If Derren Brown’s amazing mental, artistic and creative abilities leave you feeling a little inferior and wondering if there is anything he can’t do, then rest assured, he can’t do the one thing millions of the rest of us mere mortals can.
“I can’t drive,” he admits. “I did a few lessons. Funnily enough it was the only thing my parents ever properly encouraged me to do. They had such a relaxed attitude, just do whatever makes you happy. I did a few lessons, failed the test and never tried again.”
So there you have it, he can’t play a musical instrument either, despite trying, but that’s mainly because he didn’t practice enough.
What he did practice is what has made him famous. He says his talents as a psychological illusionist are not a gift, they are the result of hard work.
“It’s like playing the guitar or the piano, it’s something I applied myself to and learnt,” he said.
He saw a hypnotist during his first year studying Law at the University of Bristol and thought it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen. He became obsessed, got loads of books on the subject and started doing magic tricks at parties. By the time he left uni he had enough gigs going to build on and make a career of it, and admits he had never really been interested in Law anyway.
After years of top rated television and theatre shows Derren is now planning to work in America and is opening a Ghost Train experience at Thorpe Park in May.
But before then he is on the second leg of his latest stage show, Miracle. It comes to Milton Keynes Theatre at 7.30pm from Monday February 15 through to Saturday 20 and to Wycombe Swan Theatre at 8pm from Monday February 29 through to Saturday March 5.
Understandably he doesn’t want to talk about it, to spoil the surprises in store for his audiences, but in the past his shows have poked fun at the world of faith healing and the title suggests something of that nature.
He said: “When you become a magician, particularly if you are interested in the psychology of it, you very quickly gain an understanding of how things like mediums or Ouija boards work, there’s nothing spiritual happening, it’s psychology. The magicians’ world has always been very close to debunking the world of psychics and charlatans .”
Derren was once an evangelical Christian, but is now an equally fervent atheist. He lost his faith over time, after much reading and observation, when he wanted his religious belief system to stand up intellectually and felt that it didn’t.
But he doesn’t wear atheism on his sleeve, he has no desire to be offensive. His theatrical aim is directed at faith healers and mediums who play on vulnerable people’s emotions.
He says he doesn’t get nervous before his shows, and in fact one of the challenges is not getting too comfortable so he sometimes puts deliberate failures in.
He said: “It’s all about being very present and feeling everything at the time, finding the adrenalin, that is very important.”
His recent Channel 4 show, Pushed To The Edge showed members of the public going through a series of challenges that ended up with three of them believing they had pushed a man off the top of a tall building.
Derren said the point of the programme was to show how far our behaviour is dictated by what’s happening socially around us.
In May his new venture, Ghost Train, opens at Thorpe Park, but in typical Derren Brown style, the 13 minute experience will be totally unique. It’s taken three years in development and involves layers of technology including virtual reality, but beyond that he wants to retain the surprise.
With such an active mind its not surprising to learn that Derren has great trouble sleeping, but he says he’s just recently discovered the power of reading before going to bed, and that is helping him. Mind you, his choice of night time reading is hardly light. He’s currently reading about Ancient Greek philosophy.
Tickets for Miracle cost from £36.50, box office 0844 871 7652 at Milton Keynes Theatre and from £31, box office 01494 512000 at Wycombe Swan Theatre.