Andy Puddicombe, 48, spent a decade as a Buddhist monk in Himalayan monasteries before co-founding Headspace, a £230m meditation app. Several tragedies in his student years drove him to “drop out of university and seek answers in the mountains of Asia”, says Paul Kirkley in Waitrose Weekend. Raised in Bristol, Puddicombe saw a drunk driver plough into a group of his friends, killing two of them. His stepsister died in a cycling accident a few months later, then his ex-girlfriend died in surgery.
Yet the monastic life, with up to 18 hours of meditation a day, wasn’t the escape he hoped for. He realised: “Now I’m just sat with my thoughts, without any distractions.” What the monasteries did offer, however, was the time and space to come to terms with loss.
After a brief stint in the Moscow State Circus, he went into business with “advertising high-flyer” Richard Pierson. Headspace has become such a success in “today’s hyper-accelerated world” that it’s releasing a series of videos on Netflix. More than 65 million people use the app alone. Meditation is more than “sitting on the floor with our eyes closed”, Puddicombe says – it also helped him cope with a diagnosis of testicular cancer in 2013, which he appears to have beaten. He has two young sons, so his Zen-like calm is under pressure daily: “If they want to really test monks and nuns, they should just send in some toddlers!”