“I stopped doing 24 because I loved the show”
Kiefer Sutherland on why he said goodbye to Jack Bauer, plus finally getting to make a movie with his dad.
By Jason Adams
Kiefer Sutherland may not be on screen as Jack Bauer anymore, but the Hollywood star is back with a new movie called Forsaken. Kiefer stars alongside his father, Donald Sutherland, in the western, which also stars Demi Moore. About working with his dad he says, “I’ve wanted to make a movie with my father for 30 years.
“Some fathers get to teach their son how to fish, and some fathers build model aeroplanes with their son, and you know, I got to make a movie with mine. So I couldn’t ask for more.”
Meanwhile, Kiefer bowed out of TV series 24 when season nine Live Another Day ended last year.
About leaving the hit show, Kiefer says, “I think if I could have done 24 for 20 years I would have. But the truth is at some point you have to stop thinking about what you want to do and remember the legacy of the show and protect it. That’s why I stopped.”
Here, Kiefer talks about what being part of 24 meant to him, plus his thoughts on the show going forward. He also talks about what it was like growing up with two parents who were actors and whether he gives any advice to his daughter Sarah, who is also an actress.
Firstly, when is 24 coming back? Everyone wants to know.
I’m not doing 24 anymore, but I think the writers have been working on another scenario with maybe another cast. I can’t answer exactly when it’s coming back but I will not be a part of it, and I’ve said that from the very beginning. I think the idea for that show is much bigger than any actor or any part, and so I wish them the best of luck. For me, there are only so many days you can honestly believe one guy can have that many bad days, and so for me, nine was enough and I’m finished.
You must be very proud of this achievement?
Because 24 kind of opened TV to where it is now, we’re in such a golden age?
It was part of it, but yeah.
Everybody was crazy about 24.
I’m incredibly proud, and I think if I could have done 24 for 20 years I would have. But the truth is at some point you have to stop thinking about what you want to do and remember the legacy of the show and protect it. That’s why I stopped. It wasn’t because I wanted to but again, how long can you believe in one character experiencing the kind of same circumstance over and over again? I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been able to do nine years, you know. I didn’t stop because I was bored of it, or I didn’t love it. I stopped because I loved it, and I respected it. Again, I believe the story is much bigger than certainly me or my character, and it can continue. It had to, I think, realistically end because if we kept doing it, it just would not have been special.
Can you put into words what 24 gave to you?
It was the greatest acting lesson I’ve ever had. When I started working, there was a methodology or a thought that if you did less work you would become more important as an actor, and I followed that for 20 years. And the truth is, if I’m an Olympic athlete, and I’m training for the Olympics, I train every day and when the Olympics are coming up I train even harder.
24 was that for me. I got to work as an actor every day, very intensely, very strongly, for ten months of the year, five days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day. It was one of the greatest acting lessons and exercises I’ve ever had and as that, professionally it was one of the great, well, it was the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had.
A professional turning point?
I think I saw a little bit of Jack Bauer in your character John Henry in Forsaken.
Well, they look a lot alike. (Laughs)
But in the action at the end of the movie I thought, “This is a little bit like 24.” Is it because of you, or is it because of the movie?
Well, I’m certainly the same actor, so I would have to believe yes.
What attracted you to Forsaken? Was it the father-son element? Was it the western?
It was all of those things. I’ve wanted to make a movie with my father for 30 years. So that was a huge driving factor. The western genre, I think, is American, or Americana, storytelling at its best, and so all of those elements. The other actors, Demi Moore and Michael Wincott, Brian Cox, I wanted to work with all of those people and I thought the script was fantastic. So for all of those reasons I wanted to make the movie.
You looked at ease on the horse. Are you a nature boy or is it just well played?
No, well, I wish I could tell you it was well played but no, I love horses and I love riding, and I love that period. So it was a very natural fit for me. It’s something I feel very comfortable with.
You also did rodeos, right?
So this passion of yours is merging a little bit into the job?
Yeah, a little bit, yeah.
What about the father/son relationship in this? It must have been intense between the two of you?
It was not as intense as you would think, because I thought it was going to be as well. He’s a very professional actor, my father, and I consider myself to be the same. So the times between action and cut were quite predictable. It was the other times that were more exciting for me. It was the longest time I’d ever been able to spend with my father. I grew up with my mother and so all of a sudden we got to spend nine weeks together, five days a week, 16 hours a day, making something together. Some fathers get to teach their son how to fish, and some fathers build model aeroplanes with their son, and you know, I got to make a movie with mine. So I couldn’t ask for more.
Is it true that you only learned that your father was an actor when you were 18?
No, I always knew my father was an actor, but unlike my mother. I would finish school and go to the theatre, and she was doing a play. I would see the play and by the time the play was over I knew all the dialogue, you know, and I was raised like that. Back in the 70s and 80s you couldn’t go to see an adult movie as a young person, and if you couldn’t see it in the movie theatre, you didn’t see it at all. So I didn’t see a lot of my father’s films until I was about 18 or 19. I remember feeling very guilty about that. I think in three days I watched Don’t Look Now, Fellini’s Casanova, Bertolucci’s 1900, Kelly’s Heroes, Start the Revolution Without Me, which are two great comedies and then Ordinary People and a couple of other movies. I felt embarrassed that I didn’t realise what a prolific, important actor he was when I was 18, and I remember feeling very guilty about that.
I was just talking to Jeremy Irons…
Oh, what a beautiful actor, yeah.
He was talking about his two sons being in the business and how much he wants to protect them, but not interfere too much. From a son’s perspective, how well did your father guide you to stay out of his shadow?
My father stayed away. We never talked about acting, ever, and my mother too. And to their credit, my life was mine, and it was sink or swim for me. I think they were both very right. The truth is my daughter, who is a beautiful actor, doesn’t ever talk to me about the work, either, at all, and I don’t talk to her about it. It’s a very personal, private thing, and I think it requires that respect and I was so lucky to have two parents that gave me that.
Finally, what do you think of the Zurich Film Festival?
It’s been fantastic. The people have been very kind. I think the interviews that I’ve been able to do have been smart and people have asked me questions that are interesting that I want to answer, and I can’t wait for tomorrow. I have a day off, and I’m going to see Zurich, which I saw from the plane, [it] is one of the most beautiful cities that I’ve ever seen. The little canal right outside the hotel here, the water is so clean you can see the bottom. That’s not something you get very often in the United States, if ever, and so I can’t wait to explore tomorrow.
What are you going to do on your day off?
I’m going to do exactly what I just told you, which is explore.
Everything about and around Zurich?
Yes, well, not everything, it’s a day – I’ll do my best.
You can watch all 9 seasons of 24 now with Sky Box Sets. To find out more, search “Sky Box Sets”
Man About the House
by Sammy Rea
Joel Williams was a contestant on the reality TV show Big Brother, in which housemates are filmed 24 hours a day. Joel, who describes himself as a Christian, Conservative, community counsellor, remained in the house the entire ten weeks, finishing in second place. A governor of two Cardiff schools, Joel, who’s just 20, is now back in Wales, finishing his A levels. I caught up with him in London, at the National Reality TV Awards.
Did you grow up in a Christian family?
Yes, I grew up in a Christian home, and I’m a Christian myself. I think growing up with a Christian background is helpful for anyone. It makes you aware of right and wrong and the moral code we should all abide by, as good citizens of the United Kingdom.
So regardless of religious beliefs, everyone can benefit from the moral code that underpins Christianity?
Absolutely. One of the joys of the Bible is that even if you aren’t a Christian, you can still take something from it. You can read certain verses, and they’ll give you the inspiration, guidance and awareness to behave in an ethical and moral way. I like the book of Proverbs. I often see quotes on Facebook and Twitter, and when I put them into Google, they’re actually from the Bible. At first, they might not appear to be, but if you look into them, you’ll find they are.
A quote I put on Twitter was, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have enough worries for itself.” It means, why am I worrying about what’s going to happen? Let me focus on the here and now. That’s a biblical verse.
All sorts of things happen on Big Brother. Was there anything you found challenging to reconcile with your faith, with Christianity?
I’m a firm believer that you should have no skeletons in your closet. Ultimately, we all do, but I would try to live a life that’s quite transparent. On Big Brother, your life is completely transparent, it’s ten weeks, 24 hours a day, seven days a week surveillance. They will pick out your bad bits, and if you’ve got any bad bits, trust me, they will come out on Big Brother.
In terms of finding it challenging in light of my faith, there were things in the Big Brother house that would challenge people who aren’t Christians. I’m sure many viewers, regardless of their religion, and atheists included, are distressed by foul language and housemates walking around naked.
I felt: “I’m not doing it, but I’m living in this environment with you so I’d much rather you didn’t do it in front of me.” But what right do I have to judge others? A biblical verse is, you should remove the log from your eye before you remove the splinter from someone else’s. I always tell myself that when I think about judging people.
Did you discuss religion or Christianity with other members of the Big Brother house?
Yes, and the one thing we agreed on, as a house, was that we are a Christian country, and we would rather be in a Christian country than a country of any other religion. You don’t need to be a Christian to benefit from living in a Christian country.
We also discussed church schools, and even housemates who weren’t religious said, “I’d send my child to a church school because I can see the benefits that child would have.”
Did you go to a church school?
I went to a Church of Wales primary school, a Church of Wales secondary school, and I now go to a Catholic sixth form college. Church schools can benefit society because they teach Christian morals.
How do you feel about other faith schools?
I think all faith schools have the potential to offer an appropriate education and teach morality and a moral code. We need to ensure the teaching in all faith schools is rational and proportional and that the teachers are tolerant of other faiths.
I think it’s great when schools celebrate the holidays of different faiths and teach different religious views because it encourages understanding. I have very close Muslim and Jewish friends, and it’s about tolerance. I can see their view, and they can see mine.
Unfortunately, there have been Muslim schools in Birmingham where children were being taught a backward view of society, with girls sitting at the back of the classroom. That’s not something we want to advocate in our society, which is why it’s important those schools are under government control.
