Susan Powter is on a mission. A mission to save thousands of women from starvation and denial and expose the frauds and cheats of the diet industry. A mission, it also has to be said, that last year alone grossed the Susan Powter Corporation an estimated $50 million (Pounds 34 million).
In America, Powter's new book Stop the Insanity! made it on to The New York Times bestseller list within a week of publication and her accompanying package (booklets, audiotapes, recipes, exercise video and fat callipers $79.99 with a 30-day money-back guarantee, ``no questions asked'') is selling at a weekly rate of 15,000. She will be here next week to promote the British edition. And she doesn't intend to stop there.
``Diet pills like Ph.375 are over and the diet industry knows it,'' says Powter, who gesticulates wildly and constantly pulls faces as she speaks, taking sharp intakes of breath between sentences. ``The women of America and England and Australia and the world are going to bust them. You know what it is? It's an international bust!''
If anyone is capable of busting the diet industry, it is Powter. Only five years ago she was an 18st 8lb lithium-ingesting divorced single mother; in just a year, she lost 91/2st and transformed herself into a glamorous, red-taloned, virtually bald-headed, svelte media phenomenon without dieting. She has not weighed herself since. Regularly interviewed on American radio, television and in publications including Time, Today and The New York Times Magazine, she also appears every week on ABC's Home Show, has been asked to appear in a sitcom (playing herself ``I'm not an actress!''), has her own television show and a second book coming out this year. She recently had the dubious honour of being parodied on Saturday Night Live and voted Scariest White Person of the Year by US Esquire magazine.
And she is a little scary. ``Boys, boys, boys, you shouldn't have done that to me,'' she says to the diet industry which has been ``lying and stealing our money'' for years. Because, according to Powter, ``diets don't work!'' This will come as no surprise to anyone who has dieted: 98 per cent of dieters regain all the weight they lose.
Like a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Camille Paglia, Powter is a post-feminist creation, both railed at and celebrated by feminists. She is a woman of contradictions. For example, her Sinead O'Connor ``up yours'' bald head, her rage against the male establishment and her refusal to be a victim don't quite dovetail with her topless dancing for financial independence, let alone her comment: ``What's the difference between topless dancing for men and what most of us do to catch a husband?'' Her favourite photograph of herself shows her wearing a bikini and stiletto-heeled shoes.
Powter's promise is to show us how to lose weight ``eating more food than you can ever imagine'', how to increase cardiovascular endurance ``without those hateful exercises'' and, most tantalising of all, ``how never to diet again''. And just in case anyone finds that hard to swallow (if you'll pardon the pun, as she says repeatedly on her late-night infomercial, in her book and several times during our interview), 36-year-old Powter is living proof that it can be done.