Ever since the Church of Scientology‘s sprawling UK headquarters were located just three miles up the road, the sedate town of East Grinstead in Sussex has grown accustomed to life on the edge of a parallel universe. But nothing could have quite prepared it for the events of the past three days.
First came reported sightings of Tom Cruise and his pregnant fiance’e, Katie Holmes, being chauffeured to Saint Hill Manor, the remote Georgian house which the Scientology founder, L Ron Hubbard, bought as his world base 45 years ago. Then John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, arrived at the same location in their private jet.
Bulky security staff prevented ordinary mortals sneaking into the three-day annual gala thrown by the “sinos”, as the church’s members are known locally, but those inside the cordon on Saturday night watched Cruise win a standing ovation for donating £2m to the International Association of Scientologists since joining it 15 years ago.
Ad: Vacation? City Trip? Weekend Break? Book Skip-the-line tickets
Local people had started to feel the economic effects of Scientology’s big gala long before the celebrities pitched up. A crowd of 6,900 from as far afield as Ukraine and India had paid to be at Friday night’s event at the hall, with a further 3,000 on both Saturday and Sunday. That constituted a tourism boom for hoteliers, and coach firms did nicely, too, since railway engineering meant that delegates had to be bused to the venue.
Of course, Scientologists are used to shelling out, since handing over cash is a key part of the Hubbard doctrine. On Saturday, it earned Cruise the Diamond Meritorious Award, which followed the platinum equivalent awarded last year when his contribution topped $2.5m ( £1.4m). He remains the biggest donor to Scientology. Other members of the cult have been less content about paying up, complaining that they have been milked of thousands of pounds.
The Church of Scientology’s latest celebration of its most famous devotee demonstrates his value in building awareness. Cruise recently raised a few eyebrows in Hollywood by insisting on a Scientology tent on the set of Steven Spielberg’s War of The Worlds, but he is largely responsible for a boost in traffic on the cult’s website to 375,000 hits daily.
It is unclear if Travolta’s wife and Cruise’s fiance’e had the chance to talk. If so, it is reasonable to assume that Ms Preston would have pressed home the cult’s central doctrine about childbirth – that mothers should not express pain while in labour for fear of traumatising the baby.