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DERREN BROWN INTERVIEW – THE TIMES

Posted in Derren Brown News

Posted by Derren Brown News November 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Here’s a recent Interview with Derren that appeared in The Times a couple of weeks ago which some of you may have missed.

Note from Derren: I do NOT iron my jeans. No idea where that came from.

The Illusionist Derren Brown tells Stefanie March how he has always felt a bit different.

Is Derren Brown a normal bloke who surrounds himself with eccentric things, or is he a weirdo as well? His former writing partner once described him as “genuinely odd” and, certainly, there are a lot of dead animals in his apartment. The few live ones are a blue parakeet and a handful of multicoloured fish. The dead ones include a pickled baby chimp and a spaniel that lies placidly at the foot of a living room armchair next to an equally dead Yorkshire terrier.

The whole set-up sounds weird. But does it feel it? The answer, I’m sorry to say is no. It’s the kind of pad that The World of Interiors would smile approvingly on for its “modern twist on Victoriana. “Are you weird?” I ask Brown. “Maybe I am,” Brown says. “I think we all think we are a bit odd. I think it’s a very difficult thing to gauge. I know I kind of like a lot of odd things, but it’s not like when you’re out the door there are five weird things I have to do.”

He does, though, wear clothes that are weirdly conventional when compared to his home deco. His jeans, for example, have been ironed. The “low-level stalkery types” he tends to attract are presumably drawn by his authoritative manner on TV. I fear that they wouldn’t find him domineering enough in real life. His voice, though exceptionally pleasant, is different too: it tends to crack unexpectedly mid-word, the way it probably used to as a teenager but which he would never allow on TV.

According to his fans, Brown’s two best shows to date are The Heist (Brown secretly primes a group of executives to carry out an armed robbery) and Hero at 30,000 Feet, in which a young underconfident man named Matt is plucked from his obscure unfulfilled life by Brown, who then sets about turning Matt’s life around through covert suggestion, bullshit artistry, scare tactics and neurolinguistic programming.

No matter which of his shows you are watching, the question “What would I have done?” remains the same. Would you steal from a newsagent if an authority figure told you to? Would you trample all over your own morals in the name of self improvement? The answer is usually yes. In the end the general public are revealed to be self-serving, backbone-less sheep. So it’s odd that he describes himself as a “joyful sceptic”. If I were him I would be a depressive cynic. “Cynical feels like a negative thing. I just end up feeling how extra-ordinary we are as creatures that these things are so reliable. It’s always astonishing how easily things fall into place. Sometimes it’s almost too convenient.”

Whatever your level of Derren Brown fascination, you now have a chance to hone it. When I met him he had just finished his latest series, a set of empirical sociological experiments in which he finds out how easily his never-ending supply of willing volunteers can be manipulated. The series, called The Experiments, started last night with The Assassin, in which Brown used hypnosis to try to programme an unwitting participant to kill a major UK celebrity. The second episode, The Gameshow, is partly inspired by his distaste for mob culture. he feels it has particular relevance after the riots. The idea for this episode came to him after a friend of his attended an X Factor audition. “…and a girl with Down’s syndrome came out and the audience were just booing and taking the piss – stuff you would never do. And yet, suddenly, when there’s a big crowd of people, that behaviour comes out.” Pivotal in the programme is “a guy who is being secretly filmed; he is a genuine unwitting participant. And the audience are making decisions about what happens to this guy. He is going about his normal life and the audience have a choice; either they can make a nice decision or a nasty decision, and we’d create these stunts.” Brown’s psychological expertise told him that the mob would be included to take the nastier route: “Which is exactly what happened.”

Whatever happened to Matt, by the way? We left him at the end of Hero planning to chuck in his boring clerical job to be a policeman. Matt, Brown tells me, is retraining as a teach. And “he’s moved in with his girlfriend… sorted himself out – I helped him out with that.”

Helped him how? “The financial side of that,” comes the unexpected answer.

Is it usual for television presenters to lend or give money to former volunteers on their shows? “I’ve always had a huge duty of care,” is his explanation. It is also obvious that he relates to Matt’s insularity. We will understand why when we look at his own past.