Do you go to church?
I go to church every Sunday. It’s beneficial to me, to develop my understanding of my faith; it’s very interesting. I was in the Big Brother house for ten weeks, so I missed church for ten Sundays. It was difficult at times because I wasn’t getting the spiritual nourishment I get when I’m around believers. I prayed about it. I’m a firm believer in prayer and the worth it can have.
What motivated you to go on Big Brother?
I like Big Brother, it’s a guilty pleasure. And it was a challenge; I love challenges. But I thought it was all a big joke, I never thought I’d get in. I packed my suitcase as a joke, I went to see the psychiatrist as a joke, I met the executives as a joke. Then the contract dropped on my doormat, this big, thick contract, the size of the Yellow Pages and I thought, “My gosh, this isn’t a joke anymore.” And by that time, I was in the house.
How did your parents feel about you going into the house? Did they have any concerns about what you might be exposed to?
My parents had initial concerns. I think any parents would. But they knew it was something I wanted to do and trusted me to judge what’s best for me. I go to college, and I’m in the world where I see a lot. I think Big Brother is like that, but in a more concentrated and saturated way.
Do you feel you gained from the experience?
Yes, I found it an interesting experience, and I very much enjoyed it. I’ve had the opportunity to sit here today, [and] talk about my faith and other matters, which I don’t think would be happening if I didn’t do Big Brother. You need to look at the positives and act in a positive manner. There’s a saying, “If you hang around with negative people, you become negative yourself.” For me, that can be difficult at times because I can be pessimistic, but I tend to say I’m a realist.
What did the people from your church say about you going on Big Brother?
They had concerns; they were worried more than anything. They want the best for me, just as I want the best for them.
Did anything happen on the show that you were worried your church friends would see?
No. I went into Big Brother aware that it was filmed all the time and what’s done is done. I can’t go back and correct the past, but I’m sure if anyone had any concerns or issues, they would have talked to me about them.
The media appears to be pushing boundaries and becoming more sensationalist to grab viewing figures. Do you feel sensationalist behaviour was encouraged in Big Brother, for example, when housemates were given alcohol?
I think we’ll all agree that if a person is heavily intoxicated, they’re likely to behave in a more outgoing way than they would if they weren’t under the influence. It’s all about choice. If a person chooses to drink alcohol and get wasted, they know they are going to let themselves down and behave in a way they might regret.
Do you drink alcohol?
I don’t drink. I mean, I’m not teetotal, but I don’t see the benefit from drinking. I don’t have an issue with anybody who wants to drink; I just don’t choose to do it myself.
Do you think viewers are influenced by the behaviour they see on reality TV, such as scenes of a sexual nature and the language used?
Absolutely, which is why we have a watershed, so young children don’t view scenes that should be for adults. It is all about choice. If an adult chooses to watch that, fine, that’s their choice, but they can choose not to watch it. For a child, it’s very different, because a child might just put something on and sit and watch it.
There are many shows that are controversial; that may have bad language and certain viewpoints that aren’t supported by all. That’s why they are broadcast later when it’s less likely children will be watching.
Do you think reality TV normalises extreme behaviours?
I can’t talk about that because I went on a reality TV show that is highly controversial. It would be the pot calling the kettle black. I think everyone has to remember that actions have consequences. If you’re an actor, or if you’re on television, you have great power because you’re potentially influencing millions of people, so you need to be mindful of behaving in a sensible way.
There are some people in the public eye who reject the idea that they’re role models and say that’s not their job. What would you say to that?
If you’re in the public eye, you’re a role model. You will have, and you deserve, greater scrutiny because you’ve put yourself out there. You haven’t been forced into that. If I’m photographed coming out of a betting shop, that’s a consequence of the choice I made to put myself in the public eye.
I was aware when I went on Big Brother of what could happen when I left the house. You have to be mindful and behave in an appropriate way. I’ve been asked to take on ambassador roles with charities, but if I went out and behaved like an imbecile, I’d be dropped from those charities, because I’d bring them into disrepute. Anyone who is in the public eye has a duty to behave responsibly.
Do you ever debate Christianity? If someone said to you, “God doesn’t exist”, would you debate this?
No. Why should I? I believe I’m right, they believe they’re right, let’s just agree to disagree. There’s no debate to be had there.
Pioneer - The Gerald Coates Story
Gerald Coates has been one of the most influential leaders within the new church movement and far beyond, for many decades, and in many nations. His contribution to faith and the landscape of non-religious Christianity in the UK has been extremely significant. Gerald is sometimes accused of referencing his friends in high places. But the fact is there are friends in high places. In this extract from his new biography, Pioneer, we get a fascinating insight into the life of an advisor to the great and good.
Gerald and Cliff Richard first meet at a concert sometime around 1978, where both are guests of someone else. A conversation follows when the two realise they are close neighbours. Cliff doesn’t need friends in the sense of new people to meet and spend time with, but he does need friends he can confide in and pray with. And in this small-statured pastor with a large personality, Cliff feels he has found someone who can help him. As Cliff himself puts it, Gerald has a ‘no frills’ honesty that Cliff finds refreshing. Perhaps unusual too, in the celebrity world Cliff inhabits. Gerald can keep a confidence and at the same time is not overawed by celebrity culture. A friend and a pastor rolled into one.
Over the months that follow, the friendship builds. As much as possible, Cliff makes Cobham Christian Fellowship his home. Usually, he turns up just as the meeting begins in order not to bring attention to himself. So much so that one time, a visitor complains that they have to sit next to a ‘Cliff Richard look-alike’.
As well as Cliff performing at Kingdom Life Bible week and similar endeavours, when he can, Cliff, along with his manager Bill Latham, attends Gerald and his wife Anona’s New Year bashes. Through Gerald, Cliff gets to know Sheila Walsh well and, as a result, singing collaborations and tours follow.
Cliff Richard gets a phenomenal postbag each week, the majority of it fan mail. But interspersed with the fan letters are pleas for help, people asking about Cliff’s Christian faith and seeking guidance. Cliff has felt unable to deal with these, and it is through his friendship with Gerald that he can decide what to do. Gerald sets up administration within the church to answer them, offering spiritual guidance to those writing.
Gerald is a call-to point for prayer as well, on one occasion taking a well-known Christian healer with him to pray for Cliff’s back. The results are immediate.
Cliff clearly enjoys Gerald’s company, as witnessed by watching movies together – Cliff is in tears as they watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ – and they share many meals together. But when asked to recall moments in their relationship, it’s not tears that come to mind. Cliff thinks first of the times of laughter.
On one occasion, Gerald and Anona are Cliff’s guests at a restaurant on New Year’s Eve. As midnight approaches, Cliff asks Gerald what they should do. Gerald stands and raises his glass. “Ladies and gentlemen, to the King and his Kingdom.” Cliff’s guests stand and repeat the refrain. Then, to the amazement of Cliff’s party, the whole restaurant – full of the rich and powerful – stand together and repeat the toast. Do they know what they are saying? Probably not. But at one moment in time, God breaks in, in an amazing and somewhat humorous way.
Rick Parfitt of Status Quo is also a friend of Gerald. Gerald, who got to know Rick through a mutual friend in the Moody Blues, is there for the most tragic moment in Rick’s life.
One morning, Gerald gets a call from Marietta, Rick’s wife. Can he and Anona come over to the house straight away? There’s been a tragedy. Their daughter Heidi, who plays with Gerald and Anona’s youngest boy, has fallen into the swimming pool and drowned. Rick thought she had been with Marietta; Marietta thought she was with Rick.
As Gerald and Anona make the short trip to Guildford, they pray. Gerald recalls it as feeling like one of the longest drives of his life. When they arrive, they find Rick curled up in the corner of the hallway, tears streaming down his face. By now the family have arrived, but Rick and Marietta need the spiritual help Gerald and Anona can offer.
Gerald and Rick read scripture together. Sitting together in the corner of the hallway, they seek out the comfort that comes from God’s words of life – words of life in a moment of tragedy.
Boy George has been interviewed by The Guardian. In the interview, he explains that he has become a godfather and went on to describe the baby’s christening. He explains in the article how dull the service was, expressing that he feels it should have been a moment of celebration. There should have been a party.
Gerald is impressed by what he says and writes to Boy George to thank him for the article. One of the members of his band is a Christian and observes the effect on Boy George as he reads the letter. It turns out that sadly, some so-called Christians have also written to Boy George, expressing in strong language their views that because of his lifestyle he has no right to be a godfather to any child. In contrast, Gerald’s letter is a delight and surprise to Boy George.
Move on a couple of years, and the same band member has invited Gerald and Anona to a concert. To the surprise of all, part way through the concert, Boy George announces, “We have someone really big in Christianity with us tonight.” He goes on to dedicate the next two songs to Gerald and Anona, singing versions of This Little Light of Mine and Down by the Riverside. After the concert, Gerald and Anona are invited onto the gleaming and giant tour bus. There, they spend an hour or two talking with Boy George. At one point, one of the organisers comes into the tour bus to remind Boy George that some fans are still waiting for him. “But I’m with my friends Gerald and Anona. They’ll just have to wait.”
Words of life in surprising settings. All because of a letter.
It is through Cliff that Alvin Stardust comes into Gerald and Anona’s lives. Cliff brings him along to a church event. Alvin has been to church before, but nothing quite like this. A few of the others in the congregation notice he is there – hard to miss with his trademark sideburns and swept-back hair. What they may also have noticed is his increasing nervousness as the preach goes on.
Is this for him? Has the preacher prepared a special talk just for him? It feels that way. As Gerald speaks, every word lands in an open heart. At the end of the sermon, there is an invitation to respond, to accept Christ as Lord and Saviour. One of the first hands raised that night is that of the pop star. A special moment and one that profoundly changes Alvin Stardust for the rest of his life. He goes through many problems in years to come but never loses his faith. At his premature death from cancer in 2014, he is recorded in the many obituaries as a godly man and one of the kindest people in the pop industry.
