The Hester Lacey interview: Uri Geller

He bent his first spoon aged four; now world leaders enlist his 'powers'. Who needs The 'X Files'?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The first thing to tuck into one's handbag when off to visit Uri Geller is obviously a spoon. Not just any old spoon, either, but a particularly sturdy specimen, one made from the toughest Sheffield steel, a spoon normally reserved for heavy-duty tasks like serving too- frozen ice-cream: a challenging spoon, a spoon that will stubbornly resist psychic attempts to rearrange its molecules. (But not one from the expensive wedding-present matching set, just in case.)

The Geller mansion, near Reading, is garnished with a white Gone With The Wind-style colonnade and an elaborate security system. In the garage is Uri's Cadillac - covered all over with a spiky layer of the cutlery of the rich and famous, bent by Uri's psychic power and arranged alongside crystals donated by Salvador Dali. Uri points out the spoons of John Lennon and Elvis Presley; he has managed to get hold of forks belonging to Churchill and Kennedy. And he also has James Dean's ice-cream spoon bolted on to his car, though this one was found in the glove compartment of the Porsche that Dean fatally crashed in, so it might well have been a bit bent anyway.

Inside, the decor could perhaps be described as ostentatious. Antique tables and chandeliers, a huge squishy black suede sofa with orange brocade cushions and casually draped Japanese robes, hundreds of artefacts and statuettes and knick-knacks - and crystals, crystals, crystals everywhere, including a gigantic one in the lofty entrance hall. Uri is a firm believer in crystal power. Sitting on one of a pair of carved crystal chairs (a chilly experience), he explains that when he wants one of Reading football team's players to score a hat-trick, this is where he sits them (Reading continue to languish close to the bottom of Division Two).

A special Geller-empowered crystal is the free gift on the cover of Encounters, "the world's most paranormal magazine", relaunched this month as Uri Geller's Encounters, with Uri gazing hypnotically from the cover with piercing brown eyes. To prepare for the launch, he spent 11 days in his garage, touching each crystal individually. "A crystal is an energy source, it can transmit and it can receive. I believe that when I hold it and I want to empower it, I will empower it," he says.

So if one forked out pounds 2.99 for the magazine, what might one do with this little lump of crystal? "By carrying it you're opening your mind positively, so you're already letting something good happen to you. If you have a headache or a pain somewhere, first go to the doctor. But also hold the crystal and believe that it could heal you. I don't say that it can, only that it could," he says.

In the hands of a master, though, crystals can do more than (possibly) cure a migraine. "I take crystals to football games," says Uri. "I sneaked into Wembley and dropped crystals into the goalposts when England played Holland, Spain, Scotland. I believe that while I was sitting there watching the match, I could contact the crystals and send positive energy and make England win." (Shame he missed the Germany game.)

Uri Geller's Encounters is a curious mix. It contains an exclusive interview with Uri Geller; a competition to meet Uri Geller; plus a Uri Geller editorial. Other articles speculate on the possible existence of advanced underground communities, able to reach the upper world through gates in the Himalayas or at the North Pole; or examine the evidence for the existence of mer- people; there is also a rather more sinister piece on curses that touches on Satanism.

Uri is delighted with this wide scope. "There are infinite spaces, outer space and inner space. Anything and everything can happen. So I believe in everything. Things that are really far out, say mer-people, or that Elvis Presley is still alive, I 99 per cent say 'Okay, that's impossible' - but maybe Elvis Presley is out there, and maybe there are genuine mer- people, and there are alien abductions - I'm very open-minded."

He speaks slowly and intensely, with an un-English intonation and accent, and exaggerated emphasis. Uri (it's actually pronounced Oori, rather than Yuri) was born in Israel, brought up in Tel Aviv and then in Cyprus. He first discovered his mystical talent when eating soup at the age of four; the spoon drooped, sending the broth into his lap. He has no idea why. "Maybe this does not come from me at all. Maybe this is something extra- terrestrial. Maybe it is a little alien baby run away from its parents and it's playing around with me," he says, completely straight-faced.

Luckily, though, he has managed to control his infant tendency towards unpredictable cutlery-mangling, so he is not condemned to always eating Japanese. "As I grew up, more and more things happened to me and I found I knew how to capture this power in me, to tame it," he explains. It's true that his immaculate cream linen trousers are completely free of minestrone stains.

Light entertainment - spoon-bending and such-like - was his passport to international stardom; people still hand him cutlery wherever he goes. Does he get sick of it? "I can't regret something that made me famous." But why not channel his powers into something a bit more useful? In fact, he says, he is not short of practical projects. Earlier in the week he jetted to Germany at short notice to help the police in a kidnap case. Tomorrow he is going to address a seminar in Athens. "I do very powerful, positive things - negotiating, for example. Vice-President Al Gore, the American head of the foreign relations committee, invited me to the international nuclear treaty negotiations. My task was to bombard the Russians to sign the treaty."

