A Very British Cult starts darkly, and gets darker. Catrin Nye’s 18-month investigation for BBC Radio 4 into Lighthouse International, which describes itself as “a community designed to empower and help people grow”, is full of shocking allegations from beginning to end. Through in-depth interviews with escapees and recordings of so-called mentoring sessions, we hear a story of coercion, manipulation and mind control.
If this is not a cult, then this is a life-coaching organisation that just happens to convince the people in its orbit to hand over thousands of pounds for the purposes of vague-sounding “investments”, which never produce returns. Or to spend ten hours a day on video calls sharing intimate personal details that may or may not be used against them if they ever try to leave. Or to cut off friends and family who raise concerns. Or to stop taking their mental health medication.
Yet what’s most terrifying about Nye’s exposé, co-written with Jamie Bartlett (the investigative journalist behind the hit BBC podcast The Missing Cryptoqueen), is how quickly ordinary people with happy, normal lives can get drawn into a world that gradually starts to consume them. The former members she speaks to include a man who was persuaded to sell his house and a woman encouraged to pursue a lawsuit in relation to her childhood trauma, both so they would have more cash to give Lighthouse.
[See also: How “trauma” became a front in the culture war]
When members try to leave the cult and warn others, it gets even worse: police reports, legal threats, letters to employers in a bid to get whistle-blowers fired. The individuals thought Lighthouse would help them improve their lives. Instead, it destroys them.
Lighthouse insists that it is a genuine life-coaching company, and that “the claims being circulated by the BBC’s media machine are defamatory, libellous, and maliciously false”. (It’s all a vendetta driven by “toxic” family members, apparently.) All the same, it’s an absolutely explosive series. I won’t spoil the ending – listen for yourselves.
A Very British Cult
[See also: The psychological trauma of reading the news]
This article appears in the 19 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Axis of Autocrats