20 things you didn’t know about Derren Brown
PUBLISHED: 16:06 11 April 2011
Mind reader, mentalist, conjurer and lottery ball predictor extraordinaire, Derren Brown brings his latest stage show Svengali to the Theatre Royal next week. As he prepares to baffle, amaze and bamboozle, SIMON PARKIN finds out 20 things you didn’t know about him.
1. Derren Brown studied law and German at Bristol University, where he first took to the stage as ‘Darren V Brown’. The V stands for Victor.
2. In the 1990s when he worked as a performing magician in a restaurant. “Which is an absolutely excruciating job. You’re going up to a group of people at the table who are happily eating, and going ‘I’m the magician!’. I mean, you couldn’t sound like more of a w*****. And you’ve got to do it 50 times a night.”
3. He was once an evangelical Christian but is now an atheist. He does not believe that psychics can contact the dead, read fortunes or predict the future.
4. His parents were unruffled by his decision to eschew a career in international law for one in show business. “My mum said, “Oh, that sounds much more fun.” It was enough to make me think, “Maybe I should reconsider”.”
5. The man we have to thank for his decision is Jerry Sadowitz. They first met in a magic shop in London and after swapping tricks soon became pals, with Sadowitz helping Brown get his first lecture gig for magicians and recommending him to production companies.
6. By Derren’s own account, before he became famous he used to be an awful show-off. “In my twenties, I just had to be the centre of attention all the time. I was quite eccentric.”
7. In his latest book Confessions of a Conjurer, he reveals, prone to a strange affliction of tics, rituals and other patterns of obsessive behaviour, which began in childhood with a compulsion to knock his knees together, and didn’t end there. He recalls experiencing the irresistible urge, while learning to drive, to “close my eyes for as long as I could get away with it”.
8. Fellow magician Andy Nyman has been his writing partner for several years, having co-created the likes of Russian Roulette and Seance. You may have seen Nyman being disembowelled and decapitated during Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set, while playing the outspoken telly producer Patrick.
9. It was Nyman who was first approached by Channel 4, but he turned the gig down. “Derren was a far better choice than me,” he said, “because he’s a genuinely odd bloke.”
10. Derren doesn’t view magic as an art form, saying the job of a performing magician is “after all, just tricks”. “Magic has both feet planted in cheap vaudeville and childish posturing; in dishonesty and therefore not in art. The magician cheats and this truth runs cold through the craft’s bloodless veins.”
11. He claims to be flattered that Kenny Craig, the magic act in Little Britain (‘look into the eyes, not around the eyes’) might be based on him, considering Kenny to be better looking than himself.
12. Although there’s never any question that his helpers on the TV shows are plants, he often becomes friends with those he has tortured. The guy who loaded the gun in Russian Roulette once accompanied Brown to a premiere film screening to the suspicion of onlookers.
13. He thinks David Blaine made TV magic cool again. “He changed it all. What he brought was that documentary feel, that raw edge. More importantly, he put the focus on the audience’s experiences. All the vox pops, the people freaking out and running away — that became what the show was about.”
14. He admits ordinary people can feel strange around him thinking he’s reading their minds. “I don’t do it; I’m not controlling or menacing. But I’ve got a good friend who was convinced I was playing funny little mind games. I thought, I wonder if that happens often.”
15. Having been the proud owner of a parrot called Figaro, Derren is a patron of the National Parrot Sanctuary.
16. His favourite of his television shows is The Heist, in which, via covert suggestion, he persuaded three previously law-abiding citizens to rob a security van. “You just have to change, bit by bit, what they want rather than tell them something that’s going to really jar with their values. I enjoyed it.”
17. Science writer Simon Singh famously accused him of dishonesty by overselling his psychological powers when he first started out, and Derren concedes that Singh might have had a point.
18. Derren is also an accomplished artist specialising in caricatured portraiture and has published a collection of his work entitled Portraits.
19. Derren’s bid to predict the National Lottery winning numbers was his highest profile TV event to date. However he regards a follow-up purporting to show how he did it as his worst show, saying “it was a bit rubbish really”.
20. On his last visit to Norwich, Derren fell in love with Plantation Gardens off Earlham Road. “Whilst we had the day free yesterday, I found myself in another favourite find of the tour: a glorious, secret Victorian plantation garden, created in the mid 1800s by the owner of a ‘Furnishing Establishment’ called Henry Trevor,” he wrote on his blog. “The garden, is, quite simply, stunning. There are leafy walkways, a bridge, and a great, grand, Victorian water-feature. It’s a secret find.”
n Derren Brown: Svengali is at Norwich Theatre Royal from April 11-16, returns only, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
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