Posted in Derren Brown News

Posted by Derren Brown News April 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Radio Times
23 April 2011

Interviewing a man who mystifies and manipulates for a living, you are, naturally, primed for a challenge, prepared for the tricks and techniques of evasion and suggestion that have made Derren Brown a household name. From his first TV outings over a decade ago, in which he demonstrated his skills for slight-of-hand magic and psychological manipulation, to more elaborate productions such as those in which he played Russian roulette live on TV and predicated winning lottery numbers, Brown has entertainingly demonstrated how people can be read and influenced, persuaded to believe in ghosts and conditioned to do anything from choosing a desired card to committing armed robbery. So I’m ready for any sneaky strategy.

“I waffle massively, by the way, and I apologise”, he says politely, pouring peppermint tea. Oh, he’s good. But he’s going to have to do better than that sweetness-and-light act to get around me.

The nice guy stuff, however, turns out to be no act. Brown totally confounds expectation. There isn’t a sign of the uber-assertive performer who commands thousand-strong audiences at his live shows and bends individuals to his will on TV.

“I’m that guy while I’m performing, and I wouldn’t necessarily want to know him,” Brown says. “It’s a controlling thing on stage – you’re directing the action, getting people to play their role. In real life, I take being kind and nice seriously, so the last thing I’d ever want to be is that weird, controlling, manipulative character.”

So he doesn’t employ his techniques to win arguments, to get his own way and generally make people do what he wants?

“I’m probably more persuasive that the next person if I want to be, but do I want to be? In my head, I just don’t go there. If you’re a comedian, it’s a bit of a choice whether or not you want to be funny when you’re not performing because it might feel disingenuous. In the same way, I don’t show people magic tricks in social situations any more. At my age, it’s a childish route to impressing people and to need to do that is a sad thing.”

This sweet diffidence may be strategic – the ultimate misdirection from the master manipulator – but Brown appears sincere. He describes his younger self as something of a loner and precocious child who was part of the not-very-cool crowd. “My dad was a swimming teacher at the school I went to. I wasn’t sporty and that was a bit tricky, I suppose.” That he describes his stage persona as weird is intriguing.

What inspired him to become a performer?

“I had a natural aptitude for wanting to be the centre of attention and a definite skill for annoying people. In my first year at university [he studied law and German at Bristol], I saw a hypnotist perform and decided I wanted to do that. I was never at ease in conversations until I was doing magic tricks and if you don’t feel impressive in yourself, you can do these things that make people say you’re amazing. Performing took care of that obnoxious social urge, that neediness, and put it into a valid outlet.”

His latest manifestation is Channel 4’s Derren Brown: Miracles for Sale. In it, he trains a member of the public to become a faith healer before travelling with them to Texas in order to debunk what he calls a “disturbing, exploitative, disgusting scam”. By coaching an amateur in the techniques of suggestion and manipulation employed by those who claim to heal everything from arthritis to Aids – frequently contingent on a hefty donation – brown exposes their venality.

As fascinating as Miracles for Sale is – and it is, as grim testaments to greed usually are – the programme is as interesting for what is says about Brown. It’s a world away from sleight of hand and grand stunts, a foray into Louis Theroux territory. “Over the years, I’ve entirely grown out of the urge that got me into magic. I’ve pulled it into areas that I think are more grown-up and worthwhile, into areas that aren’t about me going “Ta-dah! Aren’t I amazing!”

Has he ever thought about giving up doing magic? “I think I would happily do the stage show and paint [a talented artist and illustrator, Brown used to submit his work to magazines – Radio Times included – before his career in magic took off]. The stage shows are a delight – I like touring and putting on a good show with my friends – but I don’t enjoy the process of making TV. I never got stressed until I started making television.”

Brown’s interest in faith healing is made more interesting still by the fact that he was once an evangelical Christian – although he emphasises that debunking faith healing is about exposing scams rather than attacking religion. Inspired to attend Sunday school by a favourite teacher, it wasn’t until his teens that he realised that not everyone was a Christian.

