9th November 1998
The Daily Mail
CONMAN OR SUPERMAN?
Psychic Uri Geller has always baffled scientists and enraged his rivals. Now, in a new book, a writer who started out sure that Geller was a charlatan, reveals the astonishing evidence that was to change his mind.
FOR more than 30 years, Uri Geller has performed amazing feats. Tens of millions of people have seen him bend spoons, stop clocks, read people’s thoughts and make predictions, some of which have been uncannily accurate, all apparently by the power of his mind. But can Geller defy the laws of physics as we know them? Or is he the greatest magician showman since Houdini, a brilliant fraud who has duped the world for decades? In a new book, self-confessed sceptic JONATHAN MARGOLIS reaches a surprising conclusion . . .
MY QUEST to solve the Uri Geller enigma has led me to travel thousands of miles. I started as a sceptic convinced that he could not be for real. But I now believe that the evidence for his being a genuine paranormal talent is compelling, if not conclusive.
Geller asks much more from us than does a stage magician. He demands that we believe what we see, that we accept he is honest when he says he isn’t cheating. It’s a tall order, but over the years many people have been adamant that they have seen something rare watching Geller. I, for one, have seen him perform feats I cannot explain.
One Sunday in 1996, with my son David, then 14, and daughter Ruth, 17, I visited Uri at his riverside estate near Reading, Berkshire, where, in a garage, he keeps a Cadillac, which is covered in bent spoons.
He shares the estate with his wife Hanna, their children Daniel and Natalie, and his manager and brother-in-law Shipi Shtrang.
Uri, a fitness fanatic and vegetarian, cycled on his exercise bike while we chatted. Then he tossed a pad and a fibre-tipped pen to my son. ‘David, draw a simple figure on that while I turn away with my eyes closed,’ he said, ‘then put it face down on the table. Make sure I could never see it, and try to transmit the picture to me mentally.’
I tried to sabotage the supposed demonstration of extra sensory perception by thinking of spurious images and beaming them at Uri. Quite sharply, Uri asked if I would stop ‘all that junk’ because he couldn’t read David’s thoughts.
Impressive, but a gambit on Uri’s part: maybe most journalists interfered in the way I had. If I’d said: ‘What junk?’, he could have bluffed that my mind was too active and I should think of nothing.
DAVID did another drawing as Geller looked away again. This time, after the paper was firmly face down, Uri turned round, smiling. ‘You’ve drawn a stick man,’ he said, grabbing a pad and pen of his own. ‘It’s something like this.’
He scrawled briefly and the two held up their sketches simultaneously. Geller’s was a perfect copy of David’s – so exact that when we measured them, the height, 6cm, and the width of the head, 1.8cm, were identical.
Uri cycled on as we tried to work out if we had been fooled. Then he stopped, and asked the thing we had been hoping for. ‘Would you like me to bend a spoon for you?’ he said. We would, we confirmed. ‘I’ll go and get one,’ he said.
At which point David produced one we had selected from home. It was an oversized teaspoon, chosen because it was thicker and heavier than most.
Uri steered us over to a radiator, saying it sometimes worked better if he was touching metal. He put his right hand on the radiator (which meant he couldn’t use it to bend the spoon illicitly) and held the spoon half way down its handle between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand.
I was amused to note that nothing happened. Fifteen or 20 seconds passed, the four of us in a huddle. ‘Look, it’s bending,’ Uri said. If it was, my children and I could not see it. ‘David, hold out your hand,’ Uri said. He placed the spoon flat on David’s hand.
I dipped my head to see if there was a slight bend, which I could at least be polite about. Viewed side on, there was a barely perceptible warp of perhaps a few millimetres.
What must have been three seconds passed, but seemed like much longer. Then, like a miniature Loch Ness Monster arching its back upwards, a couple of centimetres south of the spoon’s bowl spontaneously rose, until it was bent at a 90-degree angle and standing up from David’s hand in an upside-down V. We gasped.
To see a spoon bend in Geller’s hand, as everyone has on TV, is one thing. It could be a special spoon of some sort, he could be in collusion with the TV people, anything. But to watch your spoon bending and without Uri touching it at the time was disturbing.
I picked up the spoon to feel if it was warm, or had some caustic chemical on it. There was no chemical. I touched the bend point to my upper lip, a heat-sensitive spot. It was cold.
Uri held the spoon to look at it horizontally as if to assess his handiwork (or whatever you call it – mindiwork, perhaps) and was pleased. (I later measured the bend; the tip of the spoon handle had travelled nearly five inches under our gaze). He signed inside the bowl with an indelible marker.
