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Bizet's a ball ache

Paul McKenna talks himself into the zone

On Private Passions (11 October, noon), Radio 3's answer to Desert Island Discs, the hypnotist and fat-loss expert Paul McKenna was defining his line of work. "NLP," he said, solemnly. "That's neuro-linguistic programming," he confirmed. Then he repeated: "NLP" - in a robust monotone, like Julie Walters in the Talking Heads in which she plays a porn actress who likes to take a person's hand and look him in the eye while repeating her name, so he never forgets her. "What is it?" asked the presenter, Michael Berkeley, intensely curious. "It's kinda sorta a hi-tech, 21st-century form of hypnosis," expanded McKenna, frankly a little woolly. "It's definitely a technology . . . and at the cutting edge of . . . personal development."

“Let's have some music," suggested Berkeley, deeply respectful, possibly even awed, as though facing down his interlocutor's extra­sensory powers was taking a real act of will. "Now, I think it was a rather wonderful character who introduced you to this Bizet coming up, no?" "Yes," agreed McKenna, still solemn. "It was Kenny Everett."

Everett, he was at tremendous pains to confirm, was bang into classical music, and, being a heavy-duty chatterer, would expound to him after sticking on a CD, saying all manner of electrifying things - deep, bewitching insights, I'm talking virtual verbal Demerol coursing through the IV right into one's veins. Pause for the whole of the fourth movement of Bizet's Symphony in C. (That's where Private Passions trumps Desert Island Discs, by the way - you get the entire piece of music, not just the first three chords of "Friggin' in the Riggin'" before it's puffily faded out.)

Hours passed. God, Bizet's a ball ache. Purely the kind of stuff plastic surgeons play while X-raying your nose two days before the op. But then McKenna's a proper ball ache. Some other things he said: "Personally, I find all the great geniuses fascinating." "Mozart - he's an interesting character." And "when I see Pat Metheny live he's in what psychologists call the 'flowstate'. Athletes refer to it as being 'in the zone' and musicians sometimes refer to it as being 'in the groove'." Not exactly Steven Pinker in the New York Review of Books, people. Not exactly Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters, coming at you left of centre, selling his groove.

Best switch immediately to the show Singers Unlimited on JAZZ88 FM from Newark, New Jersey, a station where every day feels like the morning after the night you spent with Jeff Bridges in The Fabulous Baker Boys. By which I mean its entire remit is to project that feeling of waking up in bed with someone way out of your league. Rummaging in the duvet for your tights, the melancholy comes crashing down, and you glance about the room thinking, "I know I won't be coming back here again. Fuck."

In short: it's wall-to-wall Etta James and Jackie Ryan, all introduced by a guy called Michael Bourne, who speaks strictly in fragments of sentences, conjuring the image of a person going off on a nod with the cigarette burning down to his fingertips. "The whole . . . about . . . 'Such Sweet Thunder' . . . 2009 music festival over on West 23rd Street . . . The. Ladies. Of. Duke. Ellington." It is currently your reviewer's idea of heaven.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Strange Death of Labour England