My TV series reaches its climax this Saturday (11 October) and though this means farewell to Moscow, I’m delighted that we are not saying goodbye to Russia — in fact, I’m setting off on the most thrilling theatre tour of my life.
My mother was running a guest-house in Nicosia, Cyprus, with my step-father in those days. When one of our lodgers, an athletically built Israeli called Yoav, offered to teach me the rudiments of judo, I seized the chance to learn the skills of unarmed combat.
Yoav claimed to be a grain merchant, but I sensed there was a secret undercurrent to his meetings with shady, soft-spoken characters who muttered in Syrian and Egyptian accents. I sensed, too, that he was an expert with guns and explosives as well as martial arts.
Convinced that Yoav was a spy, I slipped into the attic of our house one afternoon to spy through a crack in the ceiling at our lodger as he studied maps with a contact. My ear picked out words in the whispered conversation that left me in no doubt they were discussing military matters. Some grain merchant…
It never occurred to me that what I had seen could put my life in danger, and perhaps my parents’ lives as well. I confronted Yoav, told him what I knew, and demanded to be recruited as a junior agent. When he told me there was no place for boys in the secret service, I gave him a demonstration of telepathy and psychokinesis, moving the hands on his watch with my mind.
Shocked that I had seen through his cover, and doubly amazed that I could reproduce the pictures in his mind, Yoav swore me to secrecy. He would train me as an agent, in return for my silence. For a few weeks, I acted as his go-between, collecting and delivering documents… and then he was gone, assigned to a fresh mission, and my life as a spy was over. I never got to drive an Aston Martin — in fact, the only high-speed chases I had involved Joker, my dog, who loved to belt after my bicycle.
A decade later, after my mindpower abilities were extensively tested at Stanford Research Institute in California, I was approached by the CIA. At first, they seemed to expect little more from me than Yoav had: I was booked onto an airliner and instructed to focus on wiping the electronic files in an attaché case which belonged, I suspected, to a KGB man.
But there was a darker side to the US secret service in the Seventies. It seems incredible now and grimly funny — George Clooney is to star in a black comedy about their activities, with Ewan MacGregor, Jeff Bridges and my friend Kevin Spacey. It’s called The Men Who Stare At Goats.
I found nothing funny about the CIA operatives who asked me to stare, not at goats but at pigs. They wanted me to stop the animals’ hearts with a psychic attack.
I’m a committed vegetarian, but that wasn’t why I walked out of the program. The bosses at Langley weren’t just interested in killing pigs: they wanted to learn how mindpower could kill human beings.
I’d love to see my CIA dossier. Chances are there’s a drawerful of data on me in Russia’s former KGB security archives too. This week I was introduced to a retired Soviet spy, Michael Evlashin, now a published poet, and asked him whether there was any chance I could take a look at my file.
“Sure, no problem,” he said with a wicked grin. “Ask nicely and it comes in a presentation package, you know… with ribbons!”
I think that’s just the Russian sense of humour…
The nights are drawing in, here in Moscow. That’s great news for my TV series, because viewers want to get home early and enjoy a cosy night in front of the television. And we’ve got fantastic entertainment for them — one on our contestants lay down on a bed of broken glass this week and allowed a road-roller to run over him. Incredibly, he was able to get up without suffering a scratch.
The combination of dark nights and brilliant television is delivering record-breaking ratings for us, above 20 per cent. We’re already in talks about a second series. But winter is on the way, and in Moscow that means there’s a bitingly cold wind. To keep the hibernation blues away, I’m flexing my most powerful muscle, my mind. It can supply all the sunshine a body needs.
My top tip for instant warmth is to tell my wife and children that I love them. Hanna and I have been together since the start of my career, and I have told her what she means to me a million times… but it always makes me feel great to say it again. Too many of my male friends are tongue-tied with the people who mean most to them: their emotions are bottled up, and that weakens their mental focus and energy. If you love somebody, don’t be shy — say so!
Professor Jane Plant, the government’s chief scientific adviser, says we should all smile more to combat Seasonally Affective Depression, or SAD. “Smiling is a way of tricking your brain into thinking everything’s OK,” she explains. “People who are mildly depressed should do their best to show the world a happy face as that will improve people’s reaction to you and lift your mood.”
Here’s another tip: live generously. I shared a stage with one of the world’s richest men, the diamond dealer Lev Leviev, at the weekend. He pledged millions of roubles to help Moscow’s Habad orphanage, and with a flick of his pen poured an ocean of sunshine into the lives of a lot of needy children.
I mustn’t forget to mention one of my favourite techniques to keep stay sunny on the inside: get your hair done. I enjoy a brush-up from a stylist every week, as part of my preparation for the show. It’s the fastest way to feel pampered and refreshed, and to send a message to your subconscious that you’re a special person.
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