Thursday, August 16, 2007

Crystal chess, Iraqis, Nat and Dan

As we watched our children growing up, Hanna and I tried to teach them to stay young at heart. It’s wonderful to see our kids become adults, but we wanted them to retain that childlike spark that helps us take joy in life.

Our daughter Nat is a young woman now, with an exciting new life on another continent — like her brother Dan she was born in the US, and she’s taking advantage of the fact that she doesn’t need a visa or a work permit to have a career in the States, working in the movie industry.

She flew back to Britain for a summer visit, and I was delighted to see that childlike spark is burning as brightly as ever in her. It’s always there, in her infectious sense of humour and her liveliness.

Living in California, she misses her big brother badly... misses teasing him, in fact. When she visited his apartment overlooking Hyde Park, she insisted on trying on his barrister’s wig and robes, and trying out a few dance steps.

Dan laughed, but he knew the joke was on big brother... just as it always was when they were growing up. For a moment, it was like looking at our children aged eight and ten again. Which seems as if it was just a week or two ago, instead of a decade and a half.

Another lesson which Hanna and I worked hard to teach our children was one that many parents assume their kids know instinctively: How to get your own way.

In fact, there’s a right way and a wrong way of getting what you want. The right way is one of the most valuable skills you can learn. The wrong way is destructive, dangerous and, in the end, will only bring misery.

We all know people who can bulldoze straight through other people’s objections and feelings. “Get out of my way,” they shout, “or you’ll get hurt!” Very often, they do get exactly what they want — but they also make an enemy of the whole world. Bullies don’t prosper for long. Sooner or later they meet people who are even more aggressive than they are.

Sadly, there are also many people who look in horror at the bullies and think, “I’d hate to be like that. If that’s what it takes to get your own way in life, then I’ll settle for being a nice person who has to miss out.”

This passive attitude attracts bullies like jam attracts wasps. If you act as though it’s your lot in life to be forever trampled and cheated, there will always be a queue of aggressive people ready to walk all over you.

Bullies don’t respect what anyone else wants. Passive people don’t respect their own needs. To be happy, you must avoid both those mistakes.

Be assertive. Respect your own needs, and be mindful of what other people want too. Being assertive means you state your feelings clearly. You say, “I am going to get what I want — tell me what you want too, and let’s co-operate so we can both get our own way.”

It’s all about self-respect and respect for others. When you learn that, you’re on track for a happy life.

That’s such a simple lesson, though it needs to be repeated many times before a child can fully understand it. I can’t think why schools don’t teach children how to be assertive. Self-respect, plus respect for others: it should be everyone’s first lesson!

Out of the blue, I received a tempting invitation from an Amsterdam jeweller and sculptor named David CJ de Jong. He’d watched me being interviewed for the launch of Staya Erusa, the Dutch movie which explores paranormal phenomena by delving into my life story, and I had talked about the incredible power of crystals.

David was fascinated — he had just finished creating a chess set cut from rock crystal. The pieces were huge, lustrous, and intensely detailed, each one a unique artwork. Every game with that set would feel like a brush with magic, David promised me.

I did like the idea. Rock crystal energises me — I always carry a piece or two with me. to replenish my mind’s batteries. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to show that crystals do act as energy amplifiers — that’s why there’s a fragment in every quartz watch.

Would my calculations become sharper when I played chess with a crystal set? Would I see deeper into the game, building combinations and sensing strategic weaknesses? Would I be a match for Garry Kasparov, with a quartz king under my fingers?

Then David revealed the price to me: 750,000 Euros.

Regretfully, I turned the offer down. “For that money,” I told him, “I think I’d rather have a house on one of Amsterdam’s historic canals.”

As Iraq won football’s Asian Cup with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia, I couldn’t help celebrating too. The conflicts which have torn that country apart for years, leaving many hundreds of thousands of innocents dead or maimed, has given the world a warped view of the country, as if it’s a place where only bad things happen. It’s great that the nation has something to cheer about, and give the rest of us a chance to see its people happy.

My work with charities in Israel brings me into contact with many Arab children. I know that they could easily be brothers and sisters to the kids who have been blown apart by bombs and missiles from all sides in the war. Bombs don’t care who they kill.

On an impulse, Hanna, Shipi and I walked to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, where the celebrations were centred. We were welcomed by everyone. It was fantastic to meet people, like the girl in this photo, who had seen me on Arabic TV, in Iraq.