His younger self cuts a slightly heartbreaking figure; a solitary boy beset by all sorts of nervous ticks. He still can’t get rid of what he calls his “noddy thing” (he nods in a ticky way fairly frequently), but as a child he sniffed, twitched, strained compulsively. “My parents were just despairing; ‘Why do you have to do it?’ “Were they worried? “Well, it can be quite antisocial” The sniffing could be quite loud.” He remembers as a teenager being taken to see Alfred Brendel perform. “And – o God! I remember just piercing the atmosphere with proper kind of schrnggghhh!” He impersonates a noisy sniff” …these proper kind of big sniffs I had to do. Imagine having to sit next to someone who does that! Having to sit next to someone who breathes heavily is annoying enough. It’s awful.”

“I was very precocious and very charming. I wasn’t a weird kid, but my brother’s nine years younger than me and I had a long period on my own. I was quite sort of bright at school and sort of precocious. I think that’s a common thread with other kids that are a bit ticky, it just passes.”

The need to impress other people, however, did not pass for ages. Nor did the weakness for dodgy clothing: “I was wearing cloaks and that sort of things.” A part of him still hankers after the old Brown, who used to channel “a bad Spandau Ballet sort of gay leisure pirates aesthetic”. And, to his surprise, the new Brown has recently found himself wearing cravats in homage to the old, insecure, exhibitionistic Brown, who read law and German at Bristol but was diverted by magic. He was doing a gig a week; that was his life. “I was living the lifestyle of a …I dunno …a flaneur and I miss that a bit.” A longstanding urge for a bejewelled cane has also resurfaced of late.

A commissioning editor spotted him doing his magic in Bristol and asked him to do something for TV. From then on he worked very hard for about a decade. For most of that time he was also single, of non-specific sexuality. “I was Christian for many years and it did touch on that ‘healing homosexuals within’ thing. I think you can easily look for things, anything to encourage the idea that it’s going to pass. So that was most of my twenties. And I think part of the elaborately maintained solitary poetic existence was a bit of a way of just avoiding the whole question.”

Why avoid it? “The religious thing and that slight potential that it could be cured as well. I read a couple of the books – it all kind of made sense. There are undoubtedly some psychological patterns involved and I was like: ‘Yeah, oh yeah! That story of not getting on well with my father and then sort of feeling a bit alienated from other boys at school and not quite fitting in.’ There are these sort of patterns but whether they exist because you are gay or whether they make you gay, this is the big point.”

Even his close friends didn’t know whether he was gay or straight and they didn’t ask him. “If you present an austere or eccentric personality, it’s easy for people to think: ‘You just don’t have that sort of conversation with him: he’s too richly fascinatingly different from the rest of us.'”

Didn’t he want a relationship? “I was pretty much celibate and hoping it would pass. It was really like a dark cloud …something I was a bit embarrassed about, or not sure about, so always hoping it isn’t going to be the case …and then by the time you realise it is, then it’s sort of like: ‘Uuuurgh.’ You get into a routine of not talking about it, and that can become part of your life.”

Magic, he says, “is the quickest, most fraudulent route to impressing people and normally born out of a lack of social skills. You’re hiding behind it. I don’t like showing people tricks in real life now, whereas I used to have to do it all the time. I grew out of it. I think that’s it. I think part of it is becoming a bit famous and well known and that takes care of it. You don’t have to try to be impressive any more.”

Eventually, at a strategically organised dinner party, he met the man he is with now (he is only Brown’s third boyfriend). They have been together for five years. For his 30th birthday Brown is taking him to South America. “I think our relationship seems to be about making each other piss ourselves with laughter. I never thought that’s what a relationship would be.”

The future? The other day Trevor Nunn vaguely punted a Prospero role and he can imagine himself doing some acting. But “without sounding sort of horrendous, I’ve always felt that ultimately my motives are actually quite selfish. I’ve never had any ambition with work. When I think about what I want to be doing, I always have this slightly camp holiday experience in my head: Hannibal Lecter say in some piazza somewhere drinking wine and relaxing somewhere.”

“Hannibal Lecter. That’s a weird role model,” I say.

He laughs. “I think it’s that kind of aesthete. I think that’s the bubbling drive underneath.”

I don’t think Derren Brown is weird, although I’d like to talk to him some more about morality of what he does. He started out a magician, now he’s turning into a sociologist – only his volunteers are not anonymous. They are almost always revealed to be very human, in ways that most of us wish we were not.

COMMENTS
November 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm
Annette M says:

Hadn’t seen this. Lovely interview, thanks Abeo 🙂


November 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm
Charlie says:

Good article. Your a fascinating person Derren.


November 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm
Siobhan says:

Sometimes I watch DB’s shows and think, ‘oh dear, you’re a bit evil really’, then I read interviews like this and think ‘Nope, you’re just very, very lovely’.


