Paul O’grady

What better way to celebrate the start of the thrilling new season of Formula 1 than by having lunch with the mogul of motor racing, Bernie Ecclestone?

That infectious giggle has made him famous. It’s an unmistakeable sound. When Joe accepted the jungle challenge of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, I knew immediately that he would scoop the prize — everybody loves him, and the viewers couldn’t help voting for him. 

So when I picked up the phone this week and heard his voice, I was grinning even before he asked me to join him while he stood in for the holidaying host on the Paul O’Grady Show. I’d love his other guests, he added — he was inviting the opera singer Katherine Jenkins, the ice-dance queen Suzanne Shaw… and a sumo wrestler called Steve Pakeman. 

It must be a year or more since I last saw Joe, and I was amazed by how young he looked. It’s not just the fact he’s lost weight — it’s his confidence, and his style. His hair, his clothes… everything combined to make him look like the star he is.

I told him that he ought to be topping the bill in Vegas, and I meant it. 

If he was playing to an empty house in a seaside resort halfway through the off season, Joe would give his performance every bit as much energy as he threw into his act for the TV studio audience. And I was alarmed at just how hellbent he was on entertainment — at one point, I thought he might get himself killed.

The sumo star was showing him a few holds. Joe was bouncing off him like a rubber ball off a brick wall. And when Steve picked him up and threw him off the sound stage, it looked for a moment as if Joe was going to bounce right into the street. 

“I’m glad you went easy on him,” I told Joe later.

“He eats guys like me for breakfast… literally!” Joe giggled.

I asked Steve what he really ate to maintain that colossal girth, expecting him to say he could shovel into his mouth as much as he wanted of anything he liked. In fact, sumo wrestlers have to follow a rigid and vitamin-packed diet, just like any other athletes. The difference is, their portions are bigger.

During my section of the show, I produced a compass, in a direct response to the sceptics who have helped so much to fuel my career in the past three years. A video appeared on the YouTube website in 2007, after the very first series of my show, Successor, in Israel: it showed me forcing a compass needle off course, and the guy who uploaded the clip claimed I was doing it with a magnet hidden under a false thumb. Other comments suggested I had something concealed in my hair.

My initial reaction had been to laugh — I don’t have a false thumb! It was bizarrely similar to the claims in New Scientist magazine, 35 years ago, that I sent and received ‘telepathic’ messages through radio transmitters concealed in my teeth. But on reflection, I realised there was a serious side to what I could learn about the internet. Video websites have utterly changed the rules of television — anyone can be a broadcaster now. And so I watched as this single clip racked up two million viewers: more people have tuned into it on YouTube than saw it when it was screened live in Israel.

As the ratings for my shows continued to rise and rise, I understood the sceptics were the powerhouse of my publicity machine. Two million viewers… that’s like filling Old Trafford’s Theatre of Dreams to capacity 25 times over. Every one of those YouTube users was asking, “How does Uri do that? Is it a trick? Is it really a false thumb? Or is it the power of his mind? And do I have that power?”

So when I produced a compass on Joe’s show, I didn’t attempt to convince anyone about anything. The greatest power of the mind is the ability to make up your own. 

But I did explain the Joe and Suzanne that they too could move the compass needle if they focused hard on it. They took the challenge, and the needle flickered — faintly but undeniably.

If the sceptics want to take that clip and plaster it over YouTube, claiming that we were all wearing prosthetic fingers and magnetic wigs… that’s great with me!


Ever since I met the soul diva Lisa Stansfield on a plane, a few weeks ago, her music on my iPod has been my soundtrack — “Been around the world tonight…”

I’m writing this on a jumbo bound for Tokyo, where I have promised to deliver a seminar as a favour to an old friend who has been a great support to me in Japan for many years. From there, I fly on to Moscow for a book launch. I’ll be singing along with Lisa all the way.


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