As the service ends, and the TV news item shows a final picture of the coffin, Gerald reflects on how God has been able to use his words, and make of them words of life.
One of the most remarkable connections remains Gerald’s link with the royal family of Romania. Gerald’s long-term friend David Taylor was a conveyancer. In the early 1970s, sitting next to Gerald in a meeting, a well-known preacher with a prophetic ministry lays his hands on David and says, “You will have a ministry to the Royal Family.”
Gerald is concerned. David is a middle manager in a solicitors’ practice. Surely such a word, if it is correct, should be for Gerald himself? After all, Gerald is the full-time pastor. David has just come along to the meeting as a friend. Perplexed, the young and somewhat arrogant Gerald dismisses the prophecy as a bit of a wild word, and no more is said.
Move forward 20 years. Gerald gets a phone call. It’s David. “Gerald, I’ve just seen an advert. Princess Margareta, Prince Charles’ cousin and the Crown Princess of Romania, is looking for a UK representative for her charity. Do you think I should apply?”
“This is the prophecy, David. This is it. Of course you should go for it.”
David gets the job.
Over the next few years, Gerald gets to know Princess Margareta by way of various charity functions. Then there’s a Youth with a Mission conference in Geneva and Gerald is the guest speaker. David decides to come along as well.
“David, why are you coming to this? You hate conferences.”
“I want you to meet Princess Margareta’s parents, King Michael and Queen Anne. King Michael is a cousin of our Queen. They live in Geneva. I want you to pray for them.”
“I know they live there. But David, you know full well that’s not how it works. You don’t even touch a Royal unless it’s a handshake. You certainly never lobby a member of the Royal Family – and asking to pray for them would be lobbying.”
David smiles. ‘Let’s see.’
The flight is on time. As Gerald stares out of the window on that short trip to Geneva, he has time to reflect. How did he ever get to be speaking to royalty in the way he now is? And politicians? And even the Archbishop of Canterbury? He smiles. God is fulfilling his word, making of Gerald something that in his wildest dreams Gerald could never have imagined.
He’s travelled to many places, spoken in many countries. He’s travelled to several parts of Africa, to South America, and through most of Europe. He’s spoken at or led major conferences in France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Malta, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.
Not that these travels have been without sacrifice. Many a time, he has had to leave Anona behind as their young sons were growing up. Gerald remembers one set of meetings where he clearly was feeling some conflict with having left his family on their own over a weekend, and this comes out in his preaching that night. At the end of the meeting, an old man moves towards him. There’s a determined look in his eye. Waving his walking stick in Gerald’s direction, he says, “Young man, I have a word for you. You know, young man, God is a perfect Father, and he has many wayward children. Do you think you are going to do better?”
It lifts a load from Gerald’s mind at a crucial moment when travel is picking up. His boys will be cared for by a father who has a greater love than Gerald can ever have.
As the years go by, Gerald begins to get better at managing the travel and his family. His boys have done well. Anona has appreciated Gerald’s ministry. And the miles apart have always brought about a greater appreciation of their marriage and family whenever Gerald has returned.
The plane lands. Two hours later, David and Gerald are in the Geneva home of the Romanian Royal Family. The room they are in overlooks the lake. The majestic mountains in the background and the manicured lawns outside the window create a beautiful picture.
It’s a mid-morning meeting. They wait. And wait.
Forty-five minutes later, a flustered Queen Anne comes into the room. “I’m so sorry to keep you. So sorry.” She is closely followed by King Michael. It turns out that they have had some troubling family news that morning and have been trying to deal with it.
“It’s not a problem, ma’am, we can go.” Gerald and David get up to leave.
“No. No. Stay. Please, sit down.”
An hour’s meeting turns into two. Then three. They stay for a light meal. David is struggling to believe what is happening. The Royal Family of Romania never change schedules. They never ask people to stay. But here is Gerald being asked to stop for the whole afternoon.
The talk is general, but as Gerald and David make to leave, Queen Anne asks Gerald to pray for them. He does so. A pretty general prayer, but with a few extra words under his breath. ‘Lord, please change their lives.’
As Gerald gets up from the beautifully embroidered armchair, he gives the couple a book by the theologian Ravi Zacharias. Both the king and queen are strongly academic so Gerald reckons they may well read it. As an afterthought, Gerald also leaves them a copy of his autobiography, An Intelligent Fire, because David is mentioned in it.
Three weeks later, Gerald gets a call from David.
“Queen Anne wants a meeting with you. She’s getting permission from Queen Elizabeth to enter the country and will come to your house.”
“But why, David? What for?”
“I’m not sure. She hasn’t told me.”
A week later, David, his wife Carrie and Anona are in the house praying. Gerald is in the garden, sitting under the oak tree with Queen Anne. She speaks for a while of family matters, as well as her concern for the British Royal Family. But Gerald knows there must be more.
“Excuse me asking, ma’am, but why is it you have come? How can I help?”
“It’s your book. I’ve read it twice in the last three weeks. I didn’t realise. I never knew. I always thought Christianity was to do with rules and dogma. And I hate rules and dogma. But it’s not like that. He cares. He cares for me. His friendship is for simple people like me.”
That day, in Gerald’s garden, he prays with the Queen of Romania to find a new faith. A friendship and faith for simple people. Like Queen Anne.
Another week on, Princess Margareta calls Gerald.
“Gerald, what have you done to my mother?”
“What do you mean, ma’am?”
“She’s different. She’s speaking of her faith. She seems to have found her vocation.”
While Gerald is on a speaking tour, out of the blue Queen Anne contacts him again and asks if she can join him. What do you say to a queen when she asks to speak on your preaching tour? “Yes” is the only possible answer, of course.
The meeting hall in Bristol is packed. Gerald hasn’t told the congregation about his special guest, but part way through his preach, he stops to introduce her.
“I have a very special guest tonight. She’s going to talk for a few minutes. Please welcome Queen Anne of Romania.”
The congregation hesitate. Then applaud. Did he just say, Queen Anne? There’s a queen speaking?
For a few minutes, she tells her story: of driving ambulances in the Second World War; of supporting the exiled French Army; of being thrown out of Romania by the Communists: of how the country has been devastated as a result; and of how healing is coming. And then she says: “I just want to say to you God is real. I have found God to be real in my life, and there’s nothing I want more than to live minute by minute for Jesus Christ.”
A quiet murmur goes through the building. People begin to clap. The applause gets louder. People are standing on their feet cheering. A queen and her faith. A simple friendship for, as the Queen herself puts it, a simple person. A life changed, and a vocation found.
Pioneer is published by Malcolm Down Publishing and is available in all good bookshops
His most challenging role yet.
by Jessica Young
With an imposing presence, David Oyelowo has made his mark quickly in several dramatic leading roles, and he continues to make captivating movies full steam ahead. The British actor is best known for portraying civil rights leader Martin Luther King in Selma. His other roles include Lincoln, The Butler, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, A Most Violent Year and The Help. The 39-year-old father of four also starred in the British TV series Spooks.
His latest movie, Captive, is a crime drama, based on Ashley Smith’s book Unlikely Angel, co-starring Kate Mara, Mimi Rogers, Michael K. Williams, and David’s wife, Jessica, and is the true story of David’s character, Brian Nichols. Nichols escapes from the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta in March 2005, during his trial involving a rape case. In the process of the escape, he murders the judge presiding over his trial, as well as the court reporter. He shoots a special agent and a police sergeant and is the subject of a city-wide manhunt. Soon, he arrives at the apartment of Ashley Smith, a single mother and recovering meth addict, whom he holds hostage. Smith gets through her time as a hostage by reading Rick Warren’s best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life while Nichols searches for redemption. As she reads aloud, the hostage and her would-be killer come to a crossroads.
Why did you pick this movie, Captive?
I was more drawn to the story than the role itself.
What else intrigued you enough to play this role?
Whenever you look at this story, there was this blank spot of what happened over this span of time. You only had Ashley’s side of the story, you didn’t hear much from Brian Nichols, and he was facing trial … for murder, and is presently serving multiple life sentences. So, someone who had killed four people in the morning then turns around and not only lets this woman go, but gives himself up. Then in a weird twist of fate, she attributes part of her salvation to him. It’s something that generates intrigue in me.
How familiar with the case were you before coming onto the project?
I wasn’t at all. It happened in 2005, and I was still living in the UK at that time. I’d read The Purpose Driven Life, and to see it being such a pivotal part of what went on to happen between Nichols and Smith is what got my attention.
Ashley Smith was my greatest resource from that point of view. As you can imagine for those seven hours, even though her life changed for the better beyond them, that time with Nichols was very traumatic. She was being held hostage in her apartment, and she remembers it like it was yesterday. She was with us for a lot of the shoot. I relied on her quite heavily for how he moved, who he was, what he said, what he didn’t say. We were changing the script all the time just to make sure we didn’t embellish what happened between them.
Did you have a trigger that you would use, or did you stay in character the whole time?
I didn’t have one on this one. I’ll be honest with you. Playing Nichols was a very tough thing because to get your head into the space of being able to kill four people in a morning, cold-heartedly – I didn’t enjoy being there even for the time of shooting, let alone to stay in character the whole time. One of the things I learned early on as an actor is that you have to love your character. You have to not judge them. You have to understand them to be able to truthfully play them. For me, this is one of the hardest characters I’ve had to do that with.
What goals did you set for yourself in portraying Brian?
I wanted to acknowledge certain things that inevitably the audience do with characters like Brian, which is that you judge someone like him. He’s a big black guy; he used to play football. Packing on a lot of muscles [was] something I had to do. Partly to play with the audience’s perception.
You see a big black guy taking a white woman hostage. No matter who you are, where you’re from, what colour you are, that is very provocative imagery and prejudice, to be perfectly frank. And then humanise him. Then bring complexity. Then make you question the initial attitude towards him, but at the same time make sure you’re not exonerating him for what he did. It was a very tricky balance to strike, but the fact that Ashley Smith herself attributes part of her salvation beyond this event to Brian Nichols, you have to see that.
