Talking to the flowers, David Merlini
As we watched our children growing up, Hanna and I tried to teach them to stay young at heart. It’s wonderful to see our kids become adults, but we wanted them to retain that childlike spark that helps us take joy in life.
During last week’s show, the audience were in floods as the contestants put on the most profoundly spiritual display of the series. My Turkish producers warned me at the outset that their viewers did not want to see death-defying stunts and Russian Roulette gambles with nail-guns and crossbows. The Turkish people are deeply religious and they believe that our lives are in the hands of God: it is almost blasphemous to put a bullet in a gun and ask a celebrity to spin the chamber.
American culture is different. My US co-presenter Criss Angel was genuinely offended by one contestant who claimed he could speak with the spirits of the dead — that was disrespectful to viewers who were recently bereaved, insisted Criss.
But as our Turkish mesmerists delivered uncanny messages from beyond the veil, the studio audience was filled with people weeping without shame, sobbing for joy.
Our spectacular special guest was Ibrahim Tatlises, whose fusion of traditional music and pop has been shattering sales records here for 30 years. He’s as famous as Cliff Richard, with the status of a serious classical musician, and we were elated when he agreed to come on the show.
I was less elated when, unscripted, Ã¢â‚¬ËœIbo’ stood up to sing at the end of the show and beckoned me to join him. “You do the singing,” I ordered, “and I’ll look after the spoons.”
Ibo’s excitement was sparked by his revelation during the show — he warned us at the start that he was a committed sceptic, but three hours later his own eyes were shining with tears. “I never believed in that stuff before,” he told me. “But now… it was so moving.”
Despite his superstar status, Ibo has a reputation for speaking his mind, whatever the personal risk. Part Kurdish, he provoked an uproar among nationalist and was the target of terrorist assassins after he sang a folk song in the ancient language of the Kurds on live TV. Undetered, he went on to run for parliament in the general election.
Politics in Turkey is as emotional as everything else. On May Day, police clashed with workers as the trades unions tried to stage a rally in Taksim Square. We were on our way to the studio when the trouble erupted, and though my security staff managed to steer us away from the trouble, the immense billboard of me that overlooks the square wasn’t so lucky. My effigy is looking slightly battered.
Despite this, the city’s overwhelming mood is one of joyful, uninhibited affection. The children who rush up to me in the street throw their arms around my neck and kiss my face as they plead to have their photo taken with me.
Even the flowers talk sweetly to you. In the park, there are signs by every flowerbed — ”I am a daisy. I love you very much. Please don’t tread on me, because I am delicate.”
My assistant, Mikey, was surprised to learn the English flowers don’t make such pretty appeals. “In London, the signs just say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœKeep off the grass!’” I told him.
“In Turkey we would never be so rude,” Mikey said. “What’s the point? It only makes people angry and upset. We have a saying — a sweet tongue will charm the snake out of its hole.”
Mikey is one of my two translators on the show. I have his voice in one earpiece, translating the words of the host and the contestants, while another linguist, Dennis, relays everything I say from English into Turkish. I feel like I need five brains to process all the complex layers of information, but the audience seem to cope easily.
I don’t think they care what we’re saying, so long as it brings a tear to the eye.
David Merlini is the greatest escapologist the world has never heard of. Everyone knows the legend of Houdini, and David Blaine made fresh headlines last month by holding his breath for an incredible 17 minutes underwater, on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Merlini’s stunts are so mind-boggling that there is no doubt in my mind he will soon be an international star. That conviction was reinforced when I met him in Budapest: he has intense charisma.
A typical Merlini escape involved him being strapped into a straitjacket and chained to the steering wheel of a Mercedes. Its doors are welded shut and the car is set alight before being hoisted 100ft into the sky by a crane and dropped onto concrete.
“How did you walk away from that?” I demanded of David.
“It’s OK,” he said, twinkling. “I was wearing my seat belt.”
Ibrahim Tatlises is a huge name in Turkey, and the other celebs were as excited to meet him as I was. Nilgun Belgun, right, is one of the most successful actresses in Istanbul. I told her to work on her English — she will never be the Hollywood star she deserves to become unless she masters the international language.
“That was true in the Thirties for Garbo and Dietrich,” I told her, “and it’s still true today.”
Model Ece Gursel, left, stands a better chance of becoming an international supermodel without a word of English. Beauty needs no translators (maybe that’s why I’ve got two of them…)
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