Sitting on a red velvet chair in the middle of a majestic, oak-panelled hall in East Grinstead, I have rarely felt more fearful for my sanity. On the wall in front of me, a creepy, larger-than-life-sized portrait of an old man seems to be staring straight at me. In front of the portrait, Laura, a middle-aged woman wearing a high-necked blouse and ostentatious gold cross, stands behind a lectern reading aloud from a huge leather-bound tome.
None of the worshippers take their eyes off Laura as they repeat her words back to her. Phrases such as: “All men have inalienable rights to think freely, to talk freely, to write freely their own opinions and to counter or utter or write upon the opinions of others” are made ridiculous by the followers repeating them in a monotonous drone.
I am at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, West Sussex - the UK’s Church of Scientology headquarters. In the few hours I spend at Saint Hill I realise this exercise is anything but innocuous, and might go some way to explaining why Katie Holmes, the one-time girl next door of American television, has been enveloped into the cult championed by the father of her unborn baby, Tom Cruise.