sun 27/09/2020

The Secret Life of Uri Geller, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Secret Life of Uri Geller, BBC Two

The Secret Life of Uri Geller, BBC Two

In which the once-famous mentalist talks about being a psychic James Bond

Uri Geller: I was a Mossad spy© BBC/Spring Film/Vixpix Films

Uri Geller was famous once. Superstar, rock’n’roll famous, and though this is now hard to believe, kind of cool. He hung out with John Lennon, who gave him a thing that resembles a gold-plated egg and that was, Lennon told him, a gift from a friendly alien. What’s more, he was the darling of the chat show circuit – no, not those crank channels where psychic readings are available when you phone in with your credit card details, but ones hosted by David Dimbleby.

Uri Geller was famous once. Superstar, rock’n’roll famous, and though this is now hard to believe, kind of cool. He hung out with John Lennon, who gave him a thing that resembles a gold-plated egg and that was, Lennon told him, a gift from a friendly alien. What’s more, he was the darling of the chat show circuit – no, not those crank channels where psychic readings are available when you phone in with your credit card details, but ones hosted by David Dimbleby. But what’s really amazing is that no one one laughed at him, as they later did David Icke for being several spoons short of a cutlery set, but instead ahhed and marvelled when the spoons that he’d lightly caress went limp.

But spoon schmoons, that was back in the Seventies. We live in more sceptical times. And besides, we soon realised that Geller wasn’t such a hipster. He learned to love the camera too much and the affection wasn’t returned. The years passed and he periodically appeared again on our TV screens, but in a very different capacity. He was, as far as I’m aware, last seen being expelled from Ant and Dec’s celebrity jungle back in 2002, the first celebrity evacuee of the first series. Letching and celebrity name-dropping did not endear him to the audience.

It only got more surreal when influential friends such as Benjamin Netanyahu fetched up

So were we about to see a more credible side to the once famous mentalist when it was revealed that, during the height of his fame, he’d been a psychic spy for the CIA, the Mexican government and Mossad, and was, apparently, “reactivated” by the American government after 9/11 (although operational details and confirmations were not forthcoming)? No chance. The Austin Powers theme tune more or less put paid to that, as did Geller’s supreme lack of self-insight and preening vanity. This was The Men Who Stare at Goats territory, which only got more surreal when influential friends such as Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu fetched up to talk affectionately about their friendship. Other tight friendships included those with the late Aharon Yariv, a big gun in Mossad, and pianist Byron Janis.

It’s well-known that Geller’s abilities had, in the seventies, been put to the test by Stanford Research Institute, though how rigorously is certainly open to question. Believers include the SRI’s Dr Hal Puthoff, who also talked about a theory called “Quantum Entanglement”. But the programme neither cared to explain what this was nor what, if anything, it had to do with Uri Geller. As for Geller, he would neither confirm nor deny that he’d knocked out the radar system during a rescue raid that saw Israeli planes crossing Egyptian airspace following the 1976 Palestinian hijacking of a plane full of Israeli passengers. The planes had, apparently, remained undetected all the way to Entebbe airport.

Nor did the programme care to speculate how many American soldiers have successfully deployed their ESP skills during army operations after being enlisted in the Stargate Project. This 20-year project, which was terminated in 1995, trained military personnel in techniques such as “remote viewing”, and, presumably, goat-killing with the power of the gaze. If Jon Ronson had made this documentary instead of Vikram Jayanti perhaps we’d have been slightly more entertained, if not more enlightened with a balanced view. After all, if the psychic military programme had been so successful, why was it abandoned? We were given to understand that there was more to it then the official reason given. But we didn’t go there. We didn't really go anwhere. And anyway, we all know that debunkers are spoilsports.

Fisun Guner on Twitter

Were we about to see a more credible side to the once famous mentalist when it was revealed that, during the height of his fame, he’d been a psychic spy?

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SRI are a pack of fools when it comes to psychic phenomena. James Randi decisively shredded Geller once and for all. BTW, I neither confirm nor deny that I was responsible for disabling a terrorist plot that is still classified. Thus I must regretfully remain Anonymous.

Viewers with long memories might recall a wonderful C4 documentary special from the 1990s called "Secrets of the Super Psychics". This was, as I remember the programme, 90 minutes long, of which a good half an hour was given over to a detailed set of explanations of how to do Uri Geller's tricks - as well as pouring scorn of the (already not so secret and certainly somewhat discredited) claims that he ever did anything clever for anyone anywhere ever, never mind the Mossad. Well worth repeating, perhaps in the presence of the obviously rather gullible production team of this latest piece. I've just looked for the old film online - and found a hilariously deadpan demolition by the Broadcasting Standards Council of a complaint by Geller, who didn't like it.

Just an (admittedly pretty obvious) observation. Why does Mr. Geller need all the security equipment on his premises (as shown in the film)? It reminds me of the following joke: potential client rings doorbell at psychic's house, psychic replies from toilet via open little window "who's there?", potential client answers "never mind" and leaves.

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