Hanging on the Telephone; from Scamming Casinos to Making Students Stick Needles in Their Hands, Psychological Illusionist Derren Brown Knows No Fear, as JULIE MacCASKILL Finds Out

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Mind reader, psychological illusionist, master of mind tricks ... what exactly is it you do?

Psychological illusions is spot on. I'm not a mind reader and I'm not psychic. It's a mixture of understanding and reading people as well as trying to influence their thoughts and reactions to create the effect of mind reading.

David Blaine is the king of shock illusions - are you like him?

No, we're very different. I greatly admire him and Blaine's show has changed the way people view magic.

Are pulling rabbits out of a hat part of your stage routine?

Not any more. I started my career as a hypnotist, went on to do close- up magic and then decided to bring together the suggestion of hypnosis with the psychological techniques of magic.

You say everyone has the ability to control their mind ....

My attitude is everyone can play the piano if they put enough effort into it. Similarly you can be taught anything. It takes a lot of effort but it's not out of anybody's reach if they want to do it.

What sort of mind control tricks do you get up to?

We filmed an amazing sequence in a casino to show how gamblers can try to control their destiny. The casino bosses knew we were filming secretly but the croupiers and gamblers didn't. I went in there and scammed them.

You'd have been popular. Isn't it true you were once banned from casinos for such behaviour?

That was when I first started using mind control in casinos and wasn't as good. It's about memory and card counting techniques and being able to know how to misdirect and control the croupiers and gamblers. They are the weakest links in gambling because you can't control the cards.

So were you quids in?

I wasn't coming away with lots of money but after a while the casino started to think I was up to something and they banned me.

Did you really encourage a medical student to stick a needle through his hand?

Yes, through the power of mind control I taught him not to feel pain. …