November 6, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I always learn new words in Derren’s interviews. ‘Aesthete’, lovely.

I don’t think there’s anything bad about magic personally, but then my interest in it came from “that [joy & wonder of life] kind of aesthete”. I’d’ve thought that that an interest in magic & low social skills couldn’t go together. I like magic but I’m not fond of the idea of performing it because of the attention it would draw… I love how people can have the same interests but for completely opposite reasons. Must stop writing now or I never will.


November 6, 2011 at 12:44 pm
Stephen says:

What a weird interview. Nearly all of the content could be culled with a few minutes’ perusal of ‘Confessions of a Conjurer’ and the Channel 4 website. Why finish a regretful note regarding an unbroached subject – did Stefanie March run out of time? I don’t feel that DB would have avoided a discussion of morality had the subject been presented to him.

I like the idea of Derren as Prospero – someone who gives up his old magic to move towards the Enlightenment, reflecting the later projects of ‘Hero’, ‘Faith Healer’ and ‘The Experiments’.


November 6, 2011 at 12:52 pm
wendy says:

Why does even Derren call these sociological experiments, when they are clearly psychological? I’m trying not to find it annoying as there are clearly more important things to ponder on a lay Sunday afternoon but grrrrrrrrrrrr!


November 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm
Wendywoo says:

What is normal, no such thing, we’re all a little weird that’s what makes us individuals. How far you take that weirdness is what makes You stand out from the crowd…… This can only be a good thing. Derren is one of the most amazing, intelligent and weird people ever, I truly admire him.


November 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm
Emma says:

An enjoyable interview to read…


November 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm
ataf says:

“sets about turning Matt’s life around through covert suggestion, bullshit artistry, scare tactics and neurolinguistic programming.”

He has denied using NLP frequently if you read his book!


November 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm
eevee says:

wow, interesting read but you would think that “The Times” would check for typos !!
“underconfident” ?


November 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm
Tricia says:

Not a bad interview, lots of “quotes” I particularly liked, “low-level stalkery types”.
I wonder what they’re like.


November 6, 2011 at 1:43 pm
Shaun says:

The ‘Mob’ experiment wasn’t fair really. The audience were told they were part of a game show. They were given a boring ‘safe’ choice or an entertaining ‘dangerous’ choice. It the context of a gameshow, there wasn’t really any chance they would have chosen the safe option. The other two so far have been very intriguing, however.


November 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm
christopher says:

I have been doing magic from 16 to 23 now, and i feel so much like im trying to impress and be interesting, and i know it… people are impressed, but i still feel boring… i hope i dont have to get famous to grow out of it…


November 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm
Mike says:

I think the closest DB ever comes to being a bit evil is when he holds a mirror up so that we can take a good long look at ourselves. I also think that DB gets unjustly criticized by members of the press when that mirror doesn’t have quite the pretty reflection they think it should. What they fail to see is that we are not glorious for being without fault, weakness, or self-interest, but that most of the time we rise above those qualities in every day life. Every. single. day.


November 6, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I absolutely love all your material and shows, your a huge inspiration within my own magic and my hero. I look forward to watching the fourth experiment coming up and to hopefully come see Svengali during your 2012 tour.


November 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm
Jojoe6969 says:

That’s the sad part though, isn’t it? You don’t have to try anymore.
A round of applause for a stupendous interview, bravo.


November 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm
Philip says:

” In the end the general public are revealed to be self-serving, backbone-less sheep”. Only the audience of “The Gameshow” wasn’t made up of the general public; it was made up of the types that apply for tickets for “The Million Pound Drop Live”. I guarantee if my Church’s congregation had made up the audience, the results would have been different. Big fan though 😉


November 6, 2011 at 2:46 pm
Rob says:

Weird or not, still an exceptionally entertaining person. keep up the good work!


November 6, 2011 at 2:47 pm
Diana says:

Derren fascinating? No. He is just a highly intelligent man whom I admire!


November 6, 2011 at 2:49 pm
Eve says:

Great interview. A follow up interview about the morality of the more recent shows would be fascinating. Keep up the great work, Derren!


November 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm

How can one person be so nice and lovely but still be able to command a stage like you do Derren? I wish I knew.


