What was David Grove actually like?


I wasn’t a close friend of his, but I was lucky enough to interview David Grove, creator of Clean Language, at the NLP Conference in November 2005 at the very beginning of my own journey with Clean. It was the first interview he’d given since 1996, and I was fresh from the world of ‘normal’ news journalism, so I really wasn’t prepared for meeting the maverick genius.

From my point of view it should have been a straightforward job – a promotional interview to advertise a training. But very soon after I was hired it became clear that this was no ordinary ‘puff piece’ – David gave me a massive runaround. I’d discovered that David was notoriously unpredictable; that he’d follow whatever grabbed his interest; that he’d vanish mysteriously and then appear without warning, rounding up a group for his latest enthusiasm. One minute he’d love to meet for lunch, the next he was sick, travelling, in Yorkshire, in France…

He was ‘headline act’ on the conference Saturday night: charming, flirtatious, fascinating, enthusiastic – and kept going with his session for more than three hours, apparently totally oblivious to the fact that it was ten o’clock and nobody had had any dinner.

Then the next day, when we finally sat down together, the charm was turned off completely. David was direct to the point of rudeness. Questions were met with hostility or an uncomprehending stare, making traditional interviewing impossible. When my voice recorder started playing up there was no let-up to allow me to sort it – he just kept on talking and presumably, I was expected to keep listening. It was a good job my shorthand was up to speed! I was slightly tempted to walk away and talk to somebody civilised.

But I stuck with it, and simply listened as he talked about his work over a pub’s roast beef dinner and trimmings. At the time, his interest was the material now being written up by Philip Harland as the Power of Six – it’s confusing even when you know something of what it’s about, and I knew nothing. The monologue was dense with information, speculation, interest- but had very little relationship with the area I was interested in – David Grove’s Clean Language and the life story that led to its development. Then suddenly, we were heading back to the conference. I was trailing in David’s wake, trying to ask a few more questions to check the crucial details… and getting very little joy.

Apparently, much of what he told me  then – that he was working in business when he came across NLP in 1978, that his interest in NLP led to an interest in phobias and trauma, that he was involved for about three years and qualified as an NLP Master Practitioner, that he dated an ex of John Grinder (co-founder of NLP) – was simply not true, I was told by his ex-wife after his death.

And that wasn’t the end of the experience. David suddenly announced he was going to use me as a demo subject in his ‘whirlygig’ contraption, before wandering off and leaving me hanging about for an hour. When I finally encountered the device, mounted on a trailer behind his estate car in the car park, I was freezing cold, confused, and nervous. I was unceremoniously strapped in and moved to various positions, angles, while David talked to NLP’s intellectual heavyweight, Wyatt Woodsmall, who was there to watch the show. But while it was uncomfortable, the effect on me was pretty miraculous. A bunch of lifelong anxieties seemed to melt away, effortlessly. Once released from the device there was a peace, quietness, a sense of “You don’t have to do anything.” For me, it was as profound as it gets. But there was no sense of rapport with David, or of shared exploration etc. It was quite mechanical – but the point was, it worked.

Wyatt Woodsmall said to me later: “David Grove is like a mad scientist! It reminds me of the stuff Richard Bandler was doing in his earlier days, trying things other people might not be willing to try.” On the basis of my experience of him that day and since, I can only concur.

Judy Rees

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David Grove, creator of Clean Language, came from New Zealand, and had European and Maori ancestry. He graduated with...

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