He has helped the Americans out on other occasions too. "The CIA recruited me in Mexico. Because I'm adventurous like James Bond, it was fun being a spy for a while. Mexico City was the largest centre for espionage in Latin America. They used to put me on Air Mexico, in first class where the KGB agents sat with diplomatic pouches handcuffed to their arms. I had to erase the floppy discs they were carrying in the pouches, or get the information out of them."

After about a year, he says, events took a sinister turn. "I was led to a pig farm, and I was asked to stop the heart of a pig. I connected immediately that they probably wanted me to eliminate or assasinate Yuri Andropov, who was the head of the KGB at the time. That scared the hell out of me, because it's not proper, it's not ethical. I'm vegetarian! That's what made me catapult out of all that. I disappeared for over 10 years - I lived in the forest in Japan and then in Connecticut. I didn't want any contact with the outside world." During this time out, which started in 1978, he lived at the foot of spiritually-cleansing Mount Fuji with his wife Hanna and their two children Daniel and Natalie, now 15 and 14.

But now he's back, and poised to take advantage of the current wave of interest in the paranormal epitomised by the interminable X Files. "I believe that in the universe there is a sort of vibration," he says seriously. "People are beginning to feel that energy and tap into it. It encourages us to explore more the unknown. I believe that it is a physical energy - we can't scientifically measure it, but it is there. Because we are approaching the Millennium, there is something in our system that knows that we're coming up to something very big, and that is a part of the quest to touch the paranormal. And maybe the power of the brain works in cycles. Maybe the last time we were interested in para-psychology was 4,000 years ago when the Egyptians built the pyramids, maybe the cycle is coming back."

His own powers, he says, cannot be used to hurt or harm - or for personal gain. Naughty activities like gambling are strictly off-limits. "I would love to make pounds 10m on the lottery, because it would finally put the sceptics to rest, but I don't do it. Once I gambled with my powers in a London casino and I won pounds 17,000. The next day I was driving in a limousine and I heard this tremendous voice in my head, I thought I was going insane. I broke the glass between me and the driver. The door opened and I was thrown out of the car, and there was this great pressure bearing down on me. That scared me so much that when I got back into the car, I rolled the windows down and threw the money out."

Though not everything materially advantageous is disallowed. "I haven't been prevented from finding oil and gold and diamonds for major companies, so I still don't understand how come I'm allowed to go and locate precious minerals, but I cannot use these powers in a casino."

He is, however, allowed to use his powers to help himself as well as others. He psyched himself out of bulimia early on in his career. "I come from a very poor background. My mother had nothing. My father was a womaniser, he spent all the money my mother was making as a waitress and seamstress. We lived in a one-room apartment in a shabby area of Tel Aviv. And suddenly I made a lot of money, and became world famous. That can twist you in a very bizarre way. A rock star might go to drugs, or alcohol. Me, because I was so poor, I'd wear Rolexes and drive limousines and buy private jets. I would go to all the most expensive restaurants and binge, but I didn't want to put on weight. I would excuse myself and vomit. I was killing myself slowly." This went on for a year; he would steal airline sick-bags so he could throw up in his car. "I stopped being able to make myself vomit by sticking my fingers down my throat, so I started using a toothbrush. I used to spit up blood; damage myself." One day in the street he realised how weak he was, and, to the surprise of passers-by, yelled "One-two-three STOP" - an instant cure. Now, he says, lean and tanned at the age of 49, he cycles 50 miles a day on his exercise bike and is fitter than ever before - even than when he was a paratrooper in the Israeli army, before stardom beckoned.

He offers a swift demonstration of his psychic abilities. "Turn to a clean page in your note-book and make a simple drawing while I turn away and close my eyes. Now concentrate hard ... " he sketches for a second. Spooky (ish) ... we now have two near-identical fish-shaped scribbles. However, the jury remains out. There are a lot of mirrors in this room. But now for the piece de resistance. How does spoon-bending feel, exactly? Is there a tingle, a buzz? "No. I just say 'Bend, bend, bend'." The Tough Spoon is produced and he moves over to crouch by a bronze Dali statue of a horse ("I feel stronger near metal"). He holds the spoon lightly in his fingers, rubs it gently, asks it to bend - and it does. It isn't warm or blackened - just bent into a right angle. Spooky, spooky, spooky! If this is any kind of trick, it's a bloody good one.

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