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Adam Wilder on the importance of togetherness, empathy and compassion

Adam juggling spaghetti in Edinburgh, 2011

So I had a chat last month (I am only just catching up) with Adam Wilder (previously aka Adam Oliver, previously Adam Taffler).

We first met at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011 when he was street-performing in the Grassmarket and I asked him if he could juggle spaghetti…


JOHN: So we haven’t seen each other for ages. When last heard of, you were organising sex parties in tall tower blocks in 2017.

ADAM: (LAUGHS) No. Last time we spoke, I was running the Togetherness Festival of Human Connection, which did involve some sexuality, John, because that is a part of human connection – even for a Scottish Presbyterian like you…

JOHN: It’s the work of The Devil.

ADAM: It wasn’t a sex party. It was a Human Connection Festival…and that was really fun and, actually, I’ve been following that thread for the last three years.

The World Spooning Record at the Wilderness Festival, 2019

Last year, since I saw you, we broke a world record at the Wilderness Festival. We had 1,547 people spooning, to promote healthy…

JOHN: …sex.

ADAM: No. (LAUGHS) It was about non-sexual touch, actually. It’s so good for you. When we met today, I tried to hug you and you gave me a Scottish hug.

JOHN: What is a Scottish hug?

ADAM: It’s not really a hug. It’s like: I feel a bit disgusted, but I feel like I should do this.

JOHN: It was hard for me to say No.

ADAM: This is what I’m into now. I’m teaching a course called Embodied Sovereignty. It’s about knowing What do I want? What do I not want? I want to say No. Why is it hard to say No?

JOHN: Why is it hard to say No?

ADAM: Because we don’t want to upset people and have a bad reaction. We have two fundamental needs – The need for authenticity and the need for attachment.

So, spooning… We had these 1,547 people spooning and why is that important, John?

JOHN: Why?

ADAM: It’s so important, John, because it makes us feel relaxed. I feel sorry for people who have had no-one to hug during this COVID thing. It’s enough to send you mental. There is this thing now called Nordic Cuddling: you can hire someone to come round and cuddle you. 

JOHN: Why Nordic? 

ADAM: (LAUGHS) It makes you think of clean, blond people.

JOHN: I rather like dirty brunette people.

ADAM: I have a friend who was a cage fighter and he is really into all this intimacy work. He told me: “Adam, you know, I now realise why I was doing all the cage fighting was because I really wanted to hug and squeeze people, but I never knew how to ask for it.”

JOHN: I’ve always thought rugby players are sexually highly suspicious.

ADAM: I used to play rugby. I loved it. I loved getting the ball and people trying to take you down. It was somewhere you could actually express the anger and the passion. Normally, you’re not allowed to. It’s like Liza Minelli in Cabaret. You have to go under a bridge and scream when the trains come over.

JOHN: Well, what use is sitting alone in a room?

ADAM: I was a very angry kid.

JOHN: Why?

ADAM: Because of life. My mum was doing all this spiritual stuff and my dad was REALLY mainstream. A professor.

JOHN: Of what?

ADAM: Finance. Oh my god. It was such a weird kind of oil and wine situation. I had zero boundaries with my mum. ZERO. And then my dad would get really pissed-off because I just had no boundaries. They divorced.

JOHN: They were happy with each other?”

ADAM: No. They divorced. They divorced. Of course they did. I was about… John, you’re not my therapist! We are not going there. But, suffice to say, I was an angry kid. How do YOU feel when someone’s being angry near you?

JOHN: Erm… I don’t think I ever really had trouble with bullies at school.

ADAM: Might not be bullies. Might be parental stuff.

I’m big into the Embodiment Movement at the moment and I’m speaking at the Embodiment Conference in October, which is going to be the biggest online conference ever – over 130,000 people have signed up for free. Over 1,000 speakers, including me.

JOHN: Define ‘embodiment’?

ADAM: It’s essentially about noting sensations and feelings in your body and becoming more aware of them. It’s a big deal in Business now. It never used to be, but now it is. In Leadership and Training and all that stuff. If you notice a bit more about what’s going on, you can respond differently in the world.

There was a brilliant psychologist last century called Carl Rogers. He developed the Person-Centred Approach.