It was a remarkable moment, and I judged it the time to leave. Ruth had her arms folded. Uri noticed the elementary body language and on the way out he said to her: ‘Ruth, there’s something that will interest you in this room.’
HE LED us in and gestured theatrically to a pair of chairs in pride of place, in the centre of the room. They were made of hundreds of layers of crystal glass, laid horizontally one on top of the other.
What was remarkable to Ruth and to me about the chairs, made by an artist, Danny Lane, was that two weeks previously, on an A-level art trip to The Craft Council in London, she had bought a postcard showing one of them. She liked it so much, she had put it up in her bedroom. Shocked, we left and promised to keep in touch.
It had been a persuasive finale. How could Geller have known that the chairs were special to Ruth? My version of rationality could deduce only that we had either seen three examples of paranormal powers, or some exceptionally high-class magicianship. It is beyond question that rigid metal at room temperature cannot bend of its own volition, and silent mind-reading, without any known form of communication, does not and cannot exist.
A week later, Geller rang me to ask if I’d had any psychic experiences or odd dreams.
I said I’d dreamed about an Alitalia A300 aircraft crashing after part of its tail was blown off. He said I should watch out, because he feared something like it would happen in a few days. Geller added that he thought there would be a large earthquake on the West Coast of America that week, too.
Two days later, TWA 800, a Boeing 747, crashed off Long Island on America’s East Coast, after an explosion on board; it wasn’t Alitalia, but it was, as Uri pointed out, carrying a party of Italians from a cancelled Rome flight.
The next day an earthquake measuring ten on the Richter scale hit the west coast of South America. Coincidence, perhaps, but we still could not explain what had happened at his house. Was this the slippery slope towards unreason?
Subsequently, I watched Geller perform the equally bizarre feat of making a seed sprout. He took some radish seeds from what I assumed – wrongly, perhaps – to be a standard, sealed pack. He held them in his palm and stroked them.
After 30 seconds, I saw one of the seeds pop with a visible shudder, a shoot emerged and grew within about half a second to about 3mm with two tiny folded leaves.
Although the phenomenon was superficially as remarkable as spoon-bending, I was suspicious that perhaps radish seeds have a natural tendency to sprout suddenly in a warm spot.
Simon Vyle, assistant head of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, confirmed that radishes germinate in 24 hours, but he added: ‘No seed will sprout as quickly as a few seconds, whatever it is.’
Many scientists have examined the Geller phenomenon and said that his apparent powers need further investigation. Some have been less cautious.
The late Dr Wernher von Braun, a renowned Nasa rocket scientist and father of the U.S. space programme, once said: ‘The evidence based on metallurgical analysis of fractured surfaces produced by Geller indicates that a paranormal influence must have been operative in the formation of the fractures.’
Geller’s sternest critics are leading stage magicians such as the American James Randi and the legendary Penn and Teller, who described spoon bending as ‘a lousy trick for lousy people’. From the earliest days of Uri’s career in Israel in the late Sixties, conjurors have replicated such feats using sleight of hand.
BUT a substantial number of witnesses insist that Uri performed these so-called tricks as a boy during a childhood that was split between Tel Aviv and Cyprus.
Uri attributes the genesis of his remarkable abilities to a mysterious encounter in a secretive Arabic garden in Tel Aviv in the late Forties when he was three years old.
‘I felt something above me and I looked up and saw a ball of light,’ he recalls of a moment he still remembers vividly. ‘It was weird, almost like a plane, just hanging there. Then I was struck by a beam, or a ray of light. It hit my forehead and knocked me back in the long grass.’ Within days of this, while eating soup with his mother the first of hundreds of thousands of spoons bent mysteriously in Uri’s hand.
Margaret Geller, now 85, recalls: ‘I noticed that the spoon in his hand was bending. I thought he might have bent it on purpose as a joke. He said he hadn’t done anything – the spoon had bent itself.’
It not only bent, the bowl of the spoon snapped off, depositing hot soup in Uri’s lap.
Over the years it became apparent that bending spoons was not Uri’s only feat. Joy Philipou and Julie Agrotis, teachers at the Terra Santa school near Nicosia, Cyprus, where Uri boarded, recalled the then teenager astonishing pupils and teachers alike.
Mrs Philipou, who lives in retirement in South-East London , recalls: ‘What blew people’s minds was his ability to advance psychically the hands of electric clocks in the classrooms to fool teachers into finishing a lesson early’
In the early Seventies, when Geller had become a world-famous if controversial figure, Mrs Agrotis wrote to a British newspaper recalling his exploits at school.
