Entering the world of your favourite book or film

James Bond actor Daniel Craig Image copyright Adam Berry
Image caption Fans of the James Bond movie can pay to pretend they are the famous fictional spy

You have seen the film and read the book, but somehow it is not enough.

Whether you are hooked on horror movies, transfixed by period dramas, or obsessed with spy thrillers, for some people being part of the action is the ultimate dream.

They want to be able to feel that they have entered that fictional universe.

For the cynical it may sound like a very niche desire, but a global industry has in fact built up in recent years to enable a growing number of people to spend an evening, day, weekend, or even a whole week immersed in the world of their favourite film or book.

One such "immersive experience" company, London-based Secret Me, enables people to pretend that they are James Bond.

Image copyright Greg Funnell
Image caption Secret Me's customers have been whisked to various locations by helicopter

Participants can sign up for a week to be flown to secret locations across the UK and around the world, where they are taught by former members of both UK special forces and intelligence services.

"The standard programme includes unarmed combat, weapons, surveillance, kidnap and hostage negotiation, and drinks and poisons," says Secret Me co-founder Sara Fazlali.

But costing £10,000 for a weekend, and a whopping £250,000 for a week, is Secret Me merely offering expensive mini-breaks for oligarchs and hedge fund managers with egos to sate and unlimited piles of money to spend? Ms Fazlali bristles at the suggestion.

Image copyright Peter Macdiarmid
Image caption Secret Me also teaches its customers how to use a gun

"It's very practical," she says. "Underlying it is the psychology of what kind of person you are, how you think, and vitally, how you react.

"They can be applied in lots of business situations, especially in the boardroom when negotiations are conducted in pressured environments. We also teach poker skills for this reason."

Yet despite the useful skills that Secret Me's 50 to 60 customers per year learn, Ms Fazlali admits that the exclusivity is also a big draw.

"They can immerse themselves in a world that no-one else can have. They can have all the cars, the yachts, the watches in the world, but this experience is unique."

'Beauty and elegance'

Kinder on the pocket, but no less immersive, are the Regency-themed events staged by the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, in the west of England.

Image copyright Owen Benson
Image caption The Jane Austen Festival's summer ball has a strict Regency period dress code

On a bright, balmy summer's day, 150 sprightly dancers adhering to a strict dress code skipped and bounced their way through the cotillions and reels that were the height of fashion in 1811, the year in which Austen's Sense and Sensibility was published.

It was the night of the annual summer ball, and one of those in attendance was Kristina Tanasichuk, who together with her daughter Kalyna White, had flown over from the US to indulge their passion for Austen.

Image caption Kristina Tanasichuk and Kalyna White crossed the Atlantic to attend the Jane Austen ball

Resplendent in a high-waisted dress with suitably demure earrings, Kristina says: "We've come to see the places we've read about, and to experience some of the beauty and elegance of the period.

"Wearing the right clothes and doing the correct dances is all part of this."

For sisters Claire and Rhonda Harris from Birmingham, the pre-ball preparations are all important.

Image copyright Owen Benson
Image caption Claire and Rhonda Harris start their preparations for the ball months in advance

"We spend the winter deciding on clothes, adornments and fans," says Claire.

Rhonda adds: "We make our dresses and spend hours thinking about the material and where we can get the patterns from."

Tickets for the ball cost £58.50.

'Very strong bonds'

London-based Secret Cinema is another business that enables people to immerse themselves in their favourite fictional world.

Its film screenings are whole evening affairs incorporating dressing up, recreating scenes from the film, and above all, audience participation.

Image copyright
Image caption Secret Cinema's Dirty Dancing screening included professional dancers

About 30,000 people attended its Dirty Dancing event in July, held over six evenings in a north London park.

Decorated to look like the film's Kellerman's resort in Catskills, New York, guests indulged in dance classes, hula hoop competitions and crazy golf.

Secret Cinema's events sell out in hours, and Miguel Hernando Torres Umba, its associate creative director, says that the success is down to attention to detail.

"The work starts months in advance," he says. "For Dirty Dancing we created an entire pre-narrative with an interactive website.

"Within that there's a radio station and guests sign up, are given a new identity and location and can get in touch with each other in character."

Secret Cinema events typically start at around £65 per ticket, which has attracted criticism. On top of the initial price guests are also charged for food, drinks and some activities.

Image copyright Mike Massaro
Image caption Viewers dress as hospital patients at Secret Cinema's showing of 28 Days Later

Mr Torres Umba says that the complaints are unfair, and that the prices reflect the work that goes into the events.

"They're five-hour shows with professional sound and lighting and hundreds of actors and technicians. The pricing is similar to a West End show, and we're comfortable with that."

But why do a growing number of people wish to immerse themselves in one of their favourite books or films?

"The biggest factor is empathy," says Patrick Fagan, a consumer psychologist.

"The brain has mirror neurons - if you see someone is in pain, you don't actually feel it yourself, but your brain acts as though it does.

"This happens in a similar way when we're watching a film, and people feel very strong bonds with what's happening on the screen."

He adds that nostalgia also plays a part.

"People experience films as children, and they feel very strongly about them, often developing emotional attachments and memories associated with that film."

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