The young woman who has supervised Prince William during his gap-year expedition to South America is involved with a controversial movement accused of "brainwashing" followers with bizarre teachings.
Marie Wright, 29, who was project leader of the ten-week Chilean adventure with the charity Raleigh International, quit a successful career to travel after she became involved with the Landmark Education Forum. Landmark, a global concern with its roots in the "mind transformation" teachings of a used-car salesman, has come under fire both in Britain and America for allegedly causing professionals such as lawyers and bankers to suffer breakdowns, split with their partners and turn away from friends. Marie ran her own recruitment agency in London with her New Zealand-born husband, Stephen, 32, but gave it up soon after her first Landmark meeting a year ago. Family friends told last night how the "happy-go-lucky, down-to- earth, warm and loving" woman's personality changed after she became involved with Landmark. One said: "Marie went from being a girl who never took herself too seriously to someone who thought she had the answers to all life's problems and didn't want to listen to anyone else." Millions of viewers saw a TV documentary on the 18-year-old Prince's trip to Chile during which he was shown doing his share of the chores. At one point, he is shown rising at 6:15 AM in a jungle village to share his domestic duties with Marie, who was not impressed by his porridge-making skills. Marie described her experiences with the Prince in satellite phone calls home to her parents, Tim and Marianne Creed, at their 700,000 [pound] home in Eastbourne, East Sussex. She told how she cut his hair and how two royal detectives shook a paparazzi photographer out of a tree near their camp after they caught him trying to take sneak pictures of the Prince at work. But last night a friend said Marie and her husband had both shown signs of Landmark's influence long before the South American trip. "They came out with strange terms and repeated the same lines," he said. "I dismissed it as management claptrap, then I realized it was too strange for that. I got bored with them preaching to me. Apparently, they went travelling to 'find themselves.'" The Landmark Education Forum is the latest manifestation of the EST group set up in America in the Seventies by car salesman Werner Erhard. He left his wife and children in 1960 and adopted "consciousness- expanding" disciplines. After claiming to have had a "life transformation" while driving over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, he set up Erhard Seminars Training (EST). This spawned an empire, which, after several changes of ownership, is now the Landmark Education Forum. It is said to have assets of 36 million, 43 offices around the world, 420 full-time staff and 7,500 volunteers. It is believed to offer 2,000 courses and seminars a year. From its North London offices, seminars are organized for British followers, costing from 65 [pounds] for a basic introduction to 1,200 [pounds] for "The Wisdom Program." Marie and Stephen, who met in 1997, set off in May to spend a year travelling to New Zealand via South America. Neither of them knew that Prince William would be in their Raleigh International team until a week before he arrived in Chile. Friends suspect Stephen guided Marie towards Landmark. Marie's mother said: 'She's always been adventurous&bungee-jumping, parachuting, white water rafting. She's also very academic. She was head girl at comprehensive school and is fluent in five languages. "When she phoned to say William was among the youngsters she'd be looking after in Chile, we couldn't believe it. They were blown away by William. He's very down-to-earth and surprisingly normal." Marie, whose father is a meat firm director, told her parents: "He asked me to cut his hair several times before I agreed. I grabbed a pair of paper scissors and he sat on this upturned bucket and held a dirty towel around his shoulders. I was very nervous but William kept making smart remarks to calm me down. I said it was the first time I'd been a hairdresser and he joked, 'Don't give up the day job.'" So why did Marie give up her career and comfortable home? Mrs. Creed said: "She simply wanted to see more of the world. She got involved with this group called Forum and is still involved with it. I don't know what it's all about. I wouldn't say it has changed her.' But Rick Ross, a leading American expert on cults, has had hundreds of pleas for help [see visitor comments] from participants in Landmark seminars and their families. He says Landmark practices techniques described by some as similar to "brainwashing and mind control." "The seminars are potentially very dangerous and can result in serious mental problems," he said. "I wouldn't recommend Landmark Education under any circumstances." "These people want to recruit everyone they meet and they particularly try to involve anyone in a position of authority or influence [e.g. Microsoft]." Last night, all Press inquiries were directed to a Landmark spokeswoman in America who said she did not know of Marie Wright "but she may have attended some of our educational programs." No one at Raleigh International was available for comment last night.