It’s an unforgettable romantic moment when the pianist dedicates a song to a couple. Memories like those can define a love affair — that melody becomes ‘our tune’.
These special moments are usually set in intimate restaurants or secluded bars, at family gatherings or on the last night of a magical holiday.
It was different for Hanna and me — the setting was the packed auditorium of the Royal Festival Hall and we were serenaded by one of the most celebrated concert pianists in the world, Tamas Vasary.
But as I told Hanna when the applause died down, Tamas once joined me in one of the most unusual requests of my life, and it was only fitting that he should dedicate another, 35 years later, to us.
In the early Seventies, I was invited to take a cruise from Bordeaux to Naples on board a liner called the Renaissance, with my friend Byron Janis and his wife Maria. Byron was one of the most successful pianists on the planet, an unparalleled interpreter of Chopin: he was to be performing on the musical voyage with another celebrated musician... and that is how I met Tamas.
Anyone who thinks classical pianists must be stuffy and serious has never met one. They’re just as riotous as any saloon-bar piano player in a movie starring Maria’s superstar father, Gary Cooper.
Egged on by Byron, Tamas and the other boys in the orchestra, I decided to recruit the passengers for a mass mindpower experiment. We were out on deck, in the blazing Mediterranean sunshine, off the coast of Spain, when I urged everybody to focus their minds on halting the liner.
All of us clenched our fists, screwed up our eyes and shouted, “One, two, three... STOP!!” Tamas shouted louder than anybody. Maybe it was his psychic energy that tipped the balance — he was an experienced conductor and well used to imposing his will on the elements.
Within two minutes, all of us felt the ship was beginning to slow down. Secretly I suspected the captain was in on the joke, and some of the passengers clearly thought I’d bribed the stokers. But as the liner drifted to a complete standstill, I decided to find out what was going on, and stopped one of the ship’s officers.
He had no idea why we’d stopped — and that was when I knew our experiment had been simply too successful.
It was nearly an hour before the engines shuddered back into life. Later I discovered that one of the metal fuel pipes had buckled, cutting off the supply.
For metal to bend spontaneously, at the precise moment that we were chanelling all our energy into halting the ship, was one of the most conclusive demonstrations of mindpower I have ever experienced.
I didn’t board a cruise liner for another 15 years, and when I did — in Bermuda, on the SS Britannis — I kept my thoughts away from the fuel lines. I noticed, though, several unmistakeable secret service types were watching me (this was at the end of the Cold War, when I was involved with the US delegation to the SALT II nuclear peace talks, so I’m not being paranoid... the surveillance was very real).
I didn’t give the dark-glasses-and-radio-headset brigade any demonstrations of how to halt a ship on the ocean — it might have given them ideas, and I had no intention of becoming a secret weapon against nuclear submarines. But on another cruise ship, in the English Channel, I did put mindpower to dramatic use — by revealing an eclipse of the sun.
It was the 11th of August, 2001, and a total eclipse was due at 11.11am. The day was overcast, and to everybody’s frustration we hadn’t glimpsed an inch of blue sky all morning.
I ordered everybody to focus their thoughts on burning away the cloud cover — and sure enough, the sun burst through, moments before the moon’s disc began to slide across it. We witnessed the whole of the eclipse, though across most of Britain it was wholly hidden by the grey skies.
The Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank looks a lot like the bows of a cruise liner too. Perhaps that was in Tamas’s mind when he called a halt during a concert by the London Schools Symphony Orchestra last month to dedicate Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 15 to us.
Scientists have always been eager to know if my metal-bending ability is latent in many other people, and the late Professor John Hasted at the University of London carried out comprehensive tests on a host of promising youngsters during the Seventies and Eighties.
Christine and Robert Wilde
One of them, Christine Wilde, visited my home with her husband Robert this week, and told me how metal still bent unexpectedly around her. I sent them off to one of my favourite restaurants on the banks of the Thames, and told her to mind the cutlery.
That evening, Robert emailed to say they had experienced two extraordinary phenomena after leaving my home. As they drove to the restaurant, Christine was holding the bent spoon I’d given her, and another straight one which I’d suggested she could use for practice. Without warning, it twisted in her hand — “in a downward direction,” Robert said, “with the bending stopping at precisely the same angle as your bent spoon. The two spoons were truly symmetrical... amazing!”
And as if that wasn’t enough, a key on Robert’s keyring bent during lunch. Christine must have a remarkable gift.