“As soon as I got into hypnosis in my first year at university, my Christian friends’ hackles went up and they talked about how I was ushering in the devil. I felt that if that was the insight and questioning going on, I didn’t want to be a part of it. I read theology books and tried to undo all the pat answers I had for things, expecting to rebuild [my faith], but the rebuilding never happened. The first time I said to someone that I didn’t believe in God, I felt a guilty rush but apart from that, it was liberating.”

Given that he’s gay, something that’s still viewed with extreme intolerance by some evangelical Christians, Brown’s faith is itself even more intriguing. “It was convenient way of getting around not quite embracing the whole gay thing,” he concedes. Extraordinarily, he even got involved in the fringe evangelical Living Waters movement, which tries to turn gay people straight. “More interesting than ‘Read your Bible and all your problems will go away’, it had a bit of depth and psychology to it, but it was just based on a false premise.”

This wasn’t the only way that Brown sought to avoid being gay. “I wasn’t denying it in myself by I had built up quite an austere, eccentric persona – I used to wear a cape, have long hair, that sort of thing. That’s an easy thing to do if you’re not relaxed about the whole sex thing. But when I got to my early 30s I realised that it wasn’t going to go away and I didn’t want to be that weird old man in the corner of the restaurant with the fedora, the big rings and cravat.”

Now, at 40, Brown is blissfully happy in a relationship. His eyes light up when he talks of his partner.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about me and working on what I wanted to be before I came into a relationship. In some ways, it’s bad because you come into relationship quite late without a lot of experience and you have a lot to learn. But that can also be exciting. Certainly, it’s lovely to have somebody love you and it’s lovely to love someone else.”

No longer projecting an austere persona, feeding a neediness through performing, or avoiding himself via a variety of means, Brown is great company and entirely at ease with the world. After much cajoling, he reluctantly concedes he may be “a joyful sceptic”.

“I’m definitely not a cynic,” he smiles. “Atheism gets seen as joyless and aggressive, as if not believing in fairies somehow makes you a misery. There’s a Douglas Adams quote: ‘Isn’t it enough to see that the garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?’ If you start talking sceptically and say that you don’t believe in ghosts or God, people go, ‘So you think we just live and die and that’s it?’, but I have a problem with that word ‘just’. How does ‘just’ come into that? There is so much that is so extraordinary about life.”

Pick A Card…
Brown’s Master Magicians:

Chan Canasta: “A Polish psycho-magician in the 1950s and 1960s, he was a real inspiration.”

David Berglas: “He had an illustrious, industrious career from the late 1940s on, and last had a series on Channel 4 in the 1980s.”

Teller: “Though I admire Penn and teller as a duo, Teller and I share a lot of thoughts about magic. I’ve learnt a lot from him – some of the things he does are heartbreakingly beautiful.”

April 19, 2011 at 8:05 pm
Lewis says:

This is one of the best interviews I’ve read on Derren! 🙂

April 19, 2011 at 8:13 pm

I read this when I bought the RT today and thought it a really lovely interview. Most enjoyable. 🙂

LC x

April 19, 2011 at 8:17 pm
MJPacino says:

Wearing a cape? That’s nearly unforgivable.

April 19, 2011 at 8:21 pm
haighy721987 says:

Great reading, bring on the program
Saw him live in bradford, a man described him as BRAIN FIX@ING HIM lol
A real inspiration and a very witty man

April 19, 2011 at 8:32 pm
Rachael says:

what a lovely article 🙂

April 19, 2011 at 8:58 pm
Katy says:

Great article and currently reading Tricks of the Mind..only recently discovered that I am quite fascinated by Mr Brown and after seeing him in Norwich on Friday I find myself walking around constantly wondering “how did he do that….” the mind boggles!

April 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm
Berber Anna says:

I certainly hope that all men with long hair and a tendency to wear capes aren’t doing it because they’re really gay, as that kind of describes my type. Well, the cape is optional, but the long hair is sort of mandatory. Good thing I hang out with the LARPer crowd… 😛

On a more serious note, though, I don’t get why interviewers always seem to be surprised that a performer actually has a stage persona seperate to their own personality. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a parent who occassionally performs (she’s a poet who reads in public from time to time), but I’ve never considered this to be anything surprising. Not everyone does it — some members of bands I used to listen to seemed to be the same off-stage as on stage — but it’s definitely not uncommon.

