John Mappin and the Camelot of conspirituality

Last 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:

Irina was from Kazakhstan. She 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 we found a brochure for something called Excalibur: Mappin Private Family Office Services & Consulting.

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? The Apocalypse?) 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

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 ‘The End of 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 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:

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 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.

Author of Philosophy for Life and other books. Honorary fellow, Centre for the History of the Emotions.

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