £ 1700…er…I was shocked, looked at my mother and felt totally SICK in my stomach. He had been so nice that I felt physicallly AFRAID to refuse…I spoke up and said I was a single mum in the NHS and did not have that sort of money. He completely disregarded my comments and just brought the price down and down until we felt compelled to say yes… as we ascended the stairs out of the underground rooms, RIGHT ON CUE, out came Mr and Mrs Mappin to congratulate us on our purchases, shaking our hands and telling us how very lucky we were to even have Mr Stourton staying at the Castle…..(er, he does actually live there…!!!) Anyway, we were told we could settle up before we left and staff would wrap them for us but I never actually wanted them and felt intimidated into agreeing to buying them.. On the day of leaving, I bundled all our stuff into the car, got the dogs in and went to pay for the room. They then got the pics, at which point I said I couldn’t afford them and did not want them. The chap at reception then said I should wait while he went to get Ted Stourton..I was TERRIFIED! I knew he would try to force me to buy them, so, on the pretence that I had to get something from my car, I fled!! (so fast that I still have the room key, which I’m sending back today.) I loved the Castle and surroundings but not the ‘light box;’ experience of hard sell. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Maria and I were only there for 30 minutes, but it was definitely the creepiest hotel I’ve ever been to. I think what most struck me was the thought – what happens when you get three Scientologists in a castle with a huge inheritance? You end up completely delusional, thinking you know the secret to ending global war and that Ted Stourton is the greatest artist of the age. And that, my friends, is why it pays not to be too rich.

On Cult and Culture

cult and cultureCult is sacred, secret and always the same. Culture is public, irreverent, and strives for originality and innovation. Yet the two are intimately connected. Culture feeds on cult, and cult feeds off culture. Our society today lacks a cult, and as a result our culture wearies itself in empty innovation. 

In ancient Athens, in the fifth century BC, you had two main festivals. In March-April, you had the Dionysia, where playwrights like Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus and Aristophanes competed for the prize of best tragedy and best comedy. For about 30 years, Athenians were treated to new performances of some of the greatest plays that would ever be written. In 431 BC, for example, Euripides’ Medea only came third, behind tragedies by Sophocles and Euphorion. The plays were mirrors held up to Athenian society, reflecting and exploring its deepest fears, desires and foibles.

Then, in September-October, people from all over Greece made a pilgrimage to Eleusis, outside Athens, to take part in the Eleusinian Mysteries, an ancient fertility rite in which participants apparently took some kind of hallucinogenic, and felt they journeyed to the underworld and were reborn as immortal children of Demeter. Cicero considerd the Mysteries the greatest of all the gifts bestowed by Greek culture. They were practiced for over 2000 years, until they were banned by the Christian emperor Theodosius in 392 AD, who thereby banished psychedelics from western culture for the next 1500 years, the spoil-sport.

The Eleusinian Mysteries were the central cult of Greek society. And the Dionysia was the central cultural or artistic event. Cult and culture were intimately connected. Both the Mysteries and the Dionysiac festival of theatre performed an important therapeutic role for Athenian culture. According to Aristotle, both were cathartic – they helped to ‘cure’ Athenians of emotional problems and make them whole. Both cult and culture helped people to remove their social masks, forget external reality and enter trance states, and there explore and heal the emotions, tensions and conflicts within their psyches, ultimately connecting them with the deepest part of their nature – the divine. At their best, both cult and culture cultivate the god within us.

So both cult and culture performed a similar therapeutic role. And culture also fed off cult for ideas, symbols and characters. The great tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides often ‘riffed’ on the sacred (and secret) rites of the Mysteries. The final scene of Aeschylus’ Eumenides, for example, is soaked in the symbolism and ritual of the Eleusinian Mysteries. So is the final scene of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus. Euripides’ Bacchae, meanwhile, explores and reflects on the rites of the maenads, the female worshippers of Dionysus.

But culture, while it draws on the ideas, characters and symbols of cult, is very different to it. The nature of cult is that it is secret, sacred, and ritualized – the ritual must stay the same for centuries and millennia. Any sudden innovation is fervently resisted. Culture, by contrast, is a public performance. It strives for originality and innovation. It mixes the grand and solemn with the humorous and irreverent. It is created by an artist, who seeks fame and success and is not bound by the same moral taboos as a priest. Culture draws from cult, but in a way that is somewhat risky and transgressive – Aeschylus supposedly died in a freak accident as a punishment from the gods for revealing the secrets of the Mysteries in his Eumenides.

Cult, then, is sacred, secret and always the same. Culture is public, irreverent, and strives for originality and innovation. Yet the two are intimately connected. Culture feeds off cult.

Consider how much rock & roll feeds off religion, from band names (The Cult, Jesus And Mary Chain, Nirvana, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Reverend Black Grape, Young Disciples, Judas Priest) to song names (I am the Resurrection, The Cross, Jesus Walks, Take Me To The River, Great Balls of Fire, Hallelujah, Congregation, Take Me To Church etc etc). Rock tunes also rip off church tunes – the first great R&B song, Ray Charles’ ‘I gotta woman’ was a riff on the church anthem ‘It must be Jesus’ , starting a trend for secular gospel that continued through Elvis, U2 and Pharrell Williams. Think how often house music has sampled revivalist preachers, ever since Brian Eno and David Byrne started the craze in 1981 with their pioneering sampler album, My Time In the Bush of Ghosts (have a listen).

But cult also feeds off culture – it slowly incorporates some of the cultural innovations introduced by culture. Look, for example, at how western churches in the 1950s and 1960s began by condemning rock & roll as the Devil’s music, and then began to incorporate it, until now many of the biggest churches have in-house rock bands.

The problem with western society since around 1900, I would suggest, is we have lost our central cult – Christianity – and it hasn’t been replaced by any new cult which grips our emotions and imagination. All we have is a culture that has, particularly since Modernism, been gripped by restless innovation and transgression. But, in the absence of cult, this innovation and transgression feels increasingly empty and meaningless.

For culture to regain its vitality, we need to re-establish cult. I don’t know how to do this, but until that happens our culture will be trivial and diminished, distracting itself from its own exhaustion with cars and explosions.