With normal psycho-analysis, you’d say: “Ah yes, this is your problem and this is how you will fix it!”

Adam had person-centred coffee with me…

The Person-Centred Approach is: “I’m your buddy and I’m just here to support you and listen to you and, actually, the best person to work it out is you. I’m just going to be here and help you.”

I like to create an environment where people feel they can explore this kind of stuff.

JOHN: Have you seen the movie Joker?

ADAM: Oh! I loved that SO much, John! Oh my God! It’s a warning about what happens when we’re not comfortable with our anger. And I also found it a very moving and beautiful story about someone coming into themselves and their life… taking power in his own life, though in a destructive, dark way.

I think I actually burst out laughing in that scene where he stabs the guy in the head with the scissors. I think I squealed with delight.

JOHN: Why?

ADAM: I just felt really happy that he was (LAUGHS) asserting himself, instead of just being a victim… although I don’t advocate that kind of destructive behaviour.

JOHN: You don’t seem to be an angry person as an adult.

ADAM: I love expressing a bit of anger.

JOHN: Ever have a primal scream like Liza Minelli?

ADAM: No. No. But I like to do a bit of shaking. That’s fun. Give a good shake. Shake your body from the top to the bottom for a good 10 minutes.

JOHN: What? Like Tom Cruise in Cocktail?

ADAM: No. It starts from the hips and knees and works up. Lets loose. Dancing. I love dancing.

JOHN: I never liked dancing. Couldn’t cope with strobe lights. The whole of the 1960s and 1970s were wasted on me.

ADAM: Nowadays it’s all about Hampstead Heath and wearing headphones.

JOHN: So what have you lined up?

ADAM: I’ve been trying to reconcile the various parts of my personality – this sort of wild happy-go-lucky comedian and this really grounded Yeah, I’m into Human Connection guy and I’ve finally got it… I am a Human Connection Coach and comedian. That’s what I’m putting myself out as now. I’ve done a bit of work with Google and Coca Cola and Accenture and some local governments…

JOHN: Doing what?

ADAM: Doing stuff around how to create a culture of togetherness where different people like hanging out with each other; giving people the skills to set boundaries and say No and get on better.

JOHN: This might not work in Glasgow, where they head-butt people to say hello…

ADAM: My friend is a sex therapist up in Glasgow…

JOHN: This doesn’t surprise me.

ADAM: …and he gets very few people coming to him, but they’re really sweet, apparently. Imagine you were in a culture where you can’t talk about something but it’s really important to you and someone tells you: “Oh! This is really normal.” It’s liberating. He does some cuddle parties up there.

JOHN: Celtic cuddle parties?

ADAM: That’s about… JOHN!!!! I haven’t even told you about the House of Togetherness!!!

The House of Togetherness in Covent Garden, in April 2019

JOHN: Tell me.

ADAM: Last year in January (2019) I saw this old yoga studio in Covent Garden which was available for six months and I thought: Fuck it! I’ll take it! and create The House of Togetherness!

So I created a venue in London where people could come together for things like Blindfolded Adventure TimeSpooning Hour… something called Sex ClubSpeak Your Truth… People could come together and have these experiences of how to connect better with ourselves and each other.

We had some very Glaswegian journalists come in for Spooning.

JOHN: Glaswegian journalists?

ADAM: People who don’t find it normal to touch other people.

JOHN: Did you call it House Of Togetherness because the initials are quite good – HOT?

ADAM: No. House of Togetherness because it made sense. I’m doing togetherness…

JOHN: … and it’s in a house. I see…

ADAM: We started in January and had to finish in October because the building was being redeveloped. It was really really good fun, man. I totally burnt myself out as well. It was nuts. I was wasted by the end.

I’ve been rebuilding myself over the last nine months and now I’m developing into the School of Connection: the School of Togetherness, basically. I want to help people learn the skills I think are really important in culture right now. Things like listening with empathy and compassion; speaking your truth; being able to say No; being able to ask for what you want; the relationship between pleasure and direction.

I have two courses running online right now. One is on non-violent communication. It’s about how behind every conflict are un-met needs and, if we can talk about those, then we can resolve things.

As a comedian and human connection coach, I feel like it’s all coming together now.

The mass spooning event organised by Adam Wilder at the Wilderness Festival last year…

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