We ended up with many new friends at a Lebanese restaurant, where I ate till I felt like bursting. Football fans sing “Who ate all the pies” at porky my case, it was more like, “Who ate all the pittas?”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Phenomenon, mentalists, Cyprus

The phones have been ringing red-hot since my US television show Phenomenon was announced to the entertainment press in America. The time difference between here and Los Angeles is giving me jet lag in my own home — they’re eight hours behind England, so a 7pm call from a journalist on a California news station will jerk me out of bed in the small hours of the morning.

It’s crazy, but it’s fun. And it’s a lot less crazy than my first rush of fame in the States, back in the Seventies. That really was out of control... in the most extraordinary and dramatic ways.

If I told you what it was like to cope with the paranormal mayhem that surrounded me in New York, circa 1975, you wouldn’t believe me. You couldn’t — it defies logic.

My mentor, Dr Andrija Puharich, tried to make sense of it in his biography of me. But it was brimming with UFO encounters, and back in the Seventies, before Close Encounters and The X Files, you might as well claim to be Napoleon Bonaparte as announce that you regularly saw flying saucers.

I published my own version, in a bid to undo the harm my reputation had suffered. It focused on the human aspects of my story over the alien. But the truth was that I felt I had lost control of my career. I believed I could regain power over my destiny by an immense act of will, and I almost lost my mind in the process.

When the acclaimed journalist and novelist Dotson Rader interviewed me in my apartment for an Esquire magazine feature, he saw the terrifying effects of that mental strain, and he wrote about them fearlessly. His 5,000-word account describes a sculpture that hurls itself across the room, crystals that slide over tabletops, rocks that fall out of the air.

Rader came to the lobby of my apartment building on Manhattan’s East Side, and described me as if he was introducing a character in a story: “He wore black Lee jeans, round-toed Italian boots, and a brown leather jacket. He smelled of Acqua di Selva, an Italian cologne. The impression he makes is that of a highly successful fashion model.”

The interview starts off with a few isolated phenomena: objects that seem to move without being touched, a display of telepathy, some unexplained noises on Rader’s tape. It builds, like a Stephen King story, through a crescendo of terror, to a pitch where my apartment is charged with a crackling, oppressive force, where I am ranting and screaming, where lumps of stone materialise to hammer the walls and floor, where Rader is pleading with me to stay away from him and open a window before he dies of the suffocating heat which, apparently, only he can feel.

“I realise that you may believe I was fooled or duped,” Rader writes. “It cannot be helped. What I am not is a liar. And this is what happened.”

He was telling the truth. Mysterious energy did erupt spontaneously and uncontrollably around me at that stage of my life, and a lot of scarier things happened than a few ornaments jumping off shelves. A few months earlier, I had appeared in two places simultaneously... and that, I promise, really is frightening.

These phenomena are rare for me now. Occasionally I’ll find something from the house lying on the lawn, or a long-lost trinket of mine will appear on a friend’s bedside cabinet. But, most of the time, sanity in my home means pretty much the same as it means in everyone else’s.

Last weekend, two brilliant mentalists visited my home. Drew McAdam and Colin McLeod, both from Scotland, are deeply aware of the power of the human mind, and how we consciously use only a tiny percentage of our brains. I told them how glad Hanna and I were that our lives are under control for this year’s American adventure — I don’t think we could stand another outbreak of the paranormal on that scale.

I’ve heard plenty of explanations: I was possessed by a poltergeist that was exorcised during my spiritual sojourn in Japan; I was the plaything of an extraterrestrial child; I was suffering side-effects from the CIA brain implants that let me see clairvoyantly into the heart of the Kremlin.

“The big difference between 1975 and today,” I told Drew and Colin, “is family. I’m a father and a husband. That’s far more important than my career... and that’s what keeps me sane.”

More memories were stirred by a fabulous photographic exhibition at Westminster Cathedral Hall, depicting the damage done to around 100 churches in northern Cyprus by soldiers and looters since the Turkish invasion 33 years ago.

I spent my teens in Cyprus, and it saddened me to see the extent of the desecration. Photo journalist Doros Partasides has created a moving series of images, which I hope will prompt tourists to this sunny Mediterranean jewel to look further than the bars and the beaches. Cyprus is such a beautiful island — it ought to be a paradise.

