This true crime podcast says everything about classic manipulators

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A new true-life podcast about a serial conman promises to mess with your head and your heart

We’ve all come across manipulative people in life – but a fascinating new podcast brings the art form (if it can be called that) to a whole new level. 

Who the Hell is Hamish? is a beautifully crafted eight-part series produced by reporter Greg Bearup, of The Australian newspaper.

It tells the story of Hamish McLaren, a one-time surfer from Sydney who became one of the most prolific serial fraudsters of a modern age.

Over a series of decades, Watson conned people all over the world out of millions of dollars, using only his charm and powers of conviction. 

Watson, who often went by aliases, was said by those who knew him to be a great conversationalist and bon vivant

His victims were often women, and he typically targeted them at vulnerable points in their lives. One was suffering from self-esteem issues after a tough divorce, and another was a teenager who was struggling with the death of her sister. 

As reporter Bearup points out, it took the bravery of these women and many others to make the podcast in the first place: they were willing to come forward and share their experiences.

Australian fashion designer Lisa Ho and models
Australian fashion designer Lisa Ho (front centre) was one of Watson’s victims

The witness accounts, including that of fashion designer Lisa Ho, make for gripping and painful listening. 

McLaren used a Ponzi-style pyramid scheme to lure his victims in, and relied on their embarrassment and shame to avoid detection for so long. 

A seasoned operator, he would shower his female targets in love and attention. They would describe the feeling of really being listened to and understood. 

He was also a great storyteller, who would spin outlandish tales about his own past to generate sympathy and respect. Then, slowly, the realisation would dawn that he was not at all what he appeared to be.

By then, though, it was too late. McLaren, who is finally awaiting trail, reaped a trail of destruction in his wake. He took away live savings, livelihoods and the most fragile instinct of all: trust. 

Psychological experts later grilled on his behaviour describe it as that of psychopath: highly charming, and lacking in any kind of empathy. 

As the podcast shows, it can be natural to blame yourself after you’ve fallen for a fraud scheme. Yet the string of eerily similar stories is evidence of quite how subtle, and toxic, the process can be.

We all assume we’re wise and clued-up. But the clear message of Who the Hell is Hamish? is that we could all be that man or woman being duped.

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.