April 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm
Mark says:

This is what I live for. Everything Derren brown 😉

April 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm

I love Derren Brown! He has completely opened my eyes, and his mind blows me away time after time… Truly one of a kind… Really love this quote: “How does ‘just’ come into that? There is so much that is so extraordinary about life.” Very true. I would love to know what Derren thinks about psychic Lisa Williams. She’s someone I have followed for a long time, just because she’s so entertaining and projects a really genuine vibe… She seems to really believe that what she’s doing is real. I find her so compelling… hard to believe it’s just an act to make money…

April 19, 2011 at 10:28 pm
laura passey says:

Great article!

Derren never ceases to amaze me. He is extraordinary. His act is clever, funny and brilliant.
I am so glad that Derren is in a happy relationship. No one should be unhappy in this world. Life is too short.

April 19, 2011 at 10:43 pm
Karen says:

A psychologist might say the magic started as a technique for dealing with a social situation. Being centered while drawing the attention away from ones self, yet controlling it. The live shows are a demonstration of that power which he has perfected. Can’t ever picture Derren wearing a cape though.

Really looking forward to this programme and believe the Louis Theroux approach will suit Derren well regarding his experience and intelligence in Theology. I agree with him on the point of scams which are aside from religion and all considering, it should be the last place we find it.
Where one has faith, there’s no room for trickery.

April 19, 2011 at 11:24 pm
Maxine Bellamy says:

Gosh you are so disarming here that I am completely disarmed. I also think you are being srtraightforward and honest about yourself, and it certainly does work for you. I loved it when you say ‘ its lovely to have someone love you’ I think that is very simple, exactly how it is, and a dead honest thing to say.

i am so loking forward to the Shaftesbury show, I’m a Derren Brown Live Virgin!

April 19, 2011 at 11:36 pm
Thistooshallpass says:

I just can’t get my head around the idea that religion can somehow ‘cure’ people of their gayness. Shouldn’t the church be teaching people to ‘Accept’ People Places and Things just as they ‘are’ and not what they ‘want’ them to be? As the years roll on, so many things in life still confuse the hell out of me…….no change there then lol

Really nice interview and I personally want Derren to carry on touring forever and ever amen xx

April 20, 2011 at 12:54 am
Di Brown says:

Lovely interview!
Derren is always a true gentleman 🙂


April 20, 2011 at 2:26 am
crae says:

>but I don’t enjoy the process of making TV. I never got stressed until I started making television.

Make your own visual media in way that is stress-free? Not living in the UK, I’d (selfishly) like to see much more.

April 20, 2011 at 6:54 am
Flapjack says:

Great interview. Interesting distinction between the word ‘cynic’ and ‘sceptic’, which I know I’m sometimes guilty of treating as interchangeable.
Totally looking forward to the show, I know of some of the tricks involved in faith healing, such as making sure the chronically sick and disabled are kept well away from the stage by the assistants and the obvious adrenalin rush of being shouted at and pushed on stage that makes the less physically impaired think they’ve been cured, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

April 20, 2011 at 9:09 am
Other Paul says:

Yeah, all the above an’all that, but ‘slight of hand’?

April 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm
unmevsworld says:

For those that are rubbed the wrong way by Theroux, I’d like to point out that Derren doesn’t come off as smug. Derren doesn’t carry that doe-eyed innocent act that Theroux uses. Derren doesn’t goad people. A testament to Derren’s effort at kindness is the calm way that he treated that Bronikov guy. Theroux would’ve been whiney and laughing at Bronikov at the same time. Despite the act, I still find Theroux entertaining, though.

April 20, 2011 at 4:01 pm
B. Miller says:

Derren deserves a cape, he’s the closest thing we will ever have to a super hero haha. Nice interview.

