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.

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