Straightening the Record

In 1984, I received an offer from Danny Shalem, one of Israel’s leading impresarios, for four stage performances. I had to think it over for some time before deciding to accept. My five years of semi-retirement from the public scene had invigorated me psychically as well as physically and spiritually, and I felt ready to face my home public for the first time in twelve years. It would be a good opportunity for Hanna to spend some time with her parents, and I wanted to show Israel to Daniel and his little sister Natalie, who had been born in 1983.
However, I knew there might be problems. As it says in the Bible, ‘No prophet is accepted in his own country’ (St Luke 4, verse 23), and there is a mean streak in the Israeli character that leads to jealousy of anyone who becomes successful abroad. I would not say that people such as the violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, the actor Topol or film-maker Menachem Golan are not accepted back home, but I had already had a taste of the resentment that tends to be felt towards Israelis who achieve fame and fortune elsewhere. Then again, I might have been the most sought-after entertainer in the country for a time in the early seventies, but how would the new generation react to me? And what would the older generation think of what was essentially the same act?
These were some of the doubts in my mind as we hit the runway of Tel Aviv airport with a reassuring bump. Yet within minutes I found I need not have worried. Although my press conference was not until the following day, the entire Israeli press corps had turned out just to come along and greet me.
‘How does it feel to come back as a hero?’ one reporter asked me. I was quite taken aback, and cannot remember my reply.
He set the tone for the press conference, another full-scale media turn-out, at which Danny Shalem announced that both my shows in the 3,000-seat Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv were sold out, as were the others in Jerusalem and Haifa. The reporters, to my surprise gave me the full conquering-hero treatment, and there was not a single hostile question. What, I wondered, had become of all those ‘witch-hunters’ who had set out to get me fourteen years ago?
According to the press, no less than ten magicians stationed themselves in the front row for the first of my shows in Tel Aviv. No doubt they were hoping to catch me using the tricks of their trade. If so, they must have been surprised when I walked onto the stage to see that there could not be anything up my sleeves, for the simple reason that I was not wearing any. For the first time in my career I did what I am sure has never been done in the history of the Mann Auditorium and appeared in a T-Shirt and tennis shorts!
After the show, which went very well, I received a most unexpected visitor in my dressing room. He was Ronai Schachnaey, Grand President of Israel’s Society for Promoting the Art of Magic, who had been knocking me on television a short time previously. Evidently, he had changed his mind, for his first words to me were, ‘Uri, I take off my hat to you. You are fantastic.’ He then gave me a medallion inscribed with his society’s coat of arms. Why did he give it to me? Did he think I was the greatest illusionist or a true psychic?
Danny Shalem had booked me for four shows, but demand was so tremendous that I ended up doing thirty. By the time I left to fly to London in February 1985 I had collected a total of 113 press clippings about me from every one of Israel’s leading newspapers and magazines, and 99 per cent of them were positive. I had to take it all back – Israelis can honour their returning celebrities and artists.
Dry Bones
5 By 1974 Geller’s reputation in Israel was well established,
as this Jerusalem Post cartoon shows.
One whose tribute I particularly appreciated was Uri Avneri, owner and publisher of the popular weekly magazine Haolam Hazeh. This was the magazine that had printed a long cover story on me in its issue of 20 February 1974 that, as one of my critics put it, was ‘designed to put Mr Geller out of business for good’. It was based on false information, including ‘interviews’ with my parents which neither of them gave, a lengthy statement attributed to Hanna of which she never spoke a single word, and the revelation that Shipi was ‘signalling’ to me from the audience.
Since this story had been translated in full by one of my witch-hunters, and is frequently mentioned as if it were a scientifically-produced exposure of my fraudulence rather than an assortment of second-hand gossip and purely imaginary testimony, I am glad to be able to include here some extracts from Mr Avneri’s ‘Personal Diary’ column for the issue of 21 November 1984. This was based on his own observation and that of his wife Rachel.
‘Do you believe in telepathy? What do you mean, believe? I live with it,’ he began. His wife, he explained, was able to ‘steal’ thoughts from his head before he could express them in words. ‘This is why I wanted to meet Uri Geller. What happens when two telepathists meet?’
He goes on to describe how we did meet, in his own apartment, noting that I had come to see him and his wife alone. Shipi, my famous ‘accomplice’, was not even in the country at the time, having some business to see to in Europe, and did not arrive until shortly before the end of my tour. Mr Avneri also mentioned that I was not wearing a watch. (A local computer expert named Yosef Allon had been insisting for years that I used a watch to reflect drawings made behind my back.)
