Derren Brown – Confessions of a Conjuror Extract

“I loathed myself again. My heart pounded beneath my stupid blousy gay shirt, and as ever, I found it absurd that I had done this a thousand times yet still battled with the same weary desire to be veiled in the shadows of a corner, to keep out of everyone’s way and let them enjoy themselves in peace.

I was conscious that the grey eyes of the French barman, who had now seen me emerge from the disabled toilet three times in the last fifteen minutes, were resting on me with an appropriately mixed signal of curiosity, admonishment and condescension.

This glance, on reflection, may have simply been the natural look of a Frenchman abroad, but it struck me at the time as a recognition of my ludicrously transparent capacity for procrastination, and my self-hatred ratcheted up another notch, making it even more difficult to shake myself from the immobilising stupor.

For all he knows, I have to prepare mentally and take time to choose my spectators with care and precision. So with a serious expression I surveyed the restaurant for the hundredth time and flipped over the deck of cards in my hand.
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Derren Brown Interviews: The Guardian and The Times

The Guardian:

Derren Brown: ‘I’m being honest about my dishonesty’

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book by Derren Brown, but it certainly wasn’t the great waves of self-loathing that roll out of its pages. Opening with the line, “I loathed myself again,” Confessions of a Conjuror expands into a merciless prosecution of the author’s shortcomings – “my own excruciating personality as a young magician,” the occasional “revolting burst of intellectual smugness”, and his “hateful” failure to sparkle socially in the presence of larger personalities. He recalls taking stock of himself at 30, and finding himself “full of nonsense, preposterous in many ways”. To this day, he admits that something as simple as mislaying a pen in his “monstrous London uber-pad” can trigger a whole new wave of furious self-hatred.

Brown is also, his book 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 spent his teenage years sniffing loudly and violently, bound by a self-imposed injunction to avoid the top step of any flight of stairs, and recalls experiencing the irresistible urge, while learning to drive at 18, to “close my eyes for as long as I could get away with it”. At 39, the problem is now pretty much under control, confined to just the one tic – an occasional urge to nod his head repeatedly – although lately he has noticed that, when no one is looking, he likes to swipe a credit card down the crack in lift doors.

The author doesn’t sound at all like the coolly omnipotent, slightly cocky character we have grown used to. For a decade now, Brown has been entertaining audiences with a blend of hypnotism, magic, illusion, mind games and elaborately ambitious stunts. In 2003 he memorably appeared to play russian roulette on live TV, and last year caused even more consternation by appearing to guess the winning lottery numbers. Critics call him a fraud – an old-fashioned illusionist masquerading as a master of psychology, who passes off trickery as mind reading – but the televised stunts attract viewers in their millions, while his live stage shows sell out nationwide to fans thrilled by the audacity of his intrigue.

So I wonder which Brown I’m about to meet when I arrive at his central London apartment. The answer, it turns out, is neither of them.

The man who opens the door doesn’t even look like Derren Brown. He is much more casually scruffy and unremarkable than his stage persona – less ginger, less theatrical, less pointy-looking – with the innocuous sort of face that blends effortlessly into crowds. But there is no trace of the self-loathing oddball either; on the contrary, he seems like someone unusually at ease with himself, light-footed and comfortable, quick to laugh and instantly likable, to all appearances blithely untroubled by anything.

“I don’t play up to that guy off the TV,” he readily agrees, “because I wouldn’t particularly want to meet him in real life. That rather controlling sort of thing – I don’t think that’s a nice way of being with people, so I never for a second want to be that person. I think it’s important to be sort of nice.” He’s not very nice about himself, though, I say – not in his book, anyway. To my surprise, he looks taken aback.
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