Posted in Derren Brown News

Posted by Derren Brown News April 27, 2010 at 10:00 am

Derren Brown divides opinion. To some, he is the ultimate modern showman, adapting old fashioned music hall tricks for the digital age. He is one of the few personalities in contemporary broadcasting who creates water-cooler TV – remember the lottery numbers trick? And the Russian roulette? Had us going, didn’t it? To others, though, he is the devil incarnate.

On my way to meet him at Milton Keynes Theatre one early spring afternoon, nagging thoughts gnaw. Will I be strong enough to resist his mental powers? Will a touch of the elbow and a whispered word lead me to empty my bank account into his? Will I conduct the interview with my trousers on my head?

Upon meeting him, there is no protracted handshake, no disarming touch, no snap hypnosis and certainly no warm regards from Beelzebub.

Just a kind introduction, friendly conversation and a relaxed demeanour from a casually dressed, gently balding man as he gets ready to start his evening’s work. A disappointment? Not exactly. A relief? Most certainly. Although, a part of me thinks this could all be part of the act, that he’s sizing me up, ready to spring his trap with a click of the fingers.

Brown has been doing this for roughly 20 years. Still, it appears, he may be as nervous of his quarry as we are of him.“I’m acutely aware that the reasons you choose things like magic or hypnosis are often very ego-driven,” he states flatly and honestly.

“Magic is the shortest route to impressing somebody, that is all it’s really there for, and if you are someone who doesn’t feel very impressive then it is a great way of getting over that.” When Brown discovered hypnosis it opened a doorway to control and let the more outspoken and opinionated aspects of his character into the room.

He has gone from being a velvet suit-wearing Bristolian magician making £300 a gig to an award-winning entertainer – producer of fascinating, alarming and enthralling television – and successful touring phenomenon who earns, well, considerably more than he used to.

He has been able to loosen the chains of terms such as magician, illusionist, hypnotist or mentalist while shedding the baggage of his needy personality, carving out a unique space for himself . Launched into the public eye by the Mind Control series in 2000, he has spent the intervening years playing with perception and courting controversy with grand, ambitious and downright curious spectacles.

He played a game of Russian roulette, re-enacted a séance, predicted the National Lottery and
convinced members of the public to perform a bank heist. How did he do it all? He’s not telling.

“The stuff that makes the job really interesting, the ideas and the methods, have to remain secret,” he admits. “The temptation is then to make up for that with something else, but you soon become a bit ludicrous and hated if you try that.” Now aged 39, Brown openly concedes he often thinks of magic as something childish or “just a bit silly really” but, as much as he would occasionally like to walk away from it all, the opportunity to inspire disbelief in new ways always piques his interest and calls him back from the brink.

“The joys of what I do are sometimes found in the ways we provide one person with an experience that nothing else can replicate,” he says.

Brown is finding that fulfilment ever harder to come by these days. “It’s been an effort to keep the television work feeling enjoyable,” he says, with no hint of deception in his voice. “Everything takes forever to do and you are always up against frustrations, you have a great idea and bit-by-bit it gets eaten away at until you are left with something that is a shadow of the original thought. “It makes sense that things are shrunk down, but it’s not satisfying.”

That, plus the downward trajectory of budgets and a 75 per cent decrease in pay for the filmed series and stunts that brought him to a national audience, have led Brown to shift priorities in 2010.

His attention has flipped from television work to five months touring his latest live show, Enigma. The show has already been nominated for an Olivier award, seen a West End run and three months of performance in 2009, and it is still drawing strong audience numbers across the UK.

The format, the script, the sheer volumes in attendance and the awe-inspiring ending all play to Brown’s strengths as he willingly shines the spotlight on the audience and participants.

“Doing this show is both physically tiring and mentally liberating but I love it. I can change this show to suit, it can evolve and adapt as I perform. There is no one telling me there is no money or that I have to rethink any aspects of it,” he continues.
“This show allows people in without patronising them, while keeping them far enough away so that I don’t cease to be interesting.”

Being playfully mendacious is something Brown has done well over the years. He once joked with a journalist that he learned his card tricks in prison. He did not, but he never corrected the mistake when it was later reported as truth. His Wikipedia page states he is banned from every casino in Britain. He is not. On the last few occasions he has tried to enter one he has been warmly welcomed by owners giddy at the publicity prospects.

In letting the rumours percolate into truth he has let others create the mystery on his behalf, with surprisingly successful outcomes.

When performing at a private party for JK Rowling with the then soon-to-be Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the audience, he was warned by six different groups not to interact, engage with or even hold eye contact with his namesake. “I think the fear was I would get him onstage, which I would never have dreamed of,” he pauses and then grins. Widely.

At a time when politicians are keen to espouse their everyman credentials, they steer clear of Derren Brown as the ambiguous controversy that follows him is off-putting. It suits him well. “Politics is so unpleasant at the moment,” he says. “There is no charisma of any sort and it’s joyless. I have never been interested and could not be any less so at the moment.”