Suddenly, he [Uri] asked for a spoon. He took it and started stroking it gently. After a few seconds the handle began to bend upwards. Uri put the spoon on the table and let go of it, and it went on bending in front of our eyes until it reached an angle of ninety degrees.
Next, Uri asked me to draw something. He closed his eyes, and I took care to hold the paper so that he could not see it. I drew a ship, with three funnels, keeping the paper covered. Finally he drew something himself, then seemed to give up. ‘I don’t know exactly what it is,’ he said, ‘I’m not sure.’
He showed it to me. It was definitely a ship, except that my three funnels had turned into three portholes.
Next, Mr Avneri wrote, he asked me to do an experiment with his wife, so I asked her to think of the name of a capital city. He decided to join in as well.
I had no pen, so I went into the next room, found a pen, and wrote the word Tokyo in my notebook. Uri then asked Rachel what city she had chosen, and she said ‘Moscow.’
‘No,’ said Geller. ‘I got it wrong.’
So I thought, for what I had written while Mr Avneri was out of the room was – Tokyo. He gave quite a start when he saw this, and he had another surprise to come:
Then I interrogated my wife and she admitted that she had also ‘received’ Tokyo, but had decided to write Moscow despite her impression.
So I don’t believe in telepathy. But then I also do not believe in electricity. I don’t believe that somebody can sit in London and I can sit here in Tel Aviv and hear him, with no cable connecting us. Absurd, isn’t it?
One way and another, Haolam Hazeh had tried to do my reputation a good deal of damage in the past, so I was surprised to receive a telephone call from its former editor Eli Tavor soon after my meeting with its publisher. He came to see me in my hotel, and it seemed that he wanted to make amends for all those attacks on me he had published in the early seventies. He also had some remarkable confessions to make about the way the magazine had been run in his time.
He could not remember who had written the article in the 20 February 1974 issue, though he admitted that it was quite possible that the writer had made it all up and had never met Hanna. They were quite capable of writing articles that were pure fiction.
He himself had genuinely believed all the nonsense he published about me. His scepticism, he added, had been forced upon him by others. Now, however, this scepticism was directed towards his own former attitude, which he admitted to have been ‘biased’. He later confirmed all this in a letter dated 20 January 1986.
‘I have changed my mind about you,’ he said. ‘I am convinced today that you are endowed with abilities that allow you to perform feats which I cannot explain.’
Early in my tour there was one of those crazy coincidences that often seem to happen when I travel somewhere. This one began at Zurich airport, where I had been standing in line waiting to check in at the El Al counter. I chatted for a few moments with the man next to me, but saw no more of him after I had checked in. A week or so later, I found myself with a free morning, so I decided to take a sentimental jog around some of the places in Tel Aviv that I remembered from my childhood. One of these was the small apartment block that contained one of my first homes.
I felt a sudden longing to visit it, so I went up the stairs and knocked on the door. The man who opened it was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. It was my fellow traveller from Zurich airport.
He invited me in, and I took him out to the balcony to show him where I had written my name in the cement more than twenty years earlier. It was still there.
One way and another, I made my mark on Israel in some unusual ways. A woman who had seen me performing one of my regular feats on television, in which I would order broken watches to tick by repeating the order ‘Work!’, had a broken hair-dryer. She took this to be repaired the following day, and as she was on her way out of the shop she heard somebody shouting from the back room, ‘Work! Work! Work!’ I hope it did.
On another occasion, I was going for one of my regular runs along a street in Tel Aviv when I literally stopped the traffic. A passing motorist recognized me and screeched to a halt to ask for my autograph. He forgot his highway code as he did so, and the car behind ran straight into him, leading to a fair amount of bumper-bending and general commotion.
The well-known cartoonist Gidon paid his respects to me in the newspaper Ma’ariv (12 November 1984) with a drawing of a scroll that looked something like a bent tablet, and was inscribed with the words ‘Now I believe in Geller’.
The mayor of Rishon Letzion in the wine-growing region asked me to come and look for oil in his area. I was not very optimistic, and after exploring the land he had in mind I told him I did not think there was any oil there, as unfortunately seems to be the case in the rest of Israel.