November 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm
roz says:

i guess derren didnt feel like correcting ALL the inaccuracies in this article. sigh. and ya know what? i still have some of those childhood tics…& if anybody mentions em, i just write it off to their being rude. hehe!

btw, derren, ya might check this place out fer a cane…looks like they’ll make whatever yer little twisted heart desires. 🙂

http://www.hartfordyork.com/category/walking-sticks

LH&S, roz


November 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm
Emma says:

Lovely to see a bit of the real Derren, on stage and on his shows he always seems so confident but its interesting to see how in real life he often seems a bit nervous and eager to impress. Great interview thanks for sharing it.


November 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm
Agnes says:

Derren, I hope you can lead a lovely life with your other half!! I am so happy for you!


November 6, 2011 at 6:12 pm
Harry Tuttle says:

“I guarantee if my Church’ s
congregation had made up the
audience, the results would
have been different … ” – isn’t that the point? Applicants to to on the show are heavily pre-screened, and if it doesn’t then have the desired result, it wouldn’t then be aired!
Plus, the 2 options in the Gameshow has a Pass to “punish” the fellow, as ur admitted to “cheating on his girlfriend” right at the start .. cunning!


November 6, 2011 at 7:06 pm
Catjuju says:

Every time I read about Derren the individual rather than Derren the celeb I think he is an alternate universe version of me. Like I am a Bizarro Derren. This is both worrying and cool in equal measures. I also note that I must fall into the ‘low level stalkery type’ fan, which means I am probably not the only one.


November 6, 2011 at 7:23 pm
Steve says:

your an amazing talent and seem like such a genuinely nice guy, never fail to smile when I read an article/interview on you or when I watch one of your shows.


November 6, 2011 at 10:34 pm
Matt says:

Sometimes you’ve gotta be weird to get where you want to be. Weirdness can work in your favour if you play it right. It will make ou stand out, for sure. It’s worked for Derren- weird in an elegant, positive way. The Specials was fantastic, and the young lad showed mucho courage.


November 6, 2011 at 10:39 pm
Jessika says:

It’s always a bit of a let down when you hear that someone you are a real fan of is a complete dick. Which is why I really like reading these interviews with Derren, because he always comes across as just a really sweet, normal guy who I think I would actually like if I met him 🙂 Genuinely talented, good-looking, AND nice! Now that’s a rare combination!

Also, about the jeweled cane…Total YES! You should follow that impulse! I’ve carried one before, and it actually makes you feel kind of epic. No idea why. 😀


November 6, 2011 at 10:45 pm
Shaun Banks says:

Ticks are a curious thing, a bit like have a couple of teeth missing from the social cog in your mind. I use to have a slight stutter or perhaps more of stammer or even just odd pauses during social encounters. I had never had anything like it until I worked on computers for living and worked from home with little social interaction. I found that the tittle tattle/small talk/bullshit part of my mind struggled to function for a while subject to lengthy periods of inactivity. Once you think you can’t socialise it becomes a self perpetuating problem which is normally only solved with the surprising satisfaction that actually there are a lot of good people in the world with whom it is worth making the effort to communicate with face to face. You can, given enough time alone, forget this – mad


November 6, 2011 at 11:30 pm
Elise says:

I love reading your blogs and interviews and finding out more about you, Derren. 😀 I’ve always been nervous and quite anxious. Nightmare when you’re sitting in a school exam and you feel like you’re being watched all the time, cold but sweating, flinching. Uuurgh! And speaking in front of everyone or doing a presentation…….NO WAY! Dizziness, hearing going funny, and the room looking bright……In 6th form and uni I used to refuse to speak or read anything out….or skip lessons. BAD! lol.
Anyway, adore you and everything you do. Looking forward to the next Experiments show. 😀 Eeeeeee! xxxxxxxxxxx Much love


November 6, 2011 at 11:57 pm
Mark M says:

Like the electric dice guts, most people think the ‘noddy thing’ is intentional. You cannot lose…!

Lovely that you and Matt remain close. Reckon ‘Hero’ did as much for you as it did for him.


November 7, 2011 at 8:33 am
barb says:

Okay, after reading that, I love Derren even more now, if that’s possible!

I am so very relieved that he set the record straight here and does not iron his jeans. Love him, but I might have felt pressed (hardy har har) to turn in my Derren Brown fan club membership card and secret decoder ring over such a horror as that. 😉


November 7, 2011 at 1:24 pm
Victoria says:

Always love watching Derren’s shows, the best thing on TV!!
Looking forward to next Friday’s show

I hope there will be many more in the future he is simply brilliant at what he does 🙂


November 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Lovely interview…. 🙂

LC x


November 7, 2011 at 5:24 pm
Nick says:

I would like to know who is so cunning that they can iron Derren’s jeans without him noticing and convincing him they are not ironed? Hell of a trick to fool Derren that well!


