Posted in Derren's Posts

Posted by Derren Brown October 20, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Below is the text of an article I wrote for the current Radio Times about Apocalypse – the first episode of which airs this Friday, C4 at 9pm. (It’s a little longer than the published version which was edited down a bit)


IN THIRTEEN years of making shows for Channel 4, I’ve realised there are two things that I enjoy most from the process. Firstly, and this is something I’ve only explored in recent years, the ability to have a profound positive impact on someone’s life. Secondly, there is the physical act of hiding somewhere waiting for an unsuspecting contributor’s day to suddenly become highly surreal. Shifting the focus of the shows from my own posturing to the subject of bringing out someone else’s finest qualities, seems to me to be a welcome aspect of growing up. Magic can be a childish business. The other part – hiding behind a bush waiting to spring a huge practical joke – is hugely exciting but most certainly puerile.

Since January this year I’ve been working on a major project which has only now just been completed. It  combines both of these delights for me, at levels I hadn’t experienced before. Derren Brown: Apocalypse airs across two episodes, starting on October 26th. In it, a young chap called Steven, who by his own admission takes his life for granted, re-discovers how much it means to him. By believing the world has ended.

The Stoic philosophers advise us to regularly rehearse the loss of everything we love. Only that way can we learn to value what we have in life, rather than fixate upon things we don’t. It seems our psychological landscape hasn’t changed much since Seneca was penning advice to his protégés of ancient Rome. Those who study desire keep coming across the same answer: that to master desire, we must learn to want what we already have. We are bombarded daily by overt and covert messages from advertisers, media and peers, conditioning us to hanker after the latest, shiniest, most retinally-screened trinket, or to claim for ourselves our bigger house or faster car or sexier partner. And we may find ourselves anxious and distracted if we don’t find a way of acquiring these things, but more interestingly we only enjoy them for a very short while before reverting back to our former dissatisfied state. This hedonic treadmill keeps us moving forward at whatever level of happiness to which we are pre-disposed, and despite the spikes of momentary glee as some new status symbol comes our way, we don’t really grow any happier. The joy of the car and the house and the phone doesn’t stick around. The way to feel satisfied, and to know that your desires are being truly met, is to hunger after what you have already in your life.

Seneca’s advice, for example, to consider the mortality of your daughter as you kiss her goodnight, may strike us as morbid. But to remind yourself regularly that your loved ones, your home, in fact everything you value might be taken away in an instant, is to value them so much more. The common regret voiced by those who have lost loved ones suddenly – that not enough was said, that the time together was not richly enough enjoyed – these mistakes are made because we rarely consider the impermanence of those relationships before it’s too late. Mentally rehearsing how you would feel if each precious thing was taken away not only makes you value it more, but prepares you for the day it does disappear.

In Apocalypse, a young man who personifies that familiar lazy sense of entitlement to which we are all prone in one way or another, comes to believe that the world is going to end. He has no idea that he is the star of an ambitious television show. We hack into his phone, control his Twitter and news feeds, have his favourite radio DJ and television hosts record special versions of their shows that we can play into his home. After the seed of an impending meteor strike has been planted, we end the world for him on his way to a gig. He passes out and then, seemingly two weeks later, he wakes up, in an abandoned military hospital. The man who took his life and family for granted must now fight to get them back. And he’ll have the lurching hordes of infected to deal with, as the meteor has picked up from its interstellar travels a deadly and highly contagious disease.

What follows is a carefully crafted horror film plot, intricately designed to teach the unwitting Steven valuable lessons. The infected are, of course, hideous embodiments of his former slothful life. The survivors he encounters are created to teach him what he needs to know – about courage, about selflessness, about decisiveness. It’s the Wizard of Oz with zombies. Our survivor-actors, (each wearing a hidden and largely-functional earpiece), were rehearsed for months to deal with every possible eventuality that Steven’s never-entirely predictable behaviour might instigate. Watching from our camouflaged production truck with our team of medics and psychologists, we could direct the players to deal with surprises and keep Seven’s reality vivid and plausible. With over a hundred actors involved, along with nearly sixty meticulously-hidden cameras, two thousand feet of cabling, eight months of very hard work, and an extraordinary amount of money being spent, maintaining a seamless experience for Steven was paramount. The whole thing could be brought crashing down by the slightest thing, such as whatever furry or undead entity ate through our main cable on the first night and left us helpless in the morning.