I was also asked to help in one of those sad incidents of child abduction by a parent after a dispute over guardianship rights. I told the worried mother that her son was not in Israel, but either in Canada or in Florida, and was glad to hear shortly afterwards that he had been located in the latter.
As in Korea a few months earlier, I suddenly found myself back in a war zone when I was asked by the Israeli Army to entertain the troops serving in Lebanon. I was flown in by helicopter for a single show, which went down well enough for the authorities to invite me back, and to put my picture on the cover of the military magazine Bamakhaneh. My visit to the front line brought back memories of the good times I had enjoyed during my own military service, but it brought back the bad memories as well – of the violence, the hatred and the sudden death. After a spate of guerrilla attacks on Israeli helicopters shortly after my visit, the authorities decided that a return trip was not advisable.
I was able to make a modest contribution to peace in the Middle East, when Ezer Weissman introduced me to the Egyptian diplomatic envoy in Israel. I bent a spoon for him, much to his delight, and he told me I would be welcome to visit Egypt. He even suggested I should do a show at one of the pyramids!
Meanwhile, my exhausting tour went on and on, and one of my shows was in the town of Beersheba. Although it was sold out in advance and was a great success, it brought back a memory of the less agreeable kind, of an incident which has been inflated beyond all reasonable proportions by the witch-hunters. The true facts are these:
In December 1970, I gave my first show in Beersheba. I cannot remember anything special about the performance, having now given thousands of almost identical ones, but a short time after it a student named Uri Goldstein decided that he had been deceived by the poster used to advertise the show. It had promised a demonstration of psychic powers, but in his opinion it was just another display of stage magic. So he went along to the local civil court and made a complaint against my promoters, a firm called Solan, and me.
The court heard and upheld his complaint, and he was awarded the price of his ticket plus costs, all of which came to the equivalent of a few American dollars. The summons, if there ever was one, was sent to Solan and not to me. The first I ever heard of the case was when I read in a newspaper that a member of the public had paid the fine and enclosed an ironic little fable in a letter he sent to the court. A translation of this letter can be found in John Wilhelm’s The Search for Superman, in which he wrongly states that it was sent by me.
I went to some trouble to look into the facts of this case in 1984 and 1985, and I did so rather more thoroughly than any of my critics have bothered to do. Eventually, I was able to obtain documentary evidence from the Hashalom Civil Court that the complaint was heard in my absence. The case file number, for those who would like to check for themselves, is 3772/70.
It is therefore rather exaggerated, to say the least, to refer to me as having been ‘convicted in a court of law for pretending to have paranormal powers’, as Bernard Dixon, a former editor of the New Scientist, did in the issue of 22 October 1975 of a journal called World Medicine.
Just to make quite sure that I had never committed any crimes that might have slipped my memory, I have now obtained a statement from the National Department for Investigation of the Israeli Police. Dated 2 December 1984, it reads: ‘At your request, please find enclosed the conviction sheet of the above’ (i.e. – me). The attached sheet contains my name and date of birth, and the single line: No criminal record found.
I have never replied in the past to any of my individual critics. I have, however, been doing a good deal of research of my own into some of the more persistent of them, with the help of news clipping services, reporters and journalists, teams of private investigators and lawyers in North, Central and South America, Japan, Europe and Israel, all of whose thorough and tedious inquiries, some involving the Freedom of Information Act, have resulted in a staggering amount of information and have been carried out entirely within the law.
The same cannot be said of all of my attackers. One of them resorted to illegal activity in his efforts to incriminate me in 1985, when he filed a false record of payment (‘1099’) form to the US Internal Revenue Service, using a false name but having somehow or other learned the correct sum I had received for an engagement overseas. To his disappointment, no doubt, I was not subject to taxation on this in the US, since I was never resident there.
One way and another, I have amassed an enormous pile of documentation, from newspapers, magazines, radio and television shows, lectures, press conferences and private conversations. I keep receiving more from unexpected sources, and I am grateful to all those well-wishers, some of them unknown to me, who have been helping me compile such a valuable archive. When I recently had it moved out of my home, I weighed it and found it came to more than 100 kilograms.
I am sorry for some of the more extreme witch-hunters and I pity them, though I also have to thank them for making their priceless contribution to the Geller myth over the past fifteen years or so.
While I am in this record-straightening mood, let me now give you the facts concerning my very brief career as a stage ‘magician’, which I described in more detail in My Story.