The professional misleader has often kept the curtain drawn on much of his personal life. He has turned down offers to appear on every reality TV series, chatshow and talking head programme. Why? “I think the boring answer to that is management,” muses Brown. “My manager felt very strongly that the best way to launch was slowly, so you focus on the work, not the personality.”

At other times he has chosen to reposition the mirror so his reflection can be seen, something he did most deliberately when he came out as gay.

“Making public a private thing is instinctively something you feel you shouldn’t have to do but I was, and I still am, with someone I love,” he states.

“I felt it was better to be open about my sexuality rather than letting it become a thing that could be made into a story or scandalous bit of gossip.”

As Brown sits in his dressing room preparing for another performance of Enigma, stage clothes hang on a bare rail and unpacked bags sit in a row on the table. The only thing on display is the make-up he will apply before the performance tonight and the steam inhaler he needs to loosen his voice.

In bland dressing rooms such as these, he puts the finishing touches to an autobiography, writes the television specials he will film in the summer and prepares for the airing of three documentaries that investigate paranormal claims. “Although I am sceptical of those things, I went in with an open and enthusiastic mind as I would love the things that are claimed to be true,” he admits, surprisingly.

Added to this are talks to reboot his profile in America with a Broadway show in 2011 as he aims to restart his US career as a live performer, perhaps hoping that TV work will follow. When he escapes all the gruelling commitments, he paints, reads about acting, and attempts to map the art history of London onto a memorised plan of the city. His exhausting schedule gives him little time to enjoy the things or the people he loves but, despite doubts, anxieties and grumbles, one thing is clear. He still loves the moments his magic creates.

“The frustrations and embarrassment I feel when I think I’m just involved in childish, fraudulent nonsense are important,” he states, as the clock ticks towards the start of his stage show

“It feeds creatively into what I do. If you can get some distance from the world you are in then you can push it or maybe even do something amazing and take it someplace new.”

By Andrew Kelham, Big Issue Scotland

April 27, 2010 at 10:13 am

That was a good insightful piece of journalism for a change, even if there was the odd little personal dig that didn’t need to be in it.
It is always interesting to have an idea what Derren is doing next. I cannot wait to read the autobigraphy and to see the 3 documentaries about the paranormal too.
As for the summer show I shall not say a word.

Jamie Penn

April 27, 2010 at 10:17 am
bingo says:

I would have bought the big issue just to read this…I dont need to now.

Msg from Abeo: This was in last weeks publication of the Big Issue (April 19 – 25, 2010). Once they move to the next release the articles from the previous edition go on their website.

April 27, 2010 at 10:20 am
Stephen says:

That reads as a fair and balanced interview. The new book is an autobiography? DB said in the signing queue in Bristol that it would be ‘quite unlike anything that has gone before’, so now I know. I foresee another trip to NYC to attend the Broadway production of a new stage show!

April 27, 2010 at 10:43 am

A lovely candid interview which I thoroughly enjoyed reading at work! 🙂

LC x

April 27, 2010 at 10:57 am
Peter says:

What is left to talk about if we meet? Oh, I will do the talking then ofcourse.

What would i like to know from Derren, something that has not been asked before. Hm, those probably wont get answered by him I guess, for obvious reasons. I will ponder upon that though .. what would I still like to know about Derren Brown … and would that be about his job or about his private self. Or would it be about something in general, stuff going on in the world, his opinion on certain things. Or would it be something to trigger his not so serious self, or the exact opposite of that? So many options in there.

An autobiography … interesting .. (even less questions to ask after reading that one .. although .. reading between the lines (or not) leads to new questions perhaps (which he wont answer)

April 27, 2010 at 11:57 am
Rob says:

Your magic is not childish or silly.
It is entertainment, and could be considered art.
All entertainment could be described as ‘just a bit silly, really’ but it is so important to what makes us human. What about footballers, or Adrian Chiles, or all of the multitude of television personalities (slebs) who contribute very little in real terms?
I love football personally, but I can see that it is just a load of people running around meaninglessly while other people shout.
I also think that Adrian Chiles seems a nice enough guy on the tellybox who presents stuff, and his life and work are not meaningless despite his TV being devoid of real substance (except Working Lunch).
You, on the other hand, have provided great quality entertainment.

April 27, 2010 at 12:05 pm
Rob says:

Your work takes real skill. You have practised extensively to be as skillful as you are. I have but a thousandth of your conjuring ability. Your kindness is a welcome boon in these days of widespread arrogant nastiness. You continue to surprise me with your unflappability and you are never unkind to journalists.
Many jobs seem meaningless when examined too closely. That is why I work in Social Care – it never seems meaningless. However, we cannot all be the same, and a free society has a place for all.
As an entertainer you should be proud. You bring fun and happiness into many lives. Well done. Do not underestimate the importance of entertainment. Never underestimate the respect your fans have for you. Keep up the good work!