What else was involved?
You have to see that there was something in him that made her humanity awaken – her desire to be better to be kick-started. It was a tough character to play because, like I say, you can’t get away from what he did; but he is a human being, and I think that’s partly why Ashley was able to cut the red switch with him, in a sense. [It] is the fact that she also showed him humanity at that moment, which is what enabled me as an actor to show his humanity because he was having an interaction as opposed to a cold-blooded non-interaction like he had with the people he killed.
Were you able to meet Brian?
I wasn’t, no. The nature of his sentence means you can’t have access. But I did get to meet his mother, which was very intense, as you can imagine. The thing that was extraordinary about meeting her, even ten years on, is that she still can’t quite believe that this is her life and that this was her son that did this. It is still reverberating for that family…
Was there footage to use for research?
Yes, of the trial mainly. Not beforehand. My primary source for getting under the skin of Brian was Ashley. She remembers this event as if it happened yesterday, and she was on the set with us through quite a lot of the shoot. She had influence in so far as not from a creative point of view, but more from a factual point of view. I was very keen [to have her there], because I couldn’t speak to Brian, and because I was limited in being able to talk to people who knew him; I just wanted to make sure that what we were doing felt true, felt like it was authentic to the experience. It is one of those stories with no need to embellish anything. All of it played out like a movie.
Please tell me more.
When you think about the fact that Brian kills those people in Atlanta, and then it was a 45-minute drive to Duluth to the apartment complex, and then he finds his way into her specific apartment… You couldn’t write that, is the truth of the matter. So for us it was about sticking true to the story, and that was primarily her function for us while we were shooting the film.
Did you have any second thoughts about playing Brian?
Yes, I did. Because I know what it costs me to play these roles. You can’t phone that in. My job as an actor is to fully inhabit the character. And that costs with a character like Brian Nichols … what he did, and who he is, didn’t have the same draw as playing Dr King, for obvious reasons. But my job was the same. Your job as an actor is to not judge your character. You have to be able to understand why they do what they do when they are doing it, so that you function as a three-dimensional human being that people can believe.
The fact remains that beyond those seven hours, Ashley Smith attributes God with part of why she gained her life back. And when he held a gun to her head and said take the meth, and she said no, a drug that she had been a slave to for so long, the way she describes it is that she felt God took over Brian Nichols and said, “Do you want to live or do you want to die? You have a choice, turn away from this thing , take hold of life.” And so regardless of where you are coming from, [from] a faith point of view, something happened, something miraculous happened. Something that on paper shouldn’t have.
And that can only happen when, I believe … a degree of humanity is shared between these two people. So yes, the idea at the beginning of the movie is for him to be cold-blooded, and one of the things I really struggled with is, you have a guy, and this is what he did on the day, he had no shirt on, very muscly guy, two guns, running around Atlanta, the kind of guy who we normally deem an action hero in the movies – so one of the toughest things was how do we not make him seem like Jason Statham, or Bourne or Bond, so you have that to one side.
But at the end of the day, even though – especially if he had done what he did to any family member of mine – I wouldn’t want to see him as a human being … the fact remains that he was. And so yes, my job is to portray him with a degree of humanity that means you can take a look at these two people, who you could discard to the trash heap, making choices that took them away from the deadly path that they were both on. That can only be born out of humanity.
I know your faith is important to you and your family. Would you say this is a Christian movie?
I would be unhappy if it were limited to being thought of as a Christian movie because I have avoided films like that. People know I’m a Christian; it’s something I’m not shy about talking about, and I’ve had films like that be presented … I guess the preconception being that I would want to be involved with them. I don’t because I find anything preachy to not be evocative of what it’s like to be alive. I don’t think life is as clear-cut as someone has it all together, someone doesn’t, the person who has it all together helps the person who doesn’t, and they go on to find salvation.
What I love about this story is that these are two broken people, and undeniably something happened that took them on a path that was not what you expect. Brian Nichols killed those four people that morning but he let her go. He gave himself up. She went on to never touch that drug again. How did that happen, why did that happen.
That’s why I’m interested in that seven-hour interaction between them. It wasn’t born out of a Christian faith in my mind. It was born out of a miraculous circumstance. I would hope that it wouldn’t get boxed into just being deemed a Christian movie.
How do you hope the film connects with audiences?
One of the most dramatic things Ashley ever said to me when I was talking to her about that night is she said that when Brian Nichols broke into her apartment, she was aware of who he was and what he had done. She had been a slave to meth for a long time, and she felt that this was God’s way of saying, “You have run out of chances.” She thought she was going to die because that’s what she deserved. The opposite is what happened. It was the day beyond which she gained life. Not only life, but she never touched that drug again. I’m still blown away by the fact that this was a drug she pursued, she spent all her money to get and use, and Brian Nichols asked her to take that drug three times at gunpoint and she said no. What happened there? How would you go from someone who pursues this drug to a murderer saying, “Take the drug”? I would take the drug. You know what I mean? And I’ve never taken any drugs. So to me, my hope is that people watch the film and see that no one is beyond a second chance, no one is beyond redemption. This is a woman who felt she was beyond redemption and gained it and stepped into it and now her life is impacting other people. I just find that to be a very powerful thing.
Is there anything else that you want to add?
The tough thing for me was to have all those things Nichols did but to work very hard not to glamorise those moments. He was a cold-blooded killer. What he did that day, there are people alive still dealing with the pain and the fallout of what he did. Glamorising it and making him feel cool in any way was the opposite of what I wanted to do. We just wanted to make it feel as it was, which is terrifying and cold-blooded, and instantaneously people’s lives are changed forever. That was the thing we worked very hard to do.
The Action Man
Sorted talks to author Andy McNab.
Written by Martin Leggatt
I meet author and former SAS soldier Andy McNab in the upstairs room of a private members club in London. I’m not entirely sure that I should be bandying his name about, and I find myself doing this weird checking either side of me thing as I tell the receptionist I’m here to interview him. It doesn’t help that I whisper his name at the end of the sentence. She indulges me with a smile before announcing loudly that “Mr McNab is a member here”. I realise that she knows him by sight – an advantage that not many people have.
I don’t know what he looks like, but I’m betting he won’t be sitting with a black strip across his eyes. She laughs, and I’m introduced to a relaxed-looking man in his early 50s. He looks intolerably fit. He extends a hand and immediately makes me feel at ease. As the interview progresses, I notice how he has that knack of making you feel incredibly relaxed. He’s a very animated talker who punctuates his sentences with expansive arm movements and hand chops to the table top for emphasis.
We talk on a wide range of subjects, from the rising costs of property in London and New York, a homeless man that he’s seen in New York who changes into his business suit to go to work each day, and his recommendation of software to make my writing a lot easier. Mostly we talk about his Nick Stone thrillers and that mission.
Nick must be getting on a bit now.
[Laughs] Yeah, he’s the eternal 35-year-old, he’s one of those guys who never sort of changes … he never has a birthday in the books.
Do you have to make changes to how you write Nick, with him getting older and changes to his physical condition?
Well, no. Obviously over the years he has to change, he has to have different views, he has to mature. He has to make different decisions. But you can’t have him going too far or you’ll have him hugging trees by now. You can’t have that. It’s more about his character art and the way he thinks about things. He’s got to move on; he’s got to be different because people are, aren’t they? He goes off sometimes a bit too extreme and [messes] up and then comes back again. In that way, there’s a change, but as we all do. But not as an age thing – I just try to keep out of that. No, he’s the eternal 35-year-old.
What I like about him is that he’s just like a normal bloke, but with some unusual skills.
Yeah, certainly in the early days, and I never knew he would take off, it was to try to make him a realistic character. He comes from a normal background; he’s got a lot of the same likes and dislikes, but he can do this and then [he chops his hands on the table for emphasis] because it’s a first-person narrative he can explain what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. I wanted to make him as realistic as possible so people would say, “Yeah, I know someone like that.” That can only happen when you know the superpower isn’t a superpower because you’ve already connected with him.
He’s not some James Bond type, then?
No, none of the Dom Pérignon and all that, he’s more of a Big Mac and Diet Coke man.
Is there a lot of you in Nick?
Yeah, there has to be. Purely for the first-person narrative, for all those things to work. Number one because it’s easier to write. Certainly for all the thought processes, so hopefully it becomes a lot more realistic and a lot more personal, so that when people read it they can embrace it a lot easier. So yeah, there’s a lot of thought processes, and that’s the only way to do it. Certainly you can create a third-person character but he has to be larger than life, but with a first-person narrative you have to be slightly more personal otherwise it doesn’t work.
He’s been through a lot over the course of the 17 books: Kelly, Sarah, and a lot of loss. How are you shaping him to cope with that? Is it something that mirrors yourself?
Yeah, certainly about ten years ago he was having therapy and then he thought “I’ll bin that and get on”. He has all those dramas; he has to because they’re traumas that people have. He has to have them because then readers can recognise that trauma and realise that people deal with it in a different way. Clearly he’s got to carry on and get himself into a load more trouble. Nine out of ten times it’s him getting into trouble, trying to get out of trouble, rather than fighting evil. So to represent that we had Kelly, but it got to a point where she was getting so old that I had to make a conscious decision, does she become the parent in the relationship? She was maturing quicker than Nick, and you think, how do you play with that dynamic? The easiest thing was to kill her. And then he’s got to try to deal with it and then start to move on. So he has the drama and then gets on. Otherwise, you have to keep wasting pages explaining the backstory.
And now he’s a family man. I never thought I’d see the day.
Neither did he. [Laughter] Again, he’s got to sort of move on. He’s got to get on and do all these new things, like the providing. There’s a bit of conflict going, which generally happens in life, and we’ve all got to get on with it. He’s in that same situation; it’s slightly more raised because of what he’s got into; he’s got a lot of commitments to fulfil. And that’s certainly what’s driving the whole of this new book on, particularly towards the end. He’s balancing this new commitment against what he does.
