Derren Brown on happiness, his guilty pleasures and Infamous

This article was originally published by STV in 2014. 

The Infamous Derren Brown is bringing his trademark wit, humour and mind-blowing mentalism to Scotland.

And let's not forget that red Frisbee he likes to throw into the crowd.

A supreme showman, the illusionist can reduce an entire theatre audience to stunned silence. On his TV shows, he's hypnotised regular members of the public into robbing banks and attempting to assassinate a national treasure.

He's even been known to channel the powers of the Messiah on occasion.

Derren Brown, master of misdirection and mentalism, has confounded and delighted audiences around the world on stage and screen for over a decade.

But despite worldwide fame and notoriety, in person, he's refreshingly down-to-earth, friendly and ridiculously intelligent. Not to mention wickedly funny.

STV spoke to him about bringing his Infamous tour to Scotland, turning former Time Lord David Tennant into a mind reader and his complete disregard for the World Cup.


Derren will soon bring his latest tour Infamous to Scotland with week-long runs in Aberdeen and Glasgow.

Having performed the live show in Edinburgh last year, Derren announced earlier this week that he will be returning to the Capital in May 2015 with a brand new show.

When it comes to Infamous, the master mentalist has asked his audiences, and journalists, to keep the show's content a secret, but agreed to give us a hint at what's to come.

"It's a more personal show than the previous ones," Derren explained. "It's more rooted in me and has a kind of a stripped back feel to it.

"If anyone hasn't seen me live before I'd say it's a lot funnier and entertaining than the TV shows, which are normally quite dark."

Infamous sees Derren reunite with long-time collaborator, and friend, Andy Nyman.

"We've got a long history of understanding each other and work well together," said Derren.

"He's a more energetic and emotional creature than me: I'm probably more detached and cerebral and that balance works very well."

The combination still proves a winning one as Derren nears the end of a presumably gruelling 128-day UK tour.

But from the sounds of it, touring is something he will never tire of.

He said: "If I've had a slow day or bad day or I'm in a bad mood, [performing the show] is amazing for clearing all that out. I love it more than anything.

"The first week is a little nerve-wracking but after that it's great and you get this immediate feedback from the audience which is very different from TV."

That's not to say he needs to constantly feed off rapturous applause from his audience.

In fact, Derren admits: "It took me a long time to not get embarrassed by people applauding when I first started performing years ago."

Lifting the veil on mediumship

Something we do know about Infamous is that it examines the concept of mediumship.

Derren explained: "Essentially, and this is one thing I say in the show, if you claim something that's extraordinary and flies in the face of science, like talking to the dead, you have to come up with evidence of that.

"But they've never been able to do it.

"When I do it in the show, I cheat in the exact same ways that I know mediums do. I try to reproduce it and do a better job so people see it's not real.

"It's a shame because none of that would matter if they weren't trampling on the memories of people that you've loved. It's quite ugly when you get to the heart of it."

At the time of our interview, Derren is touring down in Wales.

We asked what he's been getting up to when he's not busy delighting and confounding audiences at Swansea's Grand Theatre. Has he been swept up with the World Cup fever perhaps?

"No, I've got no interest in that at all," he admits. "I sometimes feel like a failure of a man but yeah football is one of those things that totally passed me by.

"I was always rubbish at it at school. I'm aware that there can be so much artistry and beauty to it. It's like a palate; I feel like somebody that just doesn't get wine or something."

Happiness and guilty pleasures

So while he's not been in the pub screaming at the on-pitch antics on the TV, what has he been getting up to? It turns out that while on tour, Derren enjoys the quiet life.

He said: "I'll find a nice, quiet cafe to bed down in for a week. I'm writing the book - that's the main thing, so I find cafes and places to sit, write and read in, which is essentially all I do."

On that subject, Derren reveals a rather unexpected guilty pleasure: self-help books.

"I love them," he admits. "They've always been a sort of guilty pleasure. Some are terrific but others are pure dross."

It turns out this love-hate relationship emerged as the catalyst for that aforementioned book he's working on.

"It's a book on Happiness," he revealed. "It's a sort of anti-self-help book I'm slowly writing. Hopefully it'll come out end of next year.

"The problem with self-help on happiness it that all the stuff it teaches, which tends to be around positive thinking and goal setting, can be extremely counterproductive.

"If anything, it tends to create feelings of failure and anxiety when it inevitably doesn't work, so mine is actually rooted in philosophy.

"It takes some big, basic and powerful ideas from previous eras which I think are much more useful, helpful and interesting than the stuff churned out by modern, self help authors.

"The ancient Greeks and Romans really took this stuff seriously. They thought very rigorously about what it was to be happy. What they came up with extraordinarily still holds today."

Trick or Treat

Alongside his books and theatre shows, Derren has produced some truly memorable television moments, including opportunities to manipulate, impress and bamboozle a few famous faces.

But it seems the difficulty comes when separating the confident showman from the man behind the magic.

"It's weird," admits Derren. "We often get people on the show because I want to meet them but it's almost like being in character with what I do.

"It's not really who I am because I have to be quite controlling to make the thing work and it's frustrating because I feel like I can never really meet them properly on my own terms.

"I don't really get to connect with people properly because I have to play this very controlling person."

That said, someone Derren did connect with and remembers fondly just so happens to be our very own former Time Lord, David Tennant.

Derren successfully turned the actor into a mind reader in an episode of Trick or Treat back in 2012.

"He was predicting what would be in the newspapers from a week before," explained Derren.

"He had to get in a wetsuit and float in a pool for two hours because he needed to get into a very relaxed state first and then he does this thing called automatic writing that mediums used to do in Victorian times where you scribble but don't pay any attention. Actors tend to be quite good at it.

"It's quite a long and elaborate trick," said Derren. "But he's the nicest guy. My memory of it is how utterly charming and lovely he was."

If, like Tennant, you're ready to fall under the maestro of mind control's spell, make sure you catch that red Frisbee when Derren Brown comes to town.

Derren Brown performs Infamous at His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen from July 7-12 and The Kings Theatre in Glasgow from July 14-19.