Inside the mystic love sect that lured 80-year-old Ken Barlow from the arms of a weathergirl 36 years his junior

Mail, UK/February 15, 2013

Twice a month, an eclectic bunch of pensioners, teenagers, nurses and solicitors gather together in 'The Circle of Love', to meditate, take part in spiritual healing and discuss the mysteries of the universe.

The setting is humble - a community centre south of Manchester - yet in their midst is one distinctly recognisable face: William Roache, better known as Coronation Street's Ken Barlow.

The actor this week became the most famous member of the 'Pure Love Movement' after his girlfriend of three years, 44-year-old weathergirl Emma Jesson, revealed that they had gone their separate ways so he could be free to 'explore a mystic message of love'.

Given 80-year-old Roache's boasts in an interview last year that he had slept with 1,000 women and had 'no control' over his sex drive, one could be forgiven for thinking the actor may have found a new girlfriend within the Pure Love Movement - or several, if the group's name is anything to go by.

Yet, it appears this is not the case.

'Bill's spiritual beliefs became more of a priority last year,' said Emma. 'He wants that to be his path now and I accept that, as he needs to be at peace with himself.

'We always knew 2012 would be a big year for him. Spiritually, it was an evolutionary year and really important to him.

'We're still very close and talk regularly, but we aren't together as a couple. We still have a relationship, but only as friends.'

The decision to split cannot have been made lightly. They had been dating since Roache's second wife, Sara, to whom he was happily married for 31 years, died suddenly of heart failure in 2009.

Yet, while Emma and Bill Roache seemed devoted, the pull of his spiritual beliefs appears to have been too strong.

Roache has been a member of the Pure Love Movement for years, but his affiliation with the group became public knowledge only this week, with the breakdown of his relationship with Emma.

Roache certainly hasn't been attracted to the Pure Love Movement by its glamour or fellow celebrity advocates - the Church of Scientology it isn't.

While the group may sound like a global religion, as has been widely suggested in reports about Roache's spiritual yearnings, the reality is anything but.

Numbers are up, admittedly. Not too long ago, the Circle of Love (the group's official name) used to meet in the house of their leader, Anne Rogers, a 71-year-old retired nurse.

The group's beliefs are disarmingly simple: pure love conquers all, although the exact theological interpretation of how this works - encompassing all faiths and creeds, while leaning heavily towards spiritualism - is impenetrably vague.

Meetings consist of meditation, reiki (a non-touching form of healing using energy vibrations) and an open discussion in which the group share messages they have received from the spirit realm.

'It's nothing new, the group met regularly at my house and we decided we should go public with the message that we give, which is purely love,' the group's founder, Ms Rogers told me this week.

With a background in nursing and as a holistics lecturer, she started the group 20 years ago to provide a spiritual outlet for like-minded folk.

'It's not a religion, it's not a cult,' she says. 'The message is 100 per cent just love. We are not trying to convert anyone. Any religion, any nationality, all are welcome.'

And what of William Roache? Complementary therapist Helen Wilson, who attends the group's meetings, is gushing in her praise ('he has the biggest heart ever') while Anne Rogers is more circumspect, stating simply: 'Bill is just part of the group.'

As for Roache, his pronouncements on his beliefs have become ever more urgent in recent months.

According to his beliefs - a mix of new age spiritualism and esoteric mysticism - 2012 marked the beginning of 'the Golden Age when a majority will know they are love and that they are spiritual beings'.

It gets better: 'The Earth will continue to cleanse itself while material and negative things will collapse and cease to be.'

While Roache has always been open about his unconventional spiritual beliefs - he was famously photographed at Stonehenge in full Druid's robes some three decades ago - colleagues and friends say that lately he has a new confidence in his unconventional convictions.

In the past, he was mindful to keep his beliefs private from the rest of the Coronation Street cast, but now he has no such compunction, and has treated younger colleagues to long talks about the meaning of life.

He claims to have been in regular communication with the spirit of his late daughter, who died as a toddler - a hugely traumatic event which many believe acted as a catalyst for his spiritual convictions.

However, by his own account, he has been searching for enlightenment since he was a small boy growing up in Derbyshire. Born into a family of doctors, he ploughed a different furrow by becoming an actor.

In the Seventies, he came under the influence of Thomas Maughan, a homeopathic doctor from Dulwich, South London, who was also Britain's Chief Druid. Roache sought his services as a homeopath, but Dr Maughan introduced him to the spirit world. They were in close contact until Maughan's death in 1976.

An interest in off-beat spiritualism clearly runs in the family. Bill's son Linus Roache, 44, is a devotee of EnlightenNext, a controversial U.S. organisation which claims to have thousands of members and teaches 'evolutionary enlightenment'.

Linus, William's son from his first marriage to the actress Anna Cropper, recently put aside his own acting career to take over as managing director of EnlightenNext's New York centre.

Critics have made allegations of physical and mental abuse, accusing its leader Andrew Cohen of developing a messiah complex.

EnlightenNext and Cohen have denied all the claims, also saying that its critics are a small minority and the allegations are historic.

Roache has said how proud he is that his son is pursuing his own path to enlightenment. His 2007 autobiography, A Soul On The Street, contains vast tracts on his own spiritual convictions.

It did not please everyone. As one reader commented: 'He seemed to be quite 'pushy' with his message - almost lecturing.'

It will not reassure such readers to learn that much of Roache's knowledge comes from reading the works of so-called 'spirits'.

Among his favourites is Silver Birch, a resident of the spirit realm who died 3,000 years ago (some say he was a Native American Indian).

His convictions have offended some Christians, who are irked by his assertion that the Church 'doesn't truly understand life after death'.

Others take a more sympathetic view, believing his unorthodox beliefs stem from grief at the death of his 18-month-old daughter, Edwina.

He and his wife Sara were devastated in 1984 when their daughter passed away suddenly from acute bronchitis.

Roache asserts that Edwina appeared to him in a vision to let him know she was fine. For years afterwards he would receive letters from a medium, Peggy Kennard, who said she had been contacted by Edwina from the spirit realm.

Roache has three other children besides Linus - Vanya, 45, Verity, 31, and James, 27 - with whom he enjoys a close relationship.

Seemingly, Roache is no longer content simply to advance his own understanding, but considers it his mission to spread the message of love.

The Mayan prophecy that the world would end in December 2012 became central to his thinking, leaving little room for girlfriend Emma.

So now Roache is free to concentrate on his beliefs. 'It is urgent to get this message over,' he said recently. 'Time is running out.'

Not all his comments have met with such a positive response, however. On a BBC chat show, he expounded the view that Anders Breivik, who massacred 77 people in Norway in 2011, should be forgiven and loved.

This controversial view - which he extended to include Adolf Hitler - provoked howls of derision.

Roache may be described as no more than 'part of the group', yet his views are sufficiently important to make him turn down requests for a comment this week. Apparently he is preparing to tell all about his spiritual life in an exclusive interview with a national broadcaster.

If Roache has his way, the Circle of Love may need to find some bigger premises.

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