 Was it worth putting Steven through this to realise his potential? The response to that sensible question depends on two factors: a) the degree of negative emotions that he experienced, and b) the level of change that was brought about. And on balance my answer would be yes. His early application to be part of the show incorporated a series of rigorous interviews with an independent psychiatrist who had to be certain that he was robust enough for what was in store for him.  With our psychiatrist’s reports and the full knowledge and help of Steven’s family we were able to create an experience that was fully tailored to be real for him.   The plot was carefully structured to manage his negative emotions and ensure that a sense of hope was kept alive for him.

 The changes, importantly for me as well as Steven, have to be profound and self-perpetuating. The challenge is to set up new thought-patterns that won’t just grind to a halt after the initial adrenaline of being involved in a TV show has worn off. Sadly, I suspect that may be the case with many participants in seemingly ‘transformational’ television programmes. With Steven, as with Matt from Hero at 30,000 Feet, I have maintained a relationship and continue to ensure that the work was all worth it. Which is, along with the joy of going to such great lengths for one unsuspecting person’s experience, the best part of the job.



October 20, 2012 at 8:58 pm
Jess says:

I am so excited to watch this, it sounds absolutely amazing!

October 20, 2012 at 9:04 pm
Sean says:

So basically you have taken the series “The Walking Dead” and made it someones reality? Hmmmm not an original idea but every XBOX playing geek’s dream scenario…If of course you have provided automatic weapons or at least several sharp objects!!

October 20, 2012 at 9:10 pm
Mark says:

A lasting change. A lucky man to receive a gratuity of this kind from someone like you Derren. A truly special experience. Wherever your brains derive from, that in itself is special. All eyes on you next Friday, and Daniel Craig I guess but you’re the one being broadcast for an hour of our tellybox.Do us proud again., Good luck. x

October 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm
Aisling Thornbury says:

Very excited!

October 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm
Phil says:

This sounds amazing!!!!!!

I love everything Derren has done and can not wait to watch this

October 20, 2012 at 9:12 pm
sarah says:

i love you

October 20, 2012 at 9:13 pm
Lisa berglin says:

Can’t wait , have been to see you on stage and thought you were AMAZING! Looking forward to watching this too, don’t know how you come up with all your fantastic ideas. My dad died suddenly in June of this year, just before turning 70 , so I couldn’t agree more with some of your sentiment in the article above. Thanks for the entertainment Derren x

October 20, 2012 at 9:14 pm
sarah says:

Your a massive insperation to me derren, massive. You help me battle through my shit life. And for that, i thank you……

October 20, 2012 at 9:14 pm
Phanty says:

Inspirational as always. So human of us to have to experience something so extreme to allow us to appreciate ourselves truly. I would more than welcome that chance. Genuinely can’t wait to see the show now!

October 20, 2012 at 9:23 pm
Evie Tansley says:

This sounds amazing! Cant wait to see it 😀 knowing your shows, this wont let me down! terrified of zombies though. lol

October 20, 2012 at 9:25 pm
sarah says:


October 20, 2012 at 9:46 pm
ross collin says:

In 3D?? rc

October 20, 2012 at 9:48 pm
Rea says:

I actually took the photo of that article.. so excited Derren used it in the blog! 🙂

October 20, 2012 at 9:57 pm
Merle Noir says:

Looks fascinating! I hope it’s picked up in Australia soon.

I notice that, again, a male participant was selected, as seems to have been the case with most of the major shows requiring a single participant (Hero, Roulette, Miracles). There is also a seeming bias (a potentially ugly word, but I do not mean it so) towards male participants in other shows. Eg. Three of four final participants in The Heist; three of four episodes of The Experiments; seven of twelve episodes of Trick or Treat.

I’m curious to know why this might be the case. I vaguely recall Derren commenting somewhere about men being more suitable (susceptible?) to his techniques – is this right? Would women really make less suitable subjects? In which case, what shall we poor females do if we want to have our lives changed?
Mind, I’m not engaging in some kind of affirmative action campaign. Definitely not! (It wouldn’t benefit me anyway as, living in Australia, I’m not likely to be selected regardless.)

