Performers like Derren Brown and David Blaine have revived an industry previously stereotyped by white rabbits, children’s parties and Paul Daniels. LUCY PARKINSON meets a young Clifton-based illusionist and learns some mind-boggling tricks.
Interviewing a mind control expert isn’t a situation that I find easy to approach. My initial fear is that this young illusionist will use his psychological prowess to steer the interview in his favour and somehow wipe clean my mind at the end of our meeting, leaving me with nothing more than a few meaningless scribbles from which to write my feature.
But meeting 20-year-old Chris Cox is like meeting an old friend, although he did later confess that his friendly nature was partly an act to win my trust.
“It’s really important to get people’s trust, they need to like you. Some magicians can be cocky and I don’t think it does them any favours,” Chris explains. “While you have to get the audience to warm to you, I try to be just the right side of charming.”
Chris doesn’t claim to be a mind-reader. Instead he describes his craft as a mixture of applied psychology, magic, misdirection and showmanship. Like TV’s Derren Brown, Chris combines confidence and intuition to startling degree, enabling him to subtly guide human behaviour – usually with astonishing results.
A student at Bristol University, Chris is currently in his second year of a degree in drama, theatre, film and television. He began performing magic at the tender age of six after receiving a Paul Daniels magic set as a gift, which he holds responsible for sparking his passion for magic, saying: “That man has got a lot to answer for.”
He has been featured on television shows like The Big Breakfast, Live and Kicking, The Real Holiday Show, Jack Dee’s Happy Hour and The Biz, and he has also appeared in a series of adverts for Comic Relief. He gave me a demonstration of his skills – beginning with a few seemingly simple card tricks, such as guessing which card I had picked from a pack by asking simple questions and monitoring my reactions.
But I was keen to witness more complex techniques he had told me about prior to the interview, such as memory recall. Chris asked me to draw three pictures of something I love, something I loathe and something I like.
He then claimed to be able to tell which drawing corresponded to which emotion by the detail in the picture and extremely subtle changes in my facial expressions. He encouraged me to make the links between the drawing and the emotion as tenuous as I liked. For example, for something I love, I drew a very slap-dash sketch of the ss Great Britain to signify my love for Bristol.
I’ll admit to being shocked that he guessed each one correctly. He said the tiny detail of the ship’s flag waving in the wind indicated that I took slightly more care over this picture, and so was able to deduce that it was, indeed, something I loved.
While demonstrating his tricks, Chris was happy to explain how he was apparently able to read my mind. “The unique blend of magic and psychology gives the impression of mind-reading. In my performances I attempt mind-reading using various psychological techniques. “I try to take the theory behind magic, a bit of showmanship and acting techniques, and the psychological programming and profiling ideas behind hypnosis in my tricks. “It’s a form of psychological bullying, I suppose.”
I asked Chris if he had ever used his skills to attract women or influence his friends. He said: “I don’t try to influence my friends’ thoughts because if I did that they would never get to know the real me, I suppose if I wanted I could try and influence a girl and try to make her like me. For example I might get her to talk about something she likes, and as she was talking I’d make a particular gesture, like touching my face. Then, later on, I might ask her out on a date and I’d make the same gesture, which she would subconsciously pick up on and link to the feeling of happiness she had experienced previously, and hopefully she would be more likely to say yes.”
In meeting Chris I had gained an intriguing insight into the world of illusion and mind control. But with my new-found knowledge of some of Chris’ most perplexing tricks, would I be willing to share the secrets I have learned? Now that would be telling.