We joined the veteran peace activist Max Kampelman and security expert Ian Davis for dinner at the Park Lane Hilton in London. Max is currently head of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya. Naturally I can’t reveal too much of what we discussed, but the meeting left me both sobered and cautiously hopeful for the future.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Criss Angel, Boris Becker, Mel C

This week’s column was going to consist of just one word, repeated a thousand times: PERSEVERE. If you are seeking success, whether that’s at school or in a relationship or in your career or any other arena, it’s the one word which truly matters: PERSEVERE. Keep saying it to yourself, over and over, in as many different ways as you can: PERSEVERE, KEEP TRYING, NEVER QUIT, YOU CAN DO IT, PERSEVERE.

For thirty-five years my ambition has been to front a major TV show in America. My business is entertainment, and to achieve global success it’s crucial to win the US market. In different ways, through Hollywood and chatshows, scientific experiments and books, I’ve left my imprint. But the ultimate goal, the television series on a major channel, has always eluded me because I was busy doing TV work globally.

I never gave up on my ambition. I always believed it would happen. And now it has.

This autumn, I will team up with America’s best-known mentalist magician, Criss Angel, to present a show called Phenomenon on NBC television. It’s based on my smash-hit Israeli show Successor, with Criss and me watching ten mind-blowing performers compete in front of a studio audience and celebrity guests.

The show was announced at the American Theatre Critics Association in the Beverley Hills Hilton, LA, earlier this month (16 July) by Ben Silverman, the co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios.

Ben’s enthusiasm for the concept has made the whole show possible. Before his arrival at the TV station earlier this year, it looked as though we might not secure an American deal. After our storming success in Israel, I was disappointed, but not downhearted. I kept persevering, taking the show again to US executives at the Cannes festival.

If I had accepted the first rebuff, or the twentieth, or even the hundredth, my belief would have been doomed. But I have always believed that, if you never quit, you’re never beaten. So I persevered.

The involvement of Criss Angel will be immensely important. His Mindfreak series is the most popular mystifying show on American TV, making him the modern successor to his childhood hero, Harry Houdini.

Criss’s triumphs include levitating above the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, walking on water and floating between two buildings. To say he has a taste for the spectacular is like saying Madonna has had a couple of hit records.

We’ll be presenting our ten contestants on live TV for ten successive weeks, building up to a climactic showdown between the most popular acts, just before Christmas. Criss and I will be the ringmasters, but the viewers at home will wield the real power, voting to keep their favourites on the show.

It’s going to be a whirlwind few years, because as soon as the US series ends, I’ll be flying to Germany to repeat the performance. The German series was also announced to the media this month, with a special presentation called the Big Show for TV’s top advertisers.

My instructions were simply to stir up as much excitement around the show as I could, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. As always, I was staggered by how young ad executives are — many of them seemed younger than my own children. “None of you can possibly remember my first appearance in Germany, in 1972,” I told them, and their blank looks revealed I was right — I might as well have been talking about the Napoleonic wars.

“One thing is sure, though” I added — “your own kids are going to know all about my successor.”

I’m confident about reaching the school-age generation in both Germany and the US through the series, because the most fanatical viewers in Israel were children. Magic has maximum appeal for the young mind — kids believe in it, because they haven’t learned to be cynical and skeptical.

I bumped into a couple of old friends at the Big Show — Boris B and Mel C. Boris is Germany’s most famous sportsman, alongside Michael Schumacher. He was sporting a vivid tan, which I suspect he didn’t get at the Wimbledon washout.

He’s a fascinating man, with a keen business sense, who is completely relaxed about his fame — some celebs are snobs, but Boris is genuinely happy to chat to anyone who intrigues him. He has an open and inquiring mind, which is why I think he’ll make a great success of his German TV show, as an interviewer.

One of the first face-to-face chats he has lined up will be with the footballing maestro Franz Beckenbauer. That promises to be fascinating viewing, as well as a useful opportunity for me to brush up on my German.

With the Spice Girls preparing to make a comeback with a world tour, the five have got a lot of ground to cover with their pre-publicity. Mel C, who I always suspected had the best voice of them all, was full of energy, and the centre of attention.

I asked her what she thought of the Beckham’s switch to Los Angeles, and Mel was full of positive comments. She’s sure the duo will win over the US public, and she pointed out that the most important thing for Victoria was her children — if they were happy, so was Mum.

Stuart Semple took me, Shipi and Hanna to Brick Lane in London for a car boot sale where the vendors were leading artists. Tracey Emin was there, as well as Vivianne Westwood. I bought an artwork created from a dismembered Metro motor-car from Gavin Turk — that’s him in the dark glasses. He’s been exhibited at the Tate Modern, and Charles Saatchi has his work in his collection.


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