In 1970, less than a year after my first public performance, I was booked to appear at the Beit Hachaial (Soldiers’ Home) auditorium in Tel Aviv. The promoter of this particular event felt that my act was becoming a little repetitive, which was quite true, and he thought it would be a good idea to add some trickery to the genuine displays of psychic power. A friend of his whom he particularly wanted to impress was coming to see the show, so he told me the number of the man’s car licence-plate and asked me to produce it ‘clairvoyantly’ during the performance.
I thought this was a stupid idea, and I told him so, but he insisted and I finally agreed to keep him quiet. He was so pleased with the result that he persuaded me to include it in my repertoire. At the age of twenty-four, and a beginner in show business, I was in no position to argue with a man far more experienced than I, who was, after all, helping me earn my living. I gave in, though not for more than four or five performances.
Then I confessed what I had done against my better judgment to a trusted and respected friend – Dr Amnon Rubinstein, who was then the dean of the Law School at the Hebrew University and went on to become a member of the Israeli cabinet. Amnon was horrified, and made me promise never to cheapen my talents again.
At the same time, he told me I should be co-operating with scientists and trying to find out more about the workings of the human mind. I obeyed both his orders. I never ever did the licence-plate trick, or any other kind of deliberate deception again, and as soon as the opportunity arose I offered my services to the scientists I have already mentioned, whose findings you can read in The Geller Papers.
A curious thing I have noticed again and again over the years is that when somebody like me is denounced as a cheat, the allegation is accepted without question, however dubious the original sources may be. The denunciation is repeated again and again, even by people who would check their facts carefully if they were holding forth in public about their own professional specialities. It is then regarded as established fact.
Here is a very recent example of how this process gets under way. In January 1986, a friend called me from the USA to let me know that Russell Targ had apparently just denounced me in public as a fake, a cheat and even a thief. At least, he had been quoted as having done so.
This did not sound like the behaviour of the Russell I knew, so I called him up at once to check exactly what he had said at the meeting mentioned.
‘It’s a complete fabrication,’ he told me. All he had said was that he had never personally done a successful experiment in metal-bending with me, which was quite true and which he had already said several times in print. The rest was pure invention, and I am sure that will not stop the debunkers from writing one more lie into their versions of history.
On the other hand, when I go from one scientific laboratory to another, submit to all kinds of controlled experiments directed by professional scientists, most of them physicists, who then publish their findings in respectable science journals, it is a very different story. I find it quite amusing that those same critics who reject what they read in Nature will accept the second-hand libels they read in the popular press.
Even more curious, to me, is the fact that some people will not even accept the evidence of their own eyes. Or they may accept it at first, but then allow others to change their minds for them. Professor John Taylor, for example, asked me to do several experiments in his own laboratory, such as bending a piece of metal that was fixed to a letter-scale. I did this, and various other things, but later he concluded that I must be a fraud simply because I would not agree to do them all again after some magician or other had told him how to tighten up his controls. Even if I had done this, another magician would have come along and said the first one’s controls were no good, and so it would have gone on.
The writer Arthur C. Clarke saw his own key bend in front of his eyes during one of the visits I made to Professor John Hasted’s laboratory in London in 1974. ‘My God!’ he said at the time, ‘it’s all coming true. This is what I wrote about in Childhood’s End. I can’t believe it!’
Ten years later, however, his mind had been changed for him by somebody who was not even present, and in Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers (1984) he quoted my account of the episode and accused me of faulty memory. ‘He did take the door-key out of my hand,’ he wrote, ‘and he placed it on a firm metal surface while stroking it. Interesting, to say the least . . .’
‘Interesting indeed. He forgets to mention that his own thumb was on top of his key as it bent, according to Professor Arthur Ellison, head of the electrical engineering department at City University, who witnessed the incident at point-blank range, and gave an accurate description of it in a lecture in London in 1985, which he repeated in print in The Times Higher Education supplement for 22 August 1986.
Mr Clarke has some strange views on scientific research. He describes The Geller Papers as an ‘astounding farrago’, many of whose contributors ‘must now wish that the entire edition had dematerialized’. Why? Because they published positive results?
According to Professor Ellison, writing in the article mentioned above, the reason why people tend to change their minds after witnessing something unusual is quite simple. ‘Such occurrences are “impossible”,’ they say, ‘therefore they cannot happen. It is not necessary to look further into these matters: it would merely be a waste of time. All the claims, confirmed by so many distinguished scientists and others, must be false. They must all have been deceived by a conjuror . . . And nobody likes to be thought naive: better to keep quiet.’