April 27, 2010 at 12:45 pm
Rob says:

Having read the rest of the article properly, I realise that you use your frustration as a motivator. Be as frustrated as you like. Keep on innovating. You are right. Like any art, when it feels stale and old, it is no longer inspiring to create or watch.

I love your old stuff, though – my fave was on the Northern Line in London when the guy forgot his stop. “You know when something is on the tip of your tongue…’ brilliant.

Also the voodoo stuff- you really opened my eyes with that. I was young and slightly spiritual before you crushed my illusions with your bludgel of truth.

Can’t do the same thing forever, or you’ll be David Copperfield, appearing inside ever more elaborate constructions with increasing numbers of scantily-dressed women.
Sorry to waffle.

April 27, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Derren, Come to Gatecrasher Birmingham 1st May 2009, you could wear a mask, make-up it’s all dress up there. Bring your partner come and share my birthday (and hopefully) new job and business – for my kids and other people’s kids. I want to do good for my community, the country, the WORLD – I know how to do it now. I don’t want publicity I can get 2 free tickets for you let me know asap cos i’ve got to let them know how many I need for the guestlist. ( One of my mates is going to your show 9in Birmingham) – he’s cool, he’s meeting us at Gatecrasher- don’t believe all you read about this place it helps troubled kids, like I was… He does good for his community, his little piece of England. Don’t believe a word – the youth of today ARE our future without them there is no future……..

April 27, 2010 at 1:27 pm
mike says:

It’s not so much what you do as how you do it with that wonderful sense of humour. Wish you were on telly more.

April 27, 2010 at 1:31 pm

1st May 2010 🙂 mind’s playing tricks on me 🙂

April 27, 2010 at 1:42 pm
roz says:

“shedding the baggage of his needy personality”? hmm, i thought derren was spozed to be the mind reader. anyway, we like his needy personality… 😉

sounds like ya have good management there, derren. (hi, michael!) but as always, be careful what ya wish fer–if ya hate TV in britain, you will REALLY hate it in the US! :/

April 27, 2010 at 2:33 pm
karen says:

Magic, misdirection and showmanship are a fantastic why to entertain. It is truly a privilege to stand/sit in an audience and watch a grown man/woman see something that amazes and astonishes them so much they are often speechless. It gives an adult the briefest glance into their past and allows them for the briefest of time to look at something in the way a small child does for the first time with amazement and wonder. What Derren allows is that childhood innocence that is still buried deep down in all of us to shine though. That is entertainment in its truest form, not the endless tirade of unrealistic soaps, reality T.V shows that just bore us into a zombie like state to buy the goods we don’t need advertised in between them.

April 27, 2010 at 3:45 pm

insightful as usual. must get to see you live !

April 27, 2010 at 5:16 pm
spiderabc1 says:

And a P. Spencer one after. I will get my copy framed which will help me teach my little one. She loves the so called Devils on the Totm covers so I am half way. Chuffed Derren did the Big Issue as I’m now thinking he is an alright guy. Must have been an idea by Coops!

April 27, 2010 at 5:25 pm
Hatster says:

Oh now, NOBODY with the talent and ability to entertain others should ever waste so much as a single minute feeling embarrassed or apologetic about what they do! (Unless it’s penis puppetry, in which case…).

I hope you go down a storm in the States next year, but don’t stay away too long, eh?


April 27, 2010 at 5:49 pm
Andy says:

The bit about a U.S. show has me positively giddy.

April 27, 2010 at 6:51 pm
Rhian says:

Lovely read…… thank you for printing x

April 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm
Rebekah says:

I think you should at lest consider having part of your US performance in Vegas. I t would not hurt you to hit the other half of the country, and if your trying to get in to TV being close to LA- TV-land would be a good thing. Also penn of Penn and teller pointed out In Vegas you can live like a king on an “entertainers salary”

April 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I agree with Andy. I am as excited about Derren’s upcoming stuff as I was the last Harry Potter book

April 29, 2010 at 2:43 am
nigel says:

w@w a gay devil ?

now i know i am not the 1st lol

April 30, 2010 at 9:02 pm
Emily H says:

Well, now we know that the ‘new project’ he has offered to us to take part in are specials that will be filmed in summer! Hm – that means they should be out by autumn… Was surprised about the broadway talk. Maybe that suggests there will not be a uk live show in 2011, which would be a complete shame for me… 🙁 but never mind: this article was very interesting and I hope that mr brown will do very well! 😀

May 1, 2010 at 11:56 pm
Larkspur says:

Ah, I had the feeling it was an autobiography. “My Life in Art”? Ha ha ha.

I’m thrilled to hear that there are talks of a broadway run. Rest assured I will be there with my friends if it happens.

I’ve just read you call magic “the best job in the world.” I suppose I should not be surprised that your view has changed somewhat in the last 10 years, but it makes me so proud that you continue on anyway, using any frustrations to spur your art. I wish we could all have that kind of wisdom and dedication regarding our callings.