Think of Russian treasures, and you might picture a Faberge egg or the bejewelled Tsarist antiques in St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum. But a Moscow newspaper has challenged me to track down a treasure much bigger than that… it’s an entire room.
It will take me across Siberia to the world’s remotest city… Vladivostock.
I’ve reported for Weekly News readers from Tokyo and Seoul, two other cities in the north-west Pacific, but those are national capitals. The governments of Japan and South Korea are based there.
Vladivostock is ten time-zones away from Moscow. When the Russian government is having breakfast, families in Vladivostock are sitting down to dinner. Nowhere else on earth is so far-flung, not even Wolverhampton.
Shipi and Hanna will be joining me on tour, of course — and so will many of the contestants from my show, to stage a spectacle of mystifying entertainment. St Petersburg and Kiev are also on the itinerary and, as we pored over the map to plot our flights, we began to understand how much of the world we have never explored. I’ve been across America many times, but that’s like exploring a back garden compared to the expanses of Russia.
Before that adventure gets under way, though, we’ll be flying back to Britain for a well-earned rest, lasting all of 24 hours. Then it’s off to Spain for an architecture design project, Turkey for two lectures, Cannes for the international career launch of David Merlini, the Hungarian escapologist, and then Munich for the first of a series of live TV specials.
We were in Munich this week to film a promo for the special, UFOs And Aliens, which will involve interactive experiments aimed at making contact with extraterrestrial watchers. One viewer emailed me in a panic this week, begging me not to stage a national attempt at beaming messages to the stars — the aliens might not be friendly, she feared.
I believe without reservation in the existence of intelligent life beyond earth. It’s inconceivable to me that we are alone. And I trust the evidence of my own eyes and millions of people like me who have reported UFO encounters.
The idea of an alien invasion belongs on the Hollywood screen, though. If extraterrestrials wanted to declare war on human beings, they would have done it a long time ago… probably when we were still living in caves.
While I was in Munich I also filmed a hilarious escapade for Germany’s Candid Camera. What made it work was its plausibility — I walked into a hotel and checked in, as I have done at least 200 times this year. When the receptionist handed over my key, I stared into her eyes and said, “Did anyone ever tell you that you’re psychic? I can sense real power coming from you.”
The young woman, Eve, looked nonplussed, so I asked her to focus on the wall-clock and say my catchphrase with me — “Achad, shtaim, shalosh!” Those magic words mean “1, 2, 3” in Hebrew, of course. And when she said them… the hands of the clock jerked round.
That freaked her out, but when she showed me to my room, things got really paranormal. Light-bulbs exploded, the champagne in the ice bucket popped its cork, and a set of cowbells on the wall started ringing before they fell to the floor. And I kept a straight face.
By now, Eve was beginning to believe she had psychokinetic powers at her command, and when I asked her to light the fire in the foyer with her mind, she excitedly shouted, “Achad, shtaim, shalosh”.
And the grand piano burst into flames.
The most gruelling psychic experiment I ever undertook was a telepathy test in Death Valley, Colorado. It’s the driest, hottest place in America, where temperatures can reach 134 degrees Fahrenheit, and I was subjected to mind probes there by the brilliant parapsychologist Dean Brown.
Professor Brown wanted to discover whether my abilities were affected by heat. Inevitably, they were — it’s hard to focus on mental images when you’re melting like an ice cream under a sun lamp.
But here’s a puzzle that would even have Dean Brown scratching his head: why are boulders in Death Valley moving around?
Observers on one of the playas, or dried-up river beds, say rocks weighing several hundred pounds are sliding across the surface of the flat desert floor, leaving a track like a snail’s. There are no footprints, either animal or human, and the best explanation the scientists can come up with is that the wind must be moving the rocks.
That sounds so improbable to me that I’ve come up with a more likely solution: aliens are using the boulders in an intergalactic chess game.
Perhaps, when my TV special makes contact this month, I shall ask to join in.
One thing I love about Russia is the fusion of folk tradition with modern celebrity. Pyotr Dranga is Moscow’s answer to Nigel Kennedy, a virtuoso musician with a rock and roll style… but instead of the violin, Pyotr plays the accordion.
He’s a genius on the keys, coaxing everything from disco to jazz out of his squeezebox as he dances across the stage. He can even ice-skate as he plays, and he writes much of his own music. In five years he’s become a national superstar: millions of his fans can recognise his distinctive style instantly.
I’d love to see him on British television. If anyone can make the accordion sexy for the X Factor generation, Pyotr can.
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