Several people mentioned in this book have later suffered attacks of what Brian Inglis calls retrocognitive dissonance – that is, they say one thing to me when I meet them and something quite different to some reporter or other several years later. Among those who suffered recently from this complaint, when the Mail on Sunday contacted them in 1986, were President Carter, Henry Kissinger, Clive Menell, Jorge Luiz Serrano and a spokesman for the Korean defence ministry. I can only say that I have discovered that I have a new talent: for inducing loss of memory in others.
Fortunately, however, retrocognitive dissonance works both ways, and sometimes it can help straighten the record rather than distort it. I referred earlier to the New Scientist article (6 April 1978) in which the ‘final disintegration’ of the Geller myth was announced. The man who allegedly provided the evidence for this was a former manager of mine named Yasha Katz, with whom I parted company in 1974 after a disagreement over his share of my takings – a problem with which many entertainers are familiar.
Yasha was quoted as having made a number of allegations, some of which were printed in a journal called the Skeptical Inquirer (Spring/Summer 1978). One of my most persistent detractors credited him with ‘the single greatest indictment of Uri Geller I have ever heard’. Among Yasha’s allegations were that Shipi and I had ‘taken refuge’ in Mexico, which had no extradition treaty with Israel, and were ‘wanted for questioning’ in Israel in connection with Shipi’s military service.
If I was indeed wanted for questioning in Israel, now was the time for the authorities to catch up with me. My arrival in November 1984 was plastered all over the newspapers, and my daily appearances in every major town in the country were well advertised. I gave enough press conferences for everybody in the whole of Israel to question me as much as they liked. Shipi, who arrived later in my tour, was also freely available for questioning by all and sundry.
Soon after my arrival, I was surprised to read in the newspaper Ma’ariv (9 November 1984) that Yasha was now stating: ‘Never did I say that he is not real’, referring to me. I was even more surprised to hear that he had wanted to help promote my tour and have his name on the posters along with that of Danny Shalem.
I got in touch with Yasha and explained that although I forgave him for having done me a good deal of harm in the past, I wanted him to set the record straight. Here is part of the affidavit he signed on 10 December 1984 in the presence of lawyer Moshe Ben-Haim:
I have known Uri Geller since 1971. I confirm that all the information I gave [in 1977] about him and his relatives, and Mr Shtrang, was lacking any real basis and was false. I confirm that everything I said was a consequence of the fact that there had been a disagreement between myself and Mr Geller, whom [sic] I thought owed me certain payments.
I specify that people who wanted to damage Uri Geller approached me at that time [1977] and pressed me to make statements aimed at harming him. I agreed under pressure, and gave information that was completely untrue.
It is not true that Uri Geller fled to ‘exile’ in Mexico because of an inquiry into him by Israeli authorities. As far as I know, there was no such inquiry or any reason for one.
It is not true that I said Uri Geller was a fake, or was cheating while performing either on or off stage. It is also of course untrue that I helped him cheat in any way.
I specify that people who wanted to harm Uri Geller used me for the purpose of damaging Uri Geller in an unjustifiable way.
Another person whose reported statements surprised me in the past was my former girl-friend Iris Davidesco, with whom I had a somewhat public but nevertheless satisfying reconciliation.
‘You were the love of my life, Uri,’ she told me when we met. ‘I was hurt because you left me, and I went along with what the others were saying because I wanted to hurt you back, and it was the only way I could.’
In February 1985, I left Israel totally exhausted both physically and mentally after so many performances and interviews. It had been my most gruelling tour since Brazil in 1976, and I vowed I would never do another like it. All the same, it was very good to have been welcomed home so warmly, and to have made my peace with so many detractors of the past.
Life is full of synchronicities, and I seem to receive much of my share of them at airports or in aeroplanes. As I waited in the lounge of Tel Aviv airport for my London flight, I noticed a man of about my age looking at me and smiling. I assumed he had recognized me from one of my shows, and nodded politely to him. Then it was time to embark, and soon after we had taken off and the ‘fasten seat belts’ sign had been switched off. I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the man from the lounge, now sitting right behind me.
‘Uri, look at my face,’ he said. ‘Do you remember?’
‘well,’ I replied, ‘yes, I saw you in the airport.’