‘Even while so young, he astonished his friends with his amazing feats, such as bending spoons. The stories he told of the wonderful scientific things that could, and would, be done by him, seem to be coming true. I believe in him.’
During the period of Geller’s greatest acclaim, the U.S. establishment also believed in him sufficiently to put him through psychic tests requested and funded by the Central Intelligence Agency as part of its ‘remote viewing’ programme.
At a time when the KGB was also recruiting ‘psychic spies’, the CIA was exploring the value of people who had the ability to ‘see’ in their minds important targets – real locations and people – abroad.
Dr Hal Puthoff, a senior research engineer at the Stanford Research Institute, where the Geller tests were carried out at the end of 1972, declares today: ‘I have no doubt that he has genuine powers.’
The academic, who insists that remote viewing does work, says: ‘We are going to look back and see that 20th-century science was primitive. I feel it has been a privilege to have been exposed to 21st-century physics ahead of time.’
Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, seemed to take a similar view of Geller. Puthoff adds: ‘They had used Geller in field operations and were impressed by what he had done, but they had never done anything scientific with him. So if we were going to generate results, they said they would be interested in them, too.’
T0 THIS day, Geller denies he was involved in espionage, but a U.S. defence scientist, Eldon Byrd, who became friendly with Geller, tells another story.
‘In 1976, Uri called me when he was in New York and said he’d had a strange encounter with someone who said they were from Israel and would he like to do something beneficial for his country. They wanted him at a certain time the next day to concentrate on some latitudes and longitudes, and to think: “Break, break, break.”
‘Uri called me again later on and he asked if I’d heard what had happened. The successful Israeli rescue of hostages at Entebbe airport in Uganda had taken place-, and he was sure the co-ordinates he had been given connected with it. He kept saying: “There must have been radars in Entebbe.”‘
Had Geller been enlisted to ‘knock out’ the Entebbe radar so that the plane carrying Israeli commandos was able to close in on the airfield undetected? Byrd never found out, but he was more certain of the results when Mossad next contacted Geller.
‘In June 1981,’ said Byrd, ‘Uri was secreted out of America by the Mossad, dressed as an airplane mechanic for an El Al flight. In the 747, there is a way from the cargo hold up into the cabin. They got him in and out without going through Customs or immigration.
‘He told me they took him back to Israel and flew him over a place in Iraq two days in a row and said they wanted to know where an installation at a nuclear-power plant was from his psychic impressions, and he told them. A day or so after he told me that, they bombed it.’
This, like so much in Geller’s life, is unproven. Today he lives in semi-retirement and apparently works in secrecy as a dowser for oil and minerals. Uri says: ‘The price is usually a million dollars, payable in advance, whether the search is successful or not. So I can’t complain.’
What amazed me during my research was the number of serious people who believe Geller. But one thing is for sure, he will never escape the controversy that has been at the centre of his life for so many years.
ABRIDGED extract from Uri Geller: Magician Or Mystic? by Jonathan Margolis, to be published by Orion on November 16 at £18.99. © Jonathan Margolis 1998. To order your copy at the special price of £14.99 (plus 99p p&p), please telephone 0181-324 5545.
Motivational Inspirational Speaker
Motivational, inspirational, empowering compelling 'infotainment' which leaves the audience amazed, mesmerized, motivated, enthusiastic, revitalised and with a much improved positive mental attitude, state of mind & self-belief.
“There is no spoon!”
“The world needs your amazing talents. I need them”
“Uri Geller gave an absolutely resonating talk on his life and career. He had every single magician in the room on the edge of their seats trying to digest as much information as they could. Uri emphasized that the path to frame is through uniqueness and charisma and that professional entertainers must be creative in their pursuits of success and never shy away from publicity.”
Tannens Magic Blog
“The man is a natural magician. He does everything with great care, meticulous misdirection and flawless instinct. The nails are real, the keys are really borrowed, the envelopes are actually sealed, there are no stooges, there are no secret radio devices and there are no props from the magic catalogues.”
James Randi (In an open letter to Abracadabra Magazine)
Sir Elton John
“Eternity is down the hall And you sit there bending spoons In your mind, in your mind”
“I Have watched Uri Geller… I have seen that so I am a believer. It was my house key and the only way I would be able to use it is get a hammer and beat it out back flat again.”
“Better than watching Geller bending silver spoons, better than witnessing new born nebulae’s in bloom”