Just honestly curious. 🙂

October 20, 2012 at 9:58 pm
Derek says:

The first two paragraphs strike me quite a lot because in traveling for my work, I talk to a lot of people about religion and politics – out of sheer interest, not because it has anything to do with my work – and I realize that while I am certainly not free of the temptations of the next shiny new iWhatever, I am much more appreciative of those things I have in my life, i.e. my family, my house etc.

What’s great is that I can do it without the need for superstition in a man made deity.

October 20, 2012 at 10:40 pm
Jake says:

‘Making people appreciate their lives by putting them in a life or death scenario’

Derren… are you the next Jigsaw Killer!?

October 20, 2012 at 10:48 pm
Andrew says:

Brilliant work 🙂

October 20, 2012 at 10:56 pm
Sudohnim says:

So, kinda like an apocalyptic ‘Truman Show’ updated with zombies…?! Sounds cool 🙂

October 20, 2012 at 11:03 pm
Moi says:

What I get from this (and for this I know this message might not make it into the string of praise) is that Steven is all the time fully aware, one way or the other, that this is all for a TV show.

If he isn’t, I believe psychologists themselves cannot predict what his mind will “come up with” after this experience. Experience which might well be similar to what so many have lived in war or other extreme conflict situations.

This program clearly, is generating a lot of work for many people, which is great. The other side of the TV, we the audience, could also do with the clarification that a fellow civilian’s experiences are perfectly understood by him at all times.

Otherwise, if he isn’t or if there is the slightest probability that his wellbeing is at risk, I can’t see how this program is all ok.

For all reality TV, the contract signing process that gives anyone leave to override basic human rights of privacy, etc, seems very wrong. No signature can move those basic laws in my opinion but that’s a biggie topic waaay outta my reach.

I realise this site is to compile praise and positives about the DB team’s work. I also realise my post wont change a thing and that things will continue the same. I still thought there must always be “that one person” or “few persons” that will have alternative takes on the subject. Well, I’m one of those this time round.

I am very grateful for your early work and the very first books you published. I’m gonna brag and say I don’t own a TV and for this reason and the above, will have to give your program a miss.

K’thanks for reading this far. Soz for the bad english and ninja typos. I re-read this twice yet found none…

October 21, 2012 at 12:02 am
agnese says:

can’t wait to watch it. 🙂

October 21, 2012 at 12:46 am
Terry says:

The Stoic idea of practising for the loss of loved ones and possessions has always fascinated me. Every day I think of my loved ones and what I would do if they were taken away from me. It means that far from treasuring them more, I live in constant fear and paralysis, curling up inside in dread.
Sometimes you just have put on a smile 😉

October 21, 2012 at 5:42 am
Adam says:

This sounds great, nice to see you using your powers for good 😉
If you ever decide to do something in Australia I’d love to try out.

October 21, 2012 at 5:45 am
Allison says:

Even more jealous now that I wasn’t picked for this one. It sounds great!

October 21, 2012 at 8:07 am
Honey says:

But will it blend ?

October 21, 2012 at 9:04 am
Fflur says:

Roll on friday. Brilliant article too x

October 21, 2012 at 9:31 am
Jamie Rowson says:

This is gonna be badass, kickass awesome! Can’t wait. CRAP, I’m working late Friday! FML!

October 21, 2012 at 10:39 am
anon_hypn0t1st says:

This is sick, immoral and unethical. How can you justify torture just because you think he has a “familiar lazy sense of entitlement”. How can you say there will be no harm from this trauma when PTSD is a good 10% chance at the best of times with War based Trauma?

October 21, 2012 at 12:17 pm
Thistooshallpass says:

I am ‘so’ looking forward to this show Derren. I have been moaning and groaning about how awful my life is for the last year as someone in the shape of (a new supervisor) was making my life a complete misery and all I could think about is how unhappy I was. I work as a ‘cleaner’ (funny enough) and I have been cleaning for our local Mayor and Councillors for about 8 years. This supervisor is thoroughly ‘nasty’ but I just didn’t want to be bothered doing anything about it. It seemed easier to just ‘put up with the bullying’ .
Then suddenly out of the blue I heard about someone close to me who is dying at a young age. I was mortified but it put my situation into prospective and the nasty supervisor didn’t matter anymore. I went through a complete transformation as I realised it’s just not worth it. My health and my family and friends are the things I take for granted but it needed a good ‘shock’ to bring me to my senses. Last month I made a decision to walk out of my job but luckily enough a union rep got involved and now the supervisor stays away. The question is…why it needs a good ‘shock’ for us to see the ‘good things we have in life’ which is why I’m looking forward to your show.
NB: I live in Southend Derren…wish I could have come to you for a job….I have very good references “ cough cough”. Suex

October 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm
Steven says:

fundamental ethical parameters authenticated by quoting a roman philosopher. rather worrying

October 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm
Steven says:

(continued) [error] rather than worrying about this we have an opportunity to see if a persons life can be changed from this experience. People lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night they are now losing in fear of the day. daytime, nightime.