‘Look again,’ he went on. ‘Don’t you remember me?’
His face looked vaguely familiar, but I could not put a name to it.
‘If it wasn’t for me,’ he said, ‘you wouldn’t be on this aeroplane.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Don’t you remember the day you nearly drowned when you were ten years old?’
‘Avi!’ I exclaimed. Of course I remembered now. During my brief stay at the kibbutz at Hatzor, near Ashdod, in 1955 and 1956, I had gone swimming in the sea one day with some of the other boys. I was a terrible swimmer then, and had no idea how strong the undercurrent was or what to do if I got myself caught in it, which is just what had happened. What I had done was clutch in terror at the only person within reach, which was Avi. I had nearly drowned the pair of us in my panic, but mercifully he was stronger than I and a good swimmer, and he managed to drag me to the beach. He was right but for him I would not have been on that aeroplane, or anywhere else.
[‘Actually I think it says something enormously important about modern cutlery’]
6 A Marc cartoon from The Times, 1973.
7 A Heath cartoon from the Sunday Times, 1986.
We had a good chat about old times and promised to keep in touch when we said goodbye to each other at Heathrow Airport. Avi was flying on to Canada, where he now lives, and since I had already begun to plan this book I asked him to write to me with his account of an unusual episode from the same period as my near-drowning, which he also remembered clearly. For the benefit of those who still believe the witch-hunters’ claim that I learned all my tricks from Shipi Shtrang (who was only a few months old when the incident in question took place), here is part of the long letter Avi sent me, dated 10 June 1985:
The first and only time I remember you demonstrating your powers was on a warm summer afternoon. We were walking on a footpath across from the main dining-hall, just past the steps leading to the new swimming-pool. To our left was a good-sized grassed area and to our right a hill with young pine trees.
You took your watch off your wrist and gave it to me so that I could admire it. I think it was a gift from your Dad. I thought it was a great watch, and you said, ‘See what I can do with it.’
I watched you take it in your hand and hold it tightly. Then the hands started to move forward on their own, and later backwards. I thought you were playing tricks, so I said, ‘I think you’re playing with the knob on the watch.’
Then I took a closer look. At this point we stopped among some larger trees covering the footpath, and I said, ‘Do it again without touching the knob.’
You laughed, and did it again. I was sure that you did not touch the knob, but I thought just the same that you were playing some trick on me. I must admit that I did dismiss it as just some crazy thing you were doing, but as a kid twelve years old I put the thought away as ‘So what?’ We kept on walking to our class-house and that was it.
I really do not think you even knew what it all meant. It was very natural to you, and you liked the idea of ‘Look what I can do’ . . .
(signed)
Abraham Setton
Victoria, BC, Canada
My arrival in London in February 1985 was the direct result of yet another of those airline coincidences. This one came about like this:
When Daniel was three, in 1984, it was time for some serious discussion between Hanna and me about where we wanted him to grow up and go to school. We could not go on carting him and Natalie around the world indefinitely from one of our home bases to another, as we had done throughout their lives to date. We needed a more permanent home base somewhere. At about that time, the British businessman Richard Branson invited me to come along on the inaugural flight of his Virgin Airlines, from London to New York.
As you would expect from the owner of a successful record company, he put on quite a show, and the send-off at Heathrow left me fairly exhausted even before we got off the ground. I made my way to my seat in the first-class section of the Boeing 747 and collapsed into it, hardly noticing who was already seated beside me.
He was a comic-looking and amiable fellow with a beard and a lively glint in his eyes, and before long we began to make polite conversation. He introduced himself, and although I knew nothing about him I commented on the fact that we both had the same family name: Freud – my mother’s maiden name.
My mother’s family comes from Vienna, although she was born in Berlin and brought up in Budapest. She has always been told that her father and Sigmund Freud were second or third cousins, although I have not been able to trace the exact connection. My fellow passenger had never had any such difficulty, however, for he was the grandson of the founder of psychoanalysis.
We had a pleasant flight chatting about food, music, horses and women, about all of which he seemed to know a good deal. I invited him to come and spend a couple of days at my mother’s house in Connecticut, and it was only there that I found out who he was: Clement Freud, Liberal Member of Parliament, veteran radio and television personality and author of several books. When I happened to mention that I was looking for a new home base, he immediately suggested England. ‘It’s a civilized country,’ he assured me.
It sounded like the right choice to me. I had been given an English education, in Cyprus