November 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm
Philip says:

I think the point I was making Harry is that the Times interviewer made a huge assumption that the audience was representative of the general public. I’m not sure one can make this assumption for the very reasons you point out regarding the show’s probable selection process. Derren also seems to be “reading across” from the results of the show and making generalisations about human behaviour which the show simply doesn’t support conclusively. Which is strange for someone so interested in scientific rigour.


November 7, 2011 at 10:54 pm
alastair reid says:

Derren is without doubt a national treasure. He encourages us to question the workings of the mind and the potential weaknesses and strengths of the human condition. I loved his early shows and had to pick my jaw off the floor when seeing him live performing enigma however his shift from showman to his current line of social experimentation is truly facinating. Thanks Derren and please please keep the wonders coming.

Ps. I’m not a mad stalker type………but then I would say that wouldent i!


November 8, 2011 at 5:03 am

A great interview, and so bravely honest. I can’t wait to see your career explode in the States; I think you’ll be a smash hit here. I’m genuinely looking forward to that–good things happen to good people. All my best! xx


November 8, 2011 at 11:19 pm
Rebecca says:

I wonder, would hypnosis work on derren himself..?


November 9, 2011 at 1:23 pm
Berber Anna says:

Rebecca: He talks about that in one of the Experiments interviews on the C4 site, I think it’s the first one. He’s not very susceptible to it, having been hypnotised only once, iirc.


November 10, 2011 at 12:02 pm
James says:

To address the comment in the interview, they aren’t experiments, from Wiki (not the OED but serves as a quick reference):

“An experiment is a methodical procedure carried out with the goal of verifying, falsifying, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis.”

And for it to be a hypothesis:

“For a hypothesis to be put forward as a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it.”

And the scientific method is (from the OED this time):

“a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses”

I don’t think Derren’s programme adheres to the above definition of ‘experiment’-instead, it’s entertainment.


November 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm
Berber Anna says:

James: True, but you’re now using the scientific definition of ‘experiment’, and as he has no intent to publish these experiments or obtain scientific results, we can deduce that these are not scientific experiments.

However, there is a more colloquial use of the word ‘experiment’. When I say ‘I’m going to experiment with using watch faces to make jewelry’, I don’t mean that I’ll write a research proposal and set up formulaic tests of the hypothesis that I can use these watch faces in the jewelry I make. I mean that I’m going to try this, and see what the result is.

The series is kind of in between the two definitions, I think. It’s not scientific experimentation, exactly, but it is based in the scientific method. ‘The Experiments’ covers what’s happening quite well, if you ask me.


November 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I personally don’t like these kind of interviews. I’m not really interested in the author’s opinions on Derren. A plain old Q&A type of interview has far more useful information (usually). How much ‘interview’ content is in this article? Very little.


November 11, 2011 at 8:55 pm
hiit says:

Derren is so funny sometimes:D


November 11, 2011 at 8:57 pm
ron says:

Derren Brown tells Stefanie March how he has always felt a bit different. He is not that different, just more known.


November 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm
alan says:

“If I were him I would be a depressive cynic.”
If you were him, you’d probably realise that a pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist.

“a girl with Down’s syndrome came out and the audience were just booing”
Were they all sufferers of White Blackbird syndrome?


November 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm
Vaughn Toulouse says:

I thought Derren Brown was the epitomy of cool but “ironing your jeans” & then denying it , what were you thinking ?!!


November 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm
Dean says:

Good article, thanks!


November 21, 2011 at 6:29 pm
leah says:

I’m always interested in what Derren is up to. He and I had some of the same training so watching what he’s doing with other people’s minds is always a great watch.

He’s quite naughty but really he is just showing us all how daft and easily lead we are much of the time and how hypnotic our experiences are.

It’s important to always remember that anyone who participates in his shows and allow him to hypnotise them, is aware unconsciously of who Derren is and that it is a show. We are certainly capable of being brain washed and easily influenced but those influences are usually only going to work if our morals and values are upheld.


December 6, 2011 at 8:56 pm
JJ says:

Genuine, honest and somewhat touching. Thank you, Derren.


December 24, 2011 at 10:43 am
amy says:

His ”noddy thing”, I love that 🙂 You are so so amazing Derren. You make my day, every day 🙂