October 21, 2012 at 2:33 pm
Ben says:

Sounds incredible! I look forward to seeing it broadcast.

October 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm
HiggsBoson says:

The shows sound great with a superb premise.

The world could learn a lot from Seneca. Subject to the current recession Seneca’s advice is probably more prevalent and more needed than ever.

Money can help bring happiness but it is a very difficult balance to achieve, particularly without the appreciation for life that Seneca advises. You can have everything and nothing at the same time.

Time is the most valuable commodity and perhaps with Seneca’s advice it might pass more slowly enabling us to enrich our life with appreciation rather than it passing by quickly through selfish desire.

My relationship with time has always been a paradoxical one when it comes to deciding how to make best use of it. For example, I may have wasted a lot of time deciding how to make best use of it. I have also spent time doing nothing which at the time felt good but later it felt like I had wasted it.

I think I am just rambling now – I had time on my hands and my fingers made best use of it typing this or perhaps once again I have wasted my time.

The funny thing is that you think you have time to spend but actually your time is in a constant state of been spent. (Thinking about time could drive you mad there is probably not enough time to understand it) (I know I am a bit mental)

Time to go.

I really like the premise to these shows though – real positive stuff.

October 21, 2012 at 3:17 pm

I wish this was airing in America! Or at least available on Netflix… 🙁

October 21, 2012 at 5:17 pm
Aaron Rush says:

I’m excited to see this as with all your shows. However, as a huge fan over the last 13 years ,I’m starting to feel there is something lost as we trot too far from the delightful magic which I fell in love with in the first 3 quarters of your career. This is always evident in the stage shows I know, I can truly vouch for that as recently you stuck a needle through my hand in London ! But I look forward to the day when perhaps you will give us a fun fair of the good old stuff. Just a thought.

But as I said, excited as always 🙂


October 21, 2012 at 10:25 pm
Sabina says:

Hmmm philosophical.
Now I’ve read this and heard Derren talk about it on Sunday Brunch this morning I’m looking forward to it so much more.
What a powerful and important message to spread.
I like to play a little mental trick on my self ocasionally and pretend I only have 6 months left to live. I have to take stock of my life and work out what I would really want to be doing with my time if that were the case. It helps gets things in perspective.
Can’t wait for Friday!

October 21, 2012 at 10:52 pm
jw says:

I love you. oh my goodness, i dont know what i’m going to do with myself until friday. I hope it makes me cry as much as hero at 30,000 feet. i love you derren ilyyy * fan girls* omg seriously tho

October 22, 2012 at 12:48 am
Marianne says:

I think you are one of the most interesting people on the planet!

October 22, 2012 at 1:04 am
RC says:

If the majority of us that watch Apocalypse walk away with a greater feeling of contentment then that’s got to be good. It could even help lift the country out of recession. Welldone Derrren and the team. I’m sure it will have the desired effect.

October 22, 2012 at 3:18 am
Lisa says:

Sounds fascinating! Can’t wait to see it.

Side note… It is funny. I watched a few of Derren’s TV shows in 2007. Then, last year, I had a dream about him right before his new shows came out. Same thing happened to me just last night.. Has anyone else experienced this? I am in America, and I watch the shows on Youtube;

October 22, 2012 at 1:16 pm
Claire says:

Thank god for Derren and his curious mind….something decent to watch…at last!!!