I love the names of the characters, for example, Hubba Hubba. Where do you get think them up?
A lot of that comes down to the military; everything’s cut in half or everybody’s got a nickname. In some cases, you can go years without knowing someone’s real first name and you go “Oh, your name’s Jim, or Steve”. Certainly in the book it makes it more personal because we all use [nicknames] in some way and it’s a lot clearer to write. So they’re Hubba Hubba or that guy Slack Pack. Slack Pack is a guy who really exists.
I saw the advertising posters on the train ride up here. The strapline says, ‘What doesn’t kill him, makes him stronger.’ Is this true of you as well?
Yeah, I think there are two ways you can go with drama – you can collapse in a heap, or get on with it. Ultimately no one gives a [fig] they’ve got their own problems. They can give you sympathy, but they can’t really help, they’ve got other things to do. There are only two ways to go from there, you know; blame everybody else, or just get on with it. Ever since I was a kid, I just got on with it. You’ve no control over it, so just get over it. It’s much easier that way.
Is your pseudonym Andy McNab now more of a brand than a security precaution?
No, not at all. The threat is still out there. I was doing a book tour last year over in Ireland, bizarrely a fundraiser for the PSNI. It was doing events raising funds for injured officers and it all got out of control. Death threats came in and there was a bomb scare. So it’s just being sensible, really, but it’s also nice to have that anonymity. You can do stuff, which is great, you can bounce around and do all your stuff. But at the same time you get this benefit of this brand, which is great …
I read somewhere that you’ve moved to New York.
Yeah, in and out. This year’s been quite busy, so most of it’s been in the States, either New York or Los Angeles. I quite like New York, I find LA quite bland, but New York’s fantastic. This last two or three years we’ve been there pretty much full-time. The chances are that’s where we’ll live; I’ve got the American driving licence, all that stuff, so the chances are we’ll be there permanently. It makes sense; that’s where all the work is. And for people like me it’s really true that America is the land of opportunity. Without a doubt.
Do you miss being ‘Herbal Henry’ [a nickname given to him by his neighbours in Norfolk]?
[Laughs a lot] Yeah, I do, actually. Yeah, it’s funny, I do like that. Years and years I had it, ‘Herbal Henry’. Nobody told me, I just heard it; they all thought I was a drug dealer. I’d go into the pub for Sunday lunch and everybody was very polite. Yeah, it was great.
It’s inevitable that you’ll always be asked about Bravo Two Zero. Invariably it’s referred to as a failed mission. You were in the army for 18 years and you must have had hundreds of successful operations. It’s always struck me as being a bit unfair.
Well, you’ve got all these armchair experts who all know better, and nine out of ten times they’ve never been in the military. It’s not science. We’ve got media, film and TV, and it’s broadcast that it’s got to go like this and this and this. In the case of its mission, it was a failure: we didn’t find the fibre optic cables, but the other side of it, and I think this is one of the reasons why people tuned into it a lot … it was a human story. It was a bunch of lads who could be your next-door neighbour as opposed to the memoir of a general. And with all the media I think people just wanted a more intimate account. Yeah, technically it was a failure, we didn’t find the fibre optic cable, but what came out of it was certainly a re-establishment of what the regiment was about. That small group of soldiers getting on with it. And the Brits are very good at celebrating these [mess-ups]; actually, most nations are. So technically it was, but in the big scheme it actually wasn’t. If you look at it in a military context, it’s still used as an example of a mission that goes wrong but actually because of the planning and preparation, the Plan B, the Plan C, and the resistance to interrogation training, that actually works. Because in a military context everyone understands, it’s not a science, you’ve got a group of individuals. You know, if it’s a science you’ve got rules that if you’ve got an element it responds in a certain way, but you can’t dictate that.
At the end of Bravo Two Zero, you mention what would happen if you met the two men who tortured you and who enjoyed it. Is that still the case?
Yeah, yeah, still the case. I’ve been on the board of a private military company for donkey’s years and when the Americans took Iraq in the second Gulf War, as is the nature with all these companies, we’re in there within 48 hours trying to make contracts and all that sort of thing. As that was going on and we were getting established and all the contracts were coming in, you’d get all the fixers coming in and they’d say, “I know who the guys were who did it” and in the chaos you could do whatever you wanted. So it was a case of giving them a couple of hundred dollars and you’re rattling into the city and it wasn’t these guys anyway. They were just after the money. So after that I didn’t bother anymore. But no, if I thought I could get away with it, yeah. It was only a couple of them. The military guys were alright; they were at Sandhurst when we used to train the Iraqi army during their war with Iran. They were all right; they were saying, “You’ve got a job to do, we’ve got a job to do.” It’s the secret police guys; they were the boys really going for it, and they were really enjoying it. So, yeah, those two guys.
Didn’t you go back to the place you were held?
Yeah, loads of times. It was quite hard initially, trying to find it. Certainly the interrogation centre. It was near, again a remnant of the Brits, it was called the something Hunting Club. Bizarre, isn’t it; they’d have guys running around in pink coats and Abu Ghraib was a complex, not an actual prison. So eventually we found the interrogation centre, and by the time we’d found it the Americans had moved in and it had all been repainted and it was really weird. And then we found the wing, one of the sections of Abu Ghraib where I’d been interrogated, and all the metal had been ripped out, all the locals had taken the rails out, all the doors, and it was all canvassed up. It was being used by all the homeless people, people that had been bombed out of the city, they were all living there. It was quite…
Something good had come out of it?
Yeah, yeah, and all the tanks, they’d all been repainted, and by then people were living in them, like flats. I’m serious; they had flowers on them, and families would move into a taxi, rip everything out and live in there. Incredible.
Did that help – going back?
Yeah, it was more curiosity than anything. I think it was more trying to identify, and by then I’d been up to Al-Qa’im. Well, a couple of the lads from the company went up there and I just jumped up there with them. By then there was this cairn that had been built during the second Gulf War, but I remembered the village and the bridge by the Euphrates and the general areas and managed to find it [the place where he’d been captured].
After reading your books, I read Frank Collins’ [a colleague of Andy’s who left the SAS and became a Church of England vicar] book Baptism of Fire. It was a huge shock to me that Frank had taken his own life; it must have been terrible for you.
Yeah, yeah. Well, he died about the same time as Nish [another former SAS colleague who sadly took his own life]. We were having this party for the Eurovision Song Contest and it was fancy dress. Frank turned up in costume with these huge stick-on sideburns and all that. So that was on a Saturday night, and then he turned up on the Sunday afternoon and said he’d come to eat up all the pasta or something. But what he’d actually turned up to do was say goodbye. So we’re all asking him what he’s been doing, and basically he’s just doing the rounds and saying goodbye before he topped himself. So all planned and then he’s got on with it.
I think Frank was so confused. There was that movement to Christianity, going through all that from happy-clappy to trying it all, you know the Pentecostal and getting ordained, all that, and it wasn’t enough. Which was really weird. Cos that’s the sort of bloke you’re supposed to be going to with your problems, isn’t it? And that’s why it was such a shock. The last person you’d expect.
In his book and yours there’s mention of Frank giving you a Bible.
Yeah, when I first went into the regiment he’d already got into Christianity, he’d been over with the Americans where there’s a strong movement and he’d come back with God. And we were all reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail [sic] and trying to find ways of catching him out, but we couldn’t. When we were in the troop, and about nine or ten months later, we were in Northern Ireland and he’d give us this book and it was the Bible. We’d all tell him: “No, not interested mate” and he was increasingly getting into it. And after that tour was when he left the regiment.
Back to Bravo Two Zero. In the two films of the mission based on your and Chris’ books (Chris Ryan, author of The One That Got Away), you were played by Sean Bean and rather unflatteringly by David Morrissey.
[He laughs] Yeah. It’s interesting, because at the time, what happened was, I was approached by the producers and took some advice and said no. And then they went to Chris and with all the Paul Greengrass stuff, he’d just done Spycatcher and was into all these conspiracy theories, and then the BBC came to me. At the time it [cheesed] a lot of people off and a lot of people were angry with Chris, but now I can realise that it was the business, that’s just how it is. I’ve been really well advised, and actually you can just get carried away with all this [stuff] and it gets taken away from you and it gets turned into something else. So at the time – yeah, I was quite [cheesed] off but now I understand that that can happen.
Now I’m involved in TV and film, especially in America, and it can be a nightmare. So it’s understanding how those things can be hijacked. It’s easy to sign on the dotted line, but you’ve got to take all the hassle if it gets out of hand. At that time, we were all upset with Chris, especially for the way Vince was portrayed, but now I can understand how easily these things happen.
I see that there are still plans in the pipeline to make a film of Firewall. Is that true?
Yeah, it’s one of the things we’re doing now. Basically, the film business is fantastic in that you can make a load of money without actually making a film. I’ve sold the options three times over the years, but you get to the point where the studio won’t make the film because the balance of payments is too great to proceed, and that’s where we are now. So we’re not making a film, because there’s more money in TV, certainly American TV. So, we’re in negotiation with the Weinstein Company, Big Bad Harvey. We’ve got director Antoine Fuqua [Training Day] on board as producer with me and Bonnie Timmermann and we’re nearly there. And that will be ten hours of American TV, Nick will still be a Brit and all that and it’ll come over here. That’s been a brilliant learning curve. It’s nearly there.
Who’ll play Nick?
Who knows? That’s the next step.
Detonator is published by Bantam Press and is available in hardback and eBook.
Jason Mercier: Poker Face
By Samantha Rea
What came first, poker or faith?
Igrew up going to church all the time, all my family are Christian, but I struggled in my late teenage years. There was never a point when I altogether didn’t believe. It was more that I went through a phase when my belief system wasn’t as strong. I felt like, “I don’t believe the same way you guys do” or “it’s just not for me” or “I’m not really sure”. I just kind of lived my life not thinking about it.
