Derren who? Doug Segal messing with minds in Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 08:58 01 February 2012
Doug Segal knows what you're thinking and what's more he's about to prove it. The mentalist magic man is heading to Norwich for a show guaranteed to blow your mind. STACIA BRIGGS spoke to the man who loves messing with your head.
He’s a self-confessed liar and cheat, but you’re going to find yourself loving him regardless.
Doug Segal’s unique blend of mind tricks and humour has made him a runaway success on the entertainment circuit, with sell-out tours and stints at the Edinburgh Festival under his belt.
With a show that sees the audience taking centre-stage and learning mind-reading tricks of their own, Doug gently teaches members of the public how to implant subliminal suggestions, detect lies, read minds and predict the National Lottery. Predict the National Lottery? Really?
“There’s nothing psychic or spooky about what I do. I’m not some kind of wizard, I’m just using a whole lot of tricks and techniques I’ve picked up from my studies in psychology and a career in advertising,” said Doug, who also performs as a stand-up comedian.
“I’m not a magician or a hypnotist, what I do is all achieved through the application of psychological principles, suggestion techniques, misdirection, understanding the human mind and, of course, a bit of cheating and lying!”
On the back of last year’s spectacularly successful I Know What You’re Thinking tour, which was ranked a top ten show (from a staggering 2,563) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by The Guardian and picked up a clutch of coveted four and five star reviews, Doug will be appearing at the UEA on February 1.
Appearing on a bill which also includes hypnotist Wayne Goodman, Doug will be teaching the Norwich audience how to read minds for themselves and will send them home with a clever trick to play on friends and family.
“It took me a while to pack away my ego so that I could let the audience be the stars of the show,” he laughed, “but it’s fabulous when someone from the audience manages to do something they never dreamt they’d be able to do,” he said.
Recently signed to agent Mick Perrin, who represents artistes such as Eddie Izzard and comedian Ross Noble, Doug’s career as a mind reader stems from his university studies and former role in advertising.
Having studied for a psychology degree in London and then a Phd at Cambridge University, Doug picked up a few “party pieces” which he admits he used “to win drinks in pubs and impress women”.
A stellar career in advertising saw him rise through the ranks to board director of one of the UK’s biggest advertising agencies with a list of well-known international companies as clients.
“In my job, I learned a lot more about statistics and probability and the way people think and react to things and I started to incorporate it into client lunches as a way to alleviate the boredom,” he said.
“I was running an account for a major German automotive manufacturer — which narrows down who it might be to a couple! — and was asked to present a sales conference in Munich.
“When I think back to what I did, I cringe, but it went down well and, with a degree of hubris, I decided to book two weeks at the Barons Court Theatre in London and put on a show.
“Unbelievably, it went really well and it sold out. I got some great press and one of the lines, which I admit I still use today, was ‘imagine if Derren Brown was funny…’.”
The show, in 2004, was actually seen by Mr Brown, who crept in wearing a flat cap and raincoat and sat amidst the audience. Doug was only sorry that he didn’t catch the ball thrown into the audience to pick participants in the show.
“I had my line all ready: he’d have picked it up, I’d have asked his name and then said: ‘well, Darren, if you could just throw the ball to someone else…” laughed Doug.
Corporate bookings followed and, even more excitingly, the show was seen by a BBC producer who booked Doug for a New Year’s Eve programme watched by a staggering 9.5 million people.
“I did two ten-minute slots before and after the chimes,” said Doug.
“I think that if I’d had any real idea of what I was doing, I wouldn’t have been able to do it! As it was, I didn’t even rehearse. The very idea of doing something that big without rehearsing makes me feel quite sick now!”
With success knocking at his door, Doug decided to ditch the day job.
The sale of his flat in London meant that he could pay off most of his mortgage on his home on the Norfolk/Suffolk border (“if you ask the Post Office, I live in Norfolk. If you ask Mid Suffolk Council, I live in Suffolk. It’s a bit confusing, even if you live here!”) and concentrate on his new career.
“I’d had enough of my job and I realised that if I quit, I could do something I really enjoyed doing and have a better quality of life,” he said.
“In reality, I’m actually working so much that I had to actually give myself some permission to have fun at Christmas after doing 26 gigs in 20 days, but I absolutely love it. I love being on stage and I love meeting the audience every time I’m there.”
With relatively few mentalists on the circuit, comparisons with Derren Brown are inevitable.
“If I’m interviewed, it’s only a matter of time before his name is mentioned,” said Doug.
“I think in the very early days, I was a bit of a ‘me-too-Derren’ but since then, I’ve worked incredibly hard to put a lot of blue water between me and him.
“My show is all about fun, about empowering the audience and having a laugh while we’re doing it, whereas his is about effect, theatre and a slightly dark undertone. He’s far more intense than I am and although I hugely admire his showmanship, we are very, very different.
“I’ve met Derren a few times and he’s a nice chap, although there’s a definite difference between ‘TV Derren’ and ‘real-life Derren’. He’s famous now, and I’m not sure that I’d want that kind of fame.
“I’m happy if I’m famous enough to sell the tickets for my show. The kind of fame that Derren has is more ‘celebrity’ than fame, and celebrity means that you don’t have any kind of private life of you own: you’re owned by the people that love you.”
Doug says that people often ask him how his abilities as a mind reader translate to real life and whether or not he finds it difficult to ‘switch off’ when he isn’t performing on stage.
“Basically, what people really want to know is whether or not I use my powers for evil!” he laughed.
“What you have to remember is that when I’m on stage, I am completely controlling the environment which means that it’s far easier for me to manipulate situations.
“You can’t have that much control over real life although I do find that because people know part of my show is about how to tell when someone is lying, they tend to over-compensate by over-sharing and telling me far more than I need to know!
“I use little tricks, I suppose: I tend to get very good deals in shops and if I really need someone to like me, I can generally make that happen, but I don’t spend my life playing mind games or I’d go completely mad.
“That said, I probably do know what you’re thinking…”
■ Mind Bending with Doug Segal and Wayne Goodman, UEA, February 1, £6, 01603 508050, www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk
The only thing I’m certain of is I’ve just seen a masterclass in mentalism – or is that what this region’s answer to Derren Brown wants me to think?
Either way, Doug’s use of his psychology and advertising background to – in his own words – abuse hard science in the name of entertainment is guaranteed to leave Audiences gasping.
He’s already amazed my colleagues Claire Walker and Jamie Versey, who volunteered to help Doug show off his skills. Handing Claire a stack of photos of male and female celebrities, he asks her to turn them upside down, mix them, then give half of them - still face down – to Jamie who mixes them so more.
Doug then tells them to split the cards into two piles, men and women, without looking.
Improbably they find they’ve done so correctly - a one in 800,000 chance.
Next is a three phase routine involving Jamie hiding a rook chess piece in his hand and Doug guessing which one it’s in. “I normally look to see what hand they wear their watch on to see if they’re right or left-handed,” he admits.
Upping the ante, Jamie takes the rook, knight and bishop, with Doug guessing which piece he’s holding in which hand. But he’s not done there.
Since starting the routine an empty glass and sealed envelope has sat on the table. “If I’ve judged him correctly,” smiles Doug, “he’ll make the choices I want him to make and reach the conclusion in the envelope.”
Sure enough, Jamie puts the rook in the glass, keeps the knight and gives Doug the bishop.
Even now I’m still in the dark about the number trick he pulled on me involving an imaginary fruit machine.
“What you really need to ask is how early I started planning that,” he teases.