October 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm
Annette M says:

A new DB show AND zombies? I am a very happy bunny right now 😀

October 22, 2012 at 8:41 pm
Leanne says:

The world is a better place when you’re on TV Derren! What you do is so special and unique. Wish we all could have the incredible experience of being positively ‘changed’ by you. You’re like a little angel, touching peoples lives and giving them a new lease of life, probably enabling them to lead lives far more fulfilling than they would have done otherwise, and the most beautiful part about it is that you enjoy doing it for them so much, despite the unimaginable amount of work it must take.
Your powers are not of this world Derren. You’re amazing and wonderful and just too cool!
Good luck with the show, it’s sure to be poignant and moving to many, along with leaving a few in tears, as will probably be me. 🙂 xx

October 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm
esther says:

this article made me feel so guilty!! i fell out with my dad this morning and left the house mid-argument. i couldnt see how i was wrong so i just went on at him and now i just wanna tell him I’m sorry! Thankyou for the little wake up call. I need to phone him and tell him im sorry and that i love him, I always forget to tell him that. “/ oh i feel so bad! ..sorry that im venting. For a more relevant comment on the show; i am so exited!! 🙂 thankyou derren x

October 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm
esther says:

P.s i love you Derren

October 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm
Cathy T says:

This is great – it’s so nice to see a man with morals! While I commend you heartily for making a positive impact on Steven, have you ever thought of doing of doing a hypno-therapy CD? With your popularity you could maybe then help a much wider audience.

October 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm
Holly says:

Really looking forward to this! It’ll be interesting to see how Derren manages it, but there surely must be SOME level on which the participant knows that it’s not real? I mean it’s a bit of a coincidence that you apply to appear on the show and then the world just *HAPPENS* to end, right?! ;D

October 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm
alan says:

Like the comments collected here, each individual’s “reality” is different. Yet as far as we know, there is only one reality. So either, only one of those is the real McCoy. Else, none of them are. Hands up whoever thinks that theirs is the real thing, so the rest of us can test it. Because as soon as we prove it isn’t (from the glaring errors contained therein), we can all get on with the business of working together on the reality we do share.

If you wished to be loved, love.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

A heart is not measured by how much you love. But how much you are loved by others.
Wizard of Oz.

October 26, 2012 at 1:27 am
Pwds says:

Pretty excited to see this but I am confused. If he applied to go on the show early as said above then surely Steven knows this will be Derren behind it. I am simply not completely convinced. This guy will totally know.

October 26, 2012 at 8:48 am

Hi Derren

I have been following your work for a while, and would like to thank you for your contribution to the art. I have been performing for a number of years and have found your work inspiring and it has contributed to my growth as a performer. I thoroughly enjoy reading your books and your insights, pity that your words are lost to many performers who would rather find the next killer trick to bludgeon their audience to death with.

If you are ever in South Africa please let the college of magic know.

Feel free to follow me Siekomagic.

Bets regards


October 26, 2012 at 7:49 pm
Kristina says:

Somehow this concept reminds me on “The Truman Show”. But still being excited…

October 26, 2012 at 8:12 pm
DarkmatterInspector says:

Awesome Derren – cant wait !!!! great body of work out there from you, less than one hour to go and im already glancing at clock ever few min to make sure i dont miss it. if its two part – im not going to do anything next week until it comes around to 2nd lol

so big thankyous derren, i still think of the faces of the audience in the deindividualisation experiment and how thats the only show you never got applause at the end for lol i know thats not your only motivator for these projects but they were too shocked to process it when you told them the truth hehe

yeah we should all love what we have and not desire more – but thats the world we created for ourselves and only we can change that – would only take boycoting voting or against a specific shop chain to break those advertising chains on our minds.

Keep up the good work Derren, you brilliantly devious bastard 😉

October 26, 2012 at 10:10 pm
Eyes wide open says:

Sounds like we the general public are the the test rats not the the guy in the show who is quite clearly part of this brainwashing conditioning attempt the sad thing is most of the real zombies will lap it up wake up people!!!!!!!!!

October 27, 2012 at 1:56 pm
Don says:

Wow, that was spectacular. The guy was genuinely terrified at times. And to get to Wales he has to take the yellow rout. Wizard of Oz indeed.

October 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm
Blake says:

This was, in my humble opinion, the best thing you’ve ever done. I’ve been a fan since your first Channel 4 show, always thinking your shows are the best thing on TV, but this significantly raised the already-very-high bar!
Cannot wait for part 2.
(PS. I would totally be ok with Derren subjecting me to an experience like this. Just don’t watch me all the time with your hidden cameras because I wank a lot.)