Indian gurus and holistic therapies: so much for ‘down to earth’ Camilla | Catherine Bennett

Far from being a foil for her husband, the Queen Consort seems to have the same taste for hocus-pocus

Recent stories from inside an Indian spa suggest that Camilla may be the most misunderstood royal of all. Is it possible for her to be, as advertised, thoroughly no-nonsense – and at the same time the poster girl for a wellness outfit where one-percenters gather for prayed-over food that creates positive vibrations in their bodies?

Central to Camilla’s rehabilitation years was the appealing idea that she would be immune – unlike her husband – to all temptations of a spiritual or orientalist nature. A stolid, fag- and gin-scented foil to her husband’s wispier, holistic yearnings, she has invariably been talked up by “friends” as the corrective to his hocus-pocus.

“She’s very down to earth,” Lady Anne Glenconner, an ex-lady-in-waiting, confirmed after Charles’s accession. Camilla’s down-to-earthness being of that peculiarly British kind, we now learn, that can accommodate an attentive guru. In this case Dr Issac Mathai, a homeopath who, as proprietor of Soukya, the “world’s first integrative health destination”, applies his prodigious diagnostic and spiritual gifts for prices starting at £735 a night.

“Just by scrutinising me and taking my pulse,” one recent guest reported, “he concludes that I’m breathing at only 60% capacity, that there’s a blockage in my liver, something is not quite right with my kidneys and I have some neurological issues.”

Camilla arrived here, on her eighth visit, in late October, which was news in India, less so at home. Private Eye says royal reporters were warned to keep quiet. “She’ll be undergoing rejuvenation therapies,” said the Times of India, adding that Mathai “has been the holistic physician for Camilla and Charles for several years”. Mathai previously disclosed that he visits the couple “three/four times in a year” and was at St James’s Palace before the Queen’s funeral, “for a consultation and to convey my condolences”.

Like Camilla, Charles has stayed at Soukya: on a birthday visit in 2019 his treatments were rumoured to include shirodhara (having oil trickled down his forehead), meditation and yoga. He and Mathai were introduced, according to the Times of India, by the British integrative practitioner Dr Michael Dixon, a health adviser to Charles, who led the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health before it was defrauded by its financial director and closed. Dixon now runs its effective successor, the College of Medicine and Integrated Health, with a new team – for which Mathai is an international ambassador. All of which cooperation, as much as it delights homeopaths, may dismay anyone who hoped Charles, as king, would finally cease campaigning for widespread prescription of complementary medicine, to include practices for which there is no clear scientific basis. In May, Dixon’s Integrated Medicine Alliance, a new group promoting complementary therapies, met Charles at Clarence House.

His associate, Mathai, quotes the King writing, after his birthday: “I cannot wait to establish a version of your clinic at Dumfries House.”

Within Soukya, Mathai’s therapeutic ambitions already exceed its 30 or so treatments; he compares himself, according to a hilarious account in the Times, with the late guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba, “the spirit moves me to heal, even the effects of being in the womb”.

Perhaps he’s right to think that most potential customers have now forgotten Sai Baba’s signature spiritual stunt, magicking up watches and jewellery, ditto the BBC investigation accusing him of sex abuse.

If royal esteem for Mathai and his holistic resort comes as news to many subjects, this is not for want of trying on the doctor’s part. Cautious royal warrant holders, recalling the Queen’s excommunication of Rigby & Peller, will surely marvel at Mathai’s confidence as he refers, yet again, to royal consultations whose nature he cannot possibly reveal. Photographs of Charles and Camilla adorn his centre’s website; no Soukya-promoting interview or travel piece fails to invoke Camilla’s repeated visits along with those of her fellow long-haul regular Emma Thompson and, possibly less usefully, Sarah Ferguson. (When Ferguson sought refuge with Mathai they visited Sai Baba, who conjured up a gold necklace for the occasion.)

Maybe it was expecting too much of Camilla that, unlike virtually every other recruit to the royal family, she would resist its homeopathic traditions. Long before wellness became a recognised industry, its members demonstrated how readily the affluent and credulous will embrace practitioners offering the baroque, bespoke care commensurate with their status. In fact, it defies belief, what with mind, body and spirit being so interconnected, that the family fondness for assorted integrative mysteries, energies and healing – one that unites Charles, Diana, Meghan, Harry and now Camilla – never led them all towards harmonious co-existence.

It’s possible, of course, that Camilla was driven towards paying for enlightenment; that a 10-hour flight followed by Mathai’s patent purgation regime could easily feel like sublime peace after those public episodes with Charles’s fountain pen.

Even so, you wonder what’s wrong with a wing of Balmoral or the Castle of Mey or Dumfries House – all of which offer the opportunity to eat organic snacks in total silence, minus aviation emissions and a potentially awkward drive past those citizens of Bengaluru who, in a city where 16% live in slums, must cleanse their colons without professional assistance. For domestic staff familiar with Charles’s demands, an additional request, that they pray over Camilla’s haggis, could hardly be considered onerous. Failing that, the minister of Crathie recently came across as infinitely loyal.

Although for a regular visitor such as Camilla, a future not featuring Soukha’s unique ministrations would inevitably increase the possibility of a more toxic gut environment, it would at least relieve her and her husband of a potentially greater risk: that of being Dr Mathai’s promotional assets.

• Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist

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Catherine Bennett

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