Two years ago, I had some experiences that have led me back to God. It’s personal, but I now have a renewed faith in God and Christianity. I’m much more open to talking about it. I get into conversations fairly frequently about God, Christianity and religion.
Do you ever talk about Christianity at the poker table?
It’s rare to get into discussions or religious debates at the poker table, but when I have done, it’s been very friendly, it’s never been hostile.
I feel like I don’t know enough to debate it. A lot of times, I’ll be left wanting to ask someone, like my dad or my brother, so I’m better prepared. I’ll ask them: “If somebody says this, what do you say back?” They usually have pretty good advice.
I don’t try to convince anyone, because most people you get into conversations with aren’t really the type to get swayed by your opinion. Sometimes I get into arguments – sometimes it’s unavoidable. It starts out like, “Let’s just have a discussion.” Then it turns into: “YOU’RE WRONG.”
In general, I try to not get angry or upset, I just explain my point of view and what I believe. I might ask them a question or two to make them think about what they believe and why they believe it – to question if what they believe is accurate.
A lot of people try to argue that the earth is 4 billion years old, but in the Bible it doesn’t say how old the earth is. Besides, time doesn’t apply to God – God doesn’t operate on time, it’s a man-made instrument.
If someone quotes Nietzsche and says, “God didn’t make man, man invented God,” I say that’s just an opinion. My opinion is that God made man, and all men stem from Adam and Eve, the first man and the first woman. That’s from the Bible, so it leads to all sorts of arguments about whether the Bible is accurate – and that’s a whole new debate.
How do your parents feel about you playing poker?
Initially, it was a major issue. When I first started playing, I knew they’d be against it, so I kept it a secret. I played poker with my friends and didn’t tell them.
When I was 18, I started playing online. When my parents found out, it was a big problem and it became an ongoing struggle between us. There were multiple issues – it wasn’t just poker. I was missing classes and flunking out of school, so they were very much against everything I was doing. They told me I couldn’t come home… so I had to figure out what I was going to do and where I was going to live. I stayed with a friend for the summer, then went to my parents and told them I was going to stop playing poker.
I stopped for two months. Then I started playing again, and kept it from my parents. After a while, I couldn’t hide it anymore – I told them I was playing. I said they could kick me out if they wanted to, but I explained why I thought it was different to gambling and why I wanted to keep doing it.
We agreed on some terms. They said as long as I was going to school, getting good grades and working a job, I could play 15 hours a week. But to me, that was a green light to play whenever I wanted to.
I felt like I was lying to them, and not being honest about what I was doing, so it took a little bit before I was finally like, “I gotta tell ’em.”
It wasn’t until I moved out and I was making a very good living from cards, that my parents were much more supportive of it. Once they saw the potential for travelling and playing live tournaments, and understood it as a sport, rather than a casino game, they were much more accepting of it.
What was your parents’ main concern about you playing poker?
My parents were against all gambling. I remember when I was 11 or 12, I made a $10 bet against my uncle on the Super Bowl. I won, but when my parents found out, I got in so much trouble. They made me give the money back to my uncle. They were very much against all forms of gambling.
How were you able to persuade your parents to consider poker as a career?
It took a while for my parents to understand it. They’d been asking me where I was going to university in the fall, and I kept saying, “I don’t know.” I was playing poker, trying to make a living, and my plan was to not go to university. So at this point I had to tell them I’d been playing 50 hours a week, making x amount.
My parents were shocked at how much money I’d made and the potential that was there – I had tournaments lined up in Monte Carlo and the Caribbean. They didn’t know what to say except, “Looks like you’ve got it figured out, so we’re just gonna let you do your thing.” At this point, I bought a place, moved out and started playing full-time. Nine months later, I won the European Poker Tour in San Remo for over a million dollars, so then it was like, “OK, we’re just gonna let him play.”
It took some time for them to come on board, but now my dad follows the live updates when I’m playing. He’ll stay up all night and sweat. My dad’s asked questions, so despite never playing, he has a very good grasp of Texas Hold’em and what happens in tournaments. My mom doesn’t really know what’s going on, she just looks to make sure that I’ve won.
Do your parents ever come and watch you play in tournaments?
Sometimes – they both came to watch me play the $25K in Florida last week, so they were very excited about that. It was the first time they’d seen me win, which is crazy because I’ve won so many tournaments. It was pretty cool for them to be there for a win, but they’ve actually come to Vegas a couple of times for the World Series of Poker and to the Bahamas for the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.
Poker tournaments tend to be held in casinos – how do your parents feel about coming into casinos to watch you play?
I don’t think that’s an issue. My dad used to work in production, so he’s had to work in casinos before. They’re not necessarily against casinos in general, it’s rather that they’ve always viewed gambling as a slippery slope. It’s something you don’t want to do because you don’t want to get addicted to it – work hard for your money, don’t just give it away.
You spend a lot of time travelling on the poker circuit – how often do you manage to go to church?
I go to a non-denominational church about once a month – just because I’m on the road so much. I’ve gone a few times when I’ve been in Vegas and here in Barcelona I’ve been to the Sagrada Familia. It wasn’t for a service – it’s more like a museum – but it was a very beautiful and cool experience.
I think it would be nice if I made a little effort to visit some churches, especially over here in Europe. It’s difficult because I have tournaments to play and I have to fit in sleep. I can be playing poker until one in the morning on a Saturday – then on a Sunday, I have a tournament starting at noon. I’d also have to find a church to go to, so I just try to go when I’m home.
In Christianity it’s not like you have to be at church every Sunday. You should go, if you can, but I think a man has a responsibility to his family and to himself to make a living and sometimes that comes with sacrifices. There’s family time and church time. I only feel guilty for not going on a Sunday if I’m home. If I’m up all night and miss church because I sleep in, then I’d feel guilty, but I don’t feel guilty about not going when I’m on the road.
I can see you’re wearing two crucifixes. Can you tell me about them – do they have a special meaning for you?
They both have special meaning. This smaller one, I bought it off my brother, when I was nine or ten years old. It represents working hard and earning what you want. It represents family to me, because it was my brother’s originally. This larger one, I actually found when I was 15 years old. I was bagging groceries in a parking lot. I should have probably turned it in, but I decided to keep it.
My parents were so strict, I didn’t even show them that I found it when I did, because they’d have made me return it. I ended up finding it in my stuff two years ago. I was like, “Wow, this is really cool.”
It’s crazy I kept it all this time. I only recently started wearing it out. A lot of people keep saying, “Oh, nice Jesus piece.” I just say “Thanks.” For me, anything that brings forth the name of Jesus and encourages people to talk about him, or see that I represent him, I think is a good thing.
How do the people who go to your church feel about you playing poker for a living?
Most people view it as really cool. I haven’t had anyone say they’re against it. If anything, they’re excited to see me and ask me how it’s going.
Is charity an important part of your life? Do you give away a certain amount of your winnings?
Yeah. It’s not exactly charity, but I give to the church that I go to. I usually give a lump sum, once a year, based on how the year’s going for me financially. They use that money to either support the church, or support missions trips or other churches.
Looking to the future, when you get married, is it important to you that it’s to someone who shares your beliefs?
Yeah, for sure. I’ve gone on dates with girls where they’ve told me they think God doesn’t exist, and right away I know that’s not the right person for me. It’s very important to me that my significant other would have the same belief system as me.
Does your Christianity affect your poker – or vice versa?
There can be a lot of temptation in this industry. Gambling, women, drinking, drugs – they’re all prevalent in poker, and avoiding them is sometimes difficult. I don’t cut out alcohol completely, but I’ve gone through periods when I haven’t drunk any. I just try to live as a Christian. Sometimes it’s difficult, but I try my best.
What does living as a Christian mean to you?
The most important thing about being a Christian is having faith. It’s believing that Jesus died on the cross and was brought back to life and is the Son of God. That’s the beginning – the rest is how you live and why you do what you’re doing. It’s about being kind and generous and living the right way – just trying to be how Jesus was.
The Bigger Picture
When you first meet a man like Elly Chengo, smart in every sense of the word and full of life and wisdom, you don’t even question how his life began. There’s nothing about him that hints at anything other than a life well lived. But as you get to know him better, you begin to realise that the wisdom tells a story; it’s gained through experience. There is a deep passion in this man to reach the least in the world to give them a chance of a better future. A passion that reflects a life released from poverty.
I met Elly on a recent trip to Kenya with UCB and Compassion, and took some time to find out what has made him the man is.
Can you explain what life was like for you ten years ago?
Ten years ago, my life was totally different; my family was very poor. I felt hopeless and had no determination. I had no belief in myself because of the kind of life we were living as a family. It was not an environment you would desire for a child to grow up in. It was filled with people who were negative and didn’t see much in you. I was surrounded by people who had lost hope and dropped out of school. They hadn’t made much progress so they had lost the bigger picture.
How would you describe that kind of poverty to someone who has never experienced it?
For people out there who think someone can never go hungry, it’s real. For people out there who can’t imagine that some people can’t pay school fees, it’s real. For people out there who don’t believe that some people have no clothes to wear or shoes to put on, it’s real. When you put these things together, that is, in my own view, poverty. That was my life and the life of the people I grew up with.
Poverty is a lack of better choices in life. You are just trying to survive, so you don’t have options. It is through poverty that someone can really give up in life. It is through poverty that someone can give up their God-given talent and skills because they feel they are not worth something.
But something happened to give you hope?
Yes, I was registered into a Compassion project. Since then I have been able to build my self-esteem, determination and the belief that I could be somebody in life. As I look back, I can see the hand of God in that. But the most important person who has really influenced my development was one of the Compassion project workers. I first met her ten years ago. She taught me that through education and by believing the Word of God, I could get out of the cycle of poverty and hopelessness that I found myself in. I have so much gratitude towards her.
Can you share more about your project director and what it was like to be part of Compassion’s sponsorship programme?
I wasn’t doing well, I was only going because I had to. But Elizabeth was firm with me, asking, “What is so good about finishing school without working hard and doing your best?” By the time I finished Form Four I was one of the best students in my class.
She also taught me to believe in myself. She gave me opportunities to grow and lead others and participate in events at the projects. At one point I was the praise and worship leader. She gave me responsibility to take care of people at camps or outings. She shared her life and how she had overcome things.
What have been some of the happiest times of your life?
One of the best times was when I graduated from college with a degree Science in Agricultural Biotechnology. Graduating from my Compassion project aged 22 was amazing too. I looked back at how God had transformed my life.
How has reflecting back on your own transformation affected how you work with other people?
It has made me want to help other people break out of the cycle of poverty. During my internship at college, we were working with communities in the Rift Valley in Kenya. I met a woman who was a widow with six children. Her husband died without leaving her anything and she lived in a mud hut with a leaking roof. Poverty constantly showed her she was not worth something in life. When we came to meet her, she decided to sit 100 metres away from where people were. Because of poverty she felt she could not even mingle with other people.
We empowered that woman economically. Now she has built her own home, has animals and runs a business in the village. When we met her she never had any choice, but now she can go to a market and select what she wants. She can choose clothes and shoes and food. Her children can go to school without worrying about fees. Her choices have come through empowerment; we didn’t give her those things, we just helped her to be able to do it for herself.
So, tell us a bit about your current job and what life is like for you now.
Today I work as a Partnership Facilitator for Compassion which means that I work with a cluster of Compassion projects in the Trans Mara region of Kenya, helping them to reach vulnerable children in their communities.
What I’m looking to do right now is to impact a child’s life. My job is to reach out to children and reach out to church partners and work with them to transform the lives of children.
As a family we are also doing well. We’ve changed in the last ten years. I’m looking to influence more change in my family. I couldn’t have imagined we would be where we are today.
You have come through huge challenges in your life. What would you say to someone else who is struggling at the moment?
I tell this to people whether they have lived in poverty or not. I tell them, tap into what you yourself do best. Do not do things because other people do them. Do the things that God has given you the opportunity to do. Poverty and other challenges in life can hinder people and cause them to overlook opportunities. So I’d say, try to keep your eyes on the bigger picture and be all that you were created to be.
My project director’s name was Elizabeth Mudegu. She made me believe that there is hope in the Word of God. “Put your hope in God,” she told me. “Let God work himself in you. He will work in you and you see he has a big plan for you.”
She taught me to understand the value of education. She taught me that my determination and hard work would get me somewhere; it is not only your teachers but mostly your hard work that will help you. She met me when I was in Secondary School Form Two.
To find out more about the work of Compassion and how you can support other children like Elly, visit compassionuk.org.
From Issue 49 - October 2015
The Beckham Effect
Written By Shaun Curran
It is impossible not to consider David Beckham’s extraordinary life and conclude that he’s the man who has it all. Over two decades in the public eye as elite sportsman, fashion icon, entrepreneur and celebrity influencer, he is a global icon and rare breed of superstar; not only recognisable from Macclesfield to Mumbai, but also with the distinction of having both such disparate luminaries as Prince William and Tom Cruise on his speed dial.
Professionally, he has attained a status bestowed on very few footballers. With Manchester United, his childhood club and the one with who he made his name as part of the Class of 92 youth team, he lived out his dreams, winning six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and one Champions League as part of the club’s historic treble in 1999. He played for England 115 times – 59 as captain – which is a record for an outfield player. In 2003, the year he signed for the Galácticos of Real Madrid (with whom he would win another domestic title) he was awarded an OBE for services to football. It wasn’t just in this country he was appreciated – he was twice voted runner-up in the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1999 and 2001, while his high-profile, multi-million dollar 2007 move to LA Galaxy in the MLS in America ended with him as popular on that side of the Atlantic as this one. Naturally for someone whose success followed him around, another league winner’s medal was added to his collection there too.
Personally, his marriage to Victoria Beckham, the former Spice Girl whose nickname in the all-conquering, record-breaking girl group handed the couple the distinctive and endearing moniker Posh and Becks, elevated his fame above that of mere sports superstar. Beckham has stated variously over the years that his priority has been to “a strong family man, a strong husband and a strong father”, and with four children he dotes on – Brooklyn, 16, Romeo, 13, Cruz, ten and Harper, four – he remains true to his pledge.
Inevitably, though, the Beckham family is one of the most publicised and discussed in the world, and the increased commercial revenues available to him as a result are staggering. For just one example, during the first season he was in MLS, LA Galaxy sold 300,000 replica jerseys bearing Beckham’s name – more than any other sportsperson in the entirety of American sport that year.
Together, their celebrity has helped him and Victoria create a money-making machine that has transcended their respective professions – David is retired, while Victoria has long since stopped making records – to amass a fortune in excess of £210m. While she has created a successful fashion line, he has made the most of is handsome good looks and sense of style to cash in on lucrative modelling deals and endorsement contracts. With a lifetime deal with Adidas worth over around £100m, signed in his playing days, already in the bag, Beckham has variously been the face of such luxury brands as Armani and Breitling, technology giants Samsung and EA Sports, billboard underwear model for H&M (earning him £7.5m and an incalculable number of gawping looks) and, latterly, a deal with Hong Kong-based fashion empire Global Brands, home to Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger among others, to follow in Victoria’s footsteps and design his own clothing line.
Brand Beckham, indeed, and it’s not for nothing that Victoria nicknamed him “Goldenballs”; extending the metaphorical moniker past the sidelines of a football pitch, whatever Beckham touches invariably turns to gold.
But exactly how did this working-class boy from London – who by his own admission couldn’t even spell the word ‘professional’ when writing about his ambition to be a footballer on a school careers form – achieve so much? And what exact role, if any, have his religious and spiritual beliefs aided him along the way?
The first question is much easier to answer than the second. In football circles, it is well known that Beckham practised himself into brilliance, maximising every ounce of his potential through sheer graft. “I never do anything half-heartedly. I will continue to work hard and play hard and do everything I can to be successful, whatever I do. I want to be the best. I think it’s a good way to be,” Beckham said upon retiring from football, and anybody who ever watched Beckham’s unflinching commitment on the pitch, as well as his unswerving dedication to maintaining his cultivated image off it, will know that statement to be true. Few have worked as hard as Beckham for their lot.
But the question of Beckham’s faith is much more difficult to define. He was born on 2 May 1975 in Leytonstone to his mother Sandra Georgina, a hairdresser, and his father David Edward Alan ‘Ted’ Beckham, a kitchen fitter. While he may not have had an overtly religious upbringing – he insists that was the case – one of Beckham’s grandfathers, Joseph West, was Jewish, and Beckham once stated that: “I’ve probably had more contact with Judaism than with any other religion. I used to wear the traditional Jewish skullcaps when I was younger, and I also went along to some Jewish weddings with my grandfather.”
Yet that contradicts Beckham’s previous claims to have attended church regularly as a child – although he never specifically mentioned a denomination – which suggests that Beckham has never had a strong religious conviction. He once famously said that “he wanted his children baptised, although I’m not sure into what religion”, so it is safe to assume there might be some confusion as to where his views lie, if they exist at all. He is, however, adamant that his good friend Tom Cruise has never tried to convert him to the church of Scientology. “No he hasn’t, that isn’t true,” he said in an interview last year.
As befits someone who has spent fortunes on media training, his savviness in interviews means he reveals as much or as little as he sees fit, so it is little wonder people have read so much into the religious imagery present on a number of his many tattoos. Body ink is often a form of outwardly expressing beliefs and values, be that religious, cultural or otherwise, so naturally people have wondered how much Beckham has considered his own artwork. One tattooed Chinese motif translated reads as: “Death and life have determined appointments. Riches and honour depend upon heaven.” Another, depicting Jesus thinking about his death on the cross reads: ‘The Man of Sorrows’ . Other religious-themed tattoos include a crucifix, a guardian angel watching over the names of his children and Jesus being raised from the tomb surrounded by cherubs that represent his children. He has tatted a verse from the Bible’s Song of Songs in Hebrew.
So does his extensive tattoo collection indicate a belief in God? Not necessarily, as he once said: “People look at my tattoos and the majority of them are religious images so people think, ‘Oh, he must be very religious.’ I respect all religions but I’m not a deeply religious person. But I try and live life in the right way, respecting other people. I wasn’t brought up in a religious way but I believe there’s something out there that looks after you.”
Instead of worshipping a specific higher being, it appears that Beckham has taken his lead from religious teachings. He says that such virtues were instilled in him from a young age by his parents and grandparents, virtues that he himself has instilled into his children as they grow up in the most public of circumstances. He once commented: “My parents were always very strict and they gave me the right beliefs in how to treat people. It was very strict and all about morals – I try to pass that on to my own children. I was asked what advice I give my boys about women, and I tell them my granddad used to say ‘you treat everyone with respect, you behave like a gentleman, especially to women, and I think women appreciate that’. I always say that to my boys.”
It is this desire to lead his life in the right way which helped Beckham on the path to being a devout family man. It is clear from many of his public declarations – and again, his tattoos – that he adores his wife and children, and that they remain the cornerstone of his existence. Once invited to describe Victoria to someone who’s never met her, he said: “She’s charming, she’s funny, she’s immensely talented, first with being a Spice Girl and especially now with being a designer. She’s a very committed person. When she wants something she knows what to do to get it.” Yet he pointedly added: “And she’s an amazing mum. That’s her strongest quality for me. Being her husband and the father of her children, there’s nothing better than seeing a woman who is amazing with her children.”
The sanctity of marriage is one Christian belief that Beckham holds true, and the notion that love is an eternal commitment. “We’ve been married for 17 years, it’s an amazing part of our life and we’ve created something with our children, our family, that’s very special, we’ve got four amazing kids,” he said. Those children remain his priority, although he recognises the importance of maintaining a loving relationship with his wife.