April 20, 2011 at 4:23 pm
Chirag says:

Really loved this interview, Derren is such a down to earth person, thanks for posting this. Get to see Derren at Oxford tomorrow! Cannot wait.

April 21, 2011 at 8:01 am
Helen in Sea Palling says:

Awwww, swoon. He’s the loveliest, LOVELIEST guy 🙂

April 21, 2011 at 12:13 pm
Elise says:

Fab interview. 😀 Derren, you’re lovely……….just……lovely…….and loads of other nice things. I won’t make a list ‘cos it’ll make people sick, hahaha! You really are something else. Cannot wait to see the new TV show on Monday, so excited. WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! xxx 🙂

April 21, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Brilliant interview. Got a lot of respect for this man, always interesting and challanging but done in neutral way that you just can’t fault. (And has a slick beard.)


April 22, 2011 at 12:53 am
Chirag says:

Just like to say a big thank you to Derren for the Svengali show he performed in Oxford on the 21st. Brilliant show by the way, loved it, keep up the great work! Also it was great to see you after the show, your such a down to earth guy and a really nice person. Thank you ever so much for the autograph and picture it was very nice of you.

Looking forward to Monday’s show. Thanks again to Derren and the whole team involved in his projects.

April 23, 2011 at 1:00 pm
Cathy says:

I completely understand him – I’m intrested in performing magic tricks, but it’d be really hard, as I’m not the manipulative type. Growing up, I’ve never been popular so it’s great that I have a role model I can also relate to!
xx 🙂

April 24, 2011 at 11:06 pm
Nadine says:

What a lovely man Derren Brown is 🙂 And what an interesting, insightful and sweet interview this was. Derren always comes across as a really humble, down to earth, witty, charming guy……no airs or graces…..just a nice person with a fantastic mind and warm heart.

I’m totally facinated by him, his shows always leave me spellbound and my mind boggles!

And i loved the simplicity of his quote it’s lovely to have somebody love you and it’s lovely to love someone else.” I’m so happy he’s found happieness with his partner 🙂

April 25, 2011 at 6:52 pm
zoe says:

derren brown, i love you. you are awsome and very nice 😀

April 26, 2011 at 2:41 pm
Rae says:

Derren, I know you say you didn’t experience stress until you started making TV shows, but I for one would love to see more of your intelligent, inquiring mind on TV.

I really respect you for your attitude to christianity – even when debunking the ‘methods’ of some who profess to christianity – when you have now ‘moved on’ from it: I am an ‘evangelical(ish) christian who has experience of friends from higher education ‘losing’ their faith and becoming very aggressive about it. you still seem to respect those with faith.

To this day I’d love to know how you ‘converted’ those people on Messiah – if not to christianity, to belief in God. Hope you can you use your powers of suggestion for good in this world……! (Hope no political parties recruit you for their own ends!)

April 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm
Kinders says:

Here’s the exchange between my bro and me when I quoted a paragraph of this on Facebook:

Bro: The extraordinariness of life is indeed available for holders of all paradigms to enjoy. An economist might call it a public good, or a theist common grace. I wonder if Mr Brown is being deliberately ironic with his joyless and aggressive caricature as “believing in fairies… [and] ghosts” of the (quite reasonable, whether correct or not) belief that extraordinariness is a product of an extraordinary deity…

Me: The caricature comment is fair (he’d have done better to replace “fairies” with “god”, as fairies have nothing to do with theism), but I don’t think we can call his remarks “joyless and aggressive”. I think they’re intended to be entirely defensive rather than aggressive or offensive.

June 22, 2011 at 1:55 am
James says:

0.0 you removed my comment… but why Abeo : ( was it about Derren’s BF? lol sorry for asking personal questions… but you cant help all of us are so curious, even though we have no chance of marrying Derren… lol

July 29, 2011 at 12:44 pm
miep says:

What I am most impressed with in this (beautiful) interview is to read how Derren has grown from an insecure young man into a confident man who’s been able to accept himself for who he is. That impresses me even more than all the shows that he performs.
Lots of respect to you Derren! XX