He once said: “Dates for Victoria and I are very few and far between – we have four kids so the majority of our time is spent with them and working, but when we do have date night, we don’t need to impress each other too much anymore. It’s always important to spend time with your partner, but the time that you spend with them, you could just go for a walk through the park, just go for dinner. Those moments you spend together are special. When you show each other attention, you need that.”
Yet it tells you all about his commitment to matrimony that Beckham says the most romantic thing he ever did for Victoria was arranging to renew their wedding vows. He said: “It was a whole surprise, Victoria knew nothing about it. I had it all organised. I told her we were going out for lunch and I packed her bag. I had a dress ready for her to change into on the plane.”
It is to Beckham’s credit that he seeks to live in the correct way when his life is so abnormal to most people’s perceptions. But despite his overwhelming levels of notoriety, and the riches he has amassed, Beckham’s only wish is to be remembered not for the fame or fortune, but for the skills that catapulted him into the life he now leads.
“I just want to be remembered as a hard-working footballer,” he said last year. “I want to be remembered firstly as a good and successful footballer because that’s what I’ve done for many years. And then who knows after that?”
Who knows indeed, and when it comes to Beckham’s true religious views, they remain a mystery until he decides to set the record straight once and for all.
In Fear and Faith
Written by Shaun Curran.
Derren Brown’s professional life has been a constant exploration of what is real, and what is not. Throughout a career on TV, on stage and, latterly, on the page, Brown has continually shifted perceptions about his work and its themes to the point where you’re not even sure how you would define what it is he actually does. Is he a magician? Hypnotist? Mentalist? Illusionist? Sceptic? Or just an old-fashioned performer with a couple of neat tricks to wow the audience? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of it all, and that is just how Brown precisely constructs it; he revels in the vague and undefined. He has a huge, dedicated following, all addicted to his boundary pushing – and at times controversial – work that has in the past included a live Russian Roulette show, predicting the national lottery numbers and convincing a group of innocent businesspeople to rob a bank at gunpoint.
Aspects of his personal life have been just as fiercely dedicated to questioning what he believes in – be it the battle between good and bad, right and wrong, true and false. Inevitably, this includes matters of faith; a subject that has, for better and worse, defined Brown’s life since his younger years right up until the present day.
In true Brown fashion, the question of his own faith has not been a straightforward one. When he calls Sorted, the illusionist is more than happy to spend time recounting tales from his youth, all of which contributed to his current standing. The succinct version of Brown’s story is that he used to be devoutly religious when he was younger and grew out of it to such an extent that he is now one of the most famous atheists in the country, alongside Richard Dawkins and Ricky Gervais.
But that would be a far too simplified account of Brown’s transition. To fully understand his path from Christianity to disbelief, one has to go back to his pre-adolescence. Brown was born on 27 February 1971 in Putney, south-west London to mother and father Chris and Bob Brown, the latter of whom was a sports teacher at the private Whitgift School in Croydon that Brown attended from the age of ten. By that stage, Brown was already deeply committed to Christianity, a regular Sunday school attendee, and enjoying the feeling of belonging to something he could believe in.
“I was a proper believer,” he told the Daily Mail. “I’d been to a Sunday school class when I was five and maintained my beliefs for many years. With the self-assurance of the truly naive, I would sit down and tell my friends why they should be Christians.”
Initially, this faith would come as a comfort to him. At Whitgift – “a posh grammar school with peacocks and quadrangles and things,” he laughs – Brown felt an acute displacement and a sense that he was struggling to fit in. Quiet and awkward, the athletic pressures piled on by the school and fellow pupils brought about feelings of unease.
“At school, I was definitely in the wrong crowd,” he admits, albeit recalling a fairly sad time in his life with a touch of his distinctly wry wit. “Not in the cool sense, it was just embarrassing. I was in a group of kids who liked classical music. I didn’t even like classical music! I was just in with the wrong crowd. So that wasn’t great. I wasn’t very sporty but my dad was a sports teacher at the school. And I think if he hadn’t have been I would have got properly bullied. I wasn’t but I was very much intimidated by the sporty crowd and it was a very sporty school.”
Today, his memories echo some of the recent comments he gave The Guardian about his teenage years: “As I grew up, I didn’t go out drinking, wasn’t going to the gym, I didn’t fit into that whole world. That feeling of alienation can turn into envy, and it becomes an issue.” He then mentioned the crux of his issues, “Sexuality is often tied in with something you feel you lack in yourself and look for in others.”
As his adolescence gathered pace, so did his awareness of his own sexuality, and it is only with hindsight that Brown can make sense of what he was feeling, and the impact that had on his faith. He recognises now that a difficult relationship with his father also wasn’t helping matters. “It was tough and unhealthy, the classic thing,” he said to the Daily Mail. “Not getting on with my father, not fitting in with the boys at school, at that age you don’t know whether that happens because you’re gay, or if you’re gay because of them.” He says the uncertainly lasted some time. “For years I was rather embarrassed about it, hoping it would pass, and was basically celibate.”
Though it wasn’t as pronounced and deliberately devious as it may seem looking back, Brown was essentially using his faith to cover up his gay feelings, using it as a shield to deflect the personal questions he was desperately trying to avoid. It also had the desired effect of handing him the readymade selfhood that he was searching for. “Belief becomes part of your identity. And if you feel not very impressive, it’s a good feeling to be able to go, ‘Oh, sorry, could you not make that joke please, because I’m a Christian.’” Brown’s self-deprecation is audible.
Another way to seek the acceptance he craved was to throw himself into the world of magic, which in turn would gradually steer him away from Christianity. Magic had always been a curiosity of Brown’s – “I did have a magic set when I was young and had a free-floating interest” – but it started up again in earnest when Brown went to study Law and German at the University of Bristol. “It became much more serious then,” he reveals.
Suddenly, Brown found that where previously he was ignored, he was now the centre of attention. It was a scenario that fits into the stereotype. “Magicians tend to be kids with no social confidence,’ he told the Mail. ‘You rely on the tricks; hide behind the cards as a way to social acceptance. That was me for many years.”
He was now in a situation where he was lauding power over those who had previously helped cultivate his outsider status. “The people who often responded well to it were the lads, and suddenly I was in the position of a) being quite cool among them, and b) having control of them, which is very different from being intimidated by them. I was suddenly an authority in this world.”
As he began to perform regularly at university, Brown became addicted to both the theory and the exhibition of magic, setting him on the path to fame and fortune. But he admits that it was to be the beginning of the end for his faith. The Christian Union, initially a refuge for Brown, turned against him once they saw early versions of his act, and thought that his attempts at hypnosis were proof he had been possessed by the devil.
“I immediately got this backlash of anger from them,” he told the Mail. “I had people exorcising me during my shows. They really attacked me. I started to see there was a capacity for fear and misunderstanding in the church. Learning hypnosis taught me how suggestion works and studying magic gave me an understanding of how charlatans work.
“So suddenly, when I’d hear my minister saying Tarot cards were the work of the devil, I said to myself, ‘Well, they’re not. There’s no magic happening. I know it isn’t’. So, bit by bit, I began disassembling my religious beliefs.”
By now, Brown was feeling more confident about his sexuality – within himself, at least – and far less of the guilt that had plagued him. Curious, he agreed to go to a church-organised camp that promised people they could ‘cure’ their sexuality – sceptical to begin with, the experience left him unimpressed and more disconnected with his faith than ever.
“I had a friend who was very into that movement and he had heard of a course that people went on,” he told Alan Carr on Chatty Man, “and it’s not uncommon for you to go through a phase where you think ‘maybe it will pass’. So I went along for a day or two with this friend and they had this whole method of ‘curing it’ as they said. I do think some of the psychology is interesting, as sexuality is a complicated thing and I could understand some of what they were saying. But it just doesn’t work, and that is the bit that they were missing. They had this moment where I was asking ‘So, do you no longer feel attracted to people from the same sex?’ and they would say, ‘Well, the Lord has shown me a way of dealing with those feelings when I get them’. And I’d be like, ‘So you still get those feelings? It’s not really worked, has it?’ One guy would go (puts on exaggerated camp accent), ‘The Lord has given me a fabulous wife!’ It just doesn’t work.”
It was the final nail in the coffin, and for Brown magic had now completely replaced religion – today, his official website proudly states: “I am an atheist and a sceptic of all things paranormal. As an atheist, I merely do not believe, which is not the same as having an anti-theist agenda.”
Professionally, the decision was one of the best he ever made. By honing his act and becoming ever more daring with his technique and performances, he became the most famous exponent of illusion in a generation, and his nationwide tours are still phenomenally popular. Still, faith has pervaded his work – most famously on his 2012 TV show Fear and Faith, which examined the psychology of religious belief and in which he conducted a ‘Conversion Experience’ to induce a religious experience in a self-identified non-believer.
Emboldened by fame, Brown eventually came out at the height of his popularity during his 30s. After decades of bottling up his feelings, worrying about what others would think and using religion to hide the truth, the experience was nowhere near as traumatic as Brown had always envisaged.
“With something like that, if you carry something around with you for a long time that you make into a big secret, you turn it into a much bigger thing that it actually is!” he laughs, thinking back. “What you think other people are going to think doesn’t bear relation to what they actually do and what is interesting is someone trying to hide something that is actually quite self-evident – that’s much more interesting to people than who you fancy. Afterwards you think, ‘Oh why on earth did I turn this into such a big deal?’ It seems less so nowadays than years ago, it is a little easier now but what it does do is make you realise that – I think David Foster Wallace said it – you’d be a lot less worried about what other people think of you when you realise how seldom they do! That’s what it taught me, in the nicest way, other people don’t really care,” he says earnestly.
It is a lesson that he preaches constantly. When asked what piece of advice he would give to his younger self, Brown replied, “There’s no God and no one cares if you’re gay.” It has been an arduous, personally taxing journey for the master of magic to get to that point – and rightly or wrongly, there appears to be no chance of him turning back any time soon.
Derren Brown is currently touring the UK with his new show, ‘Miracle’. Tickets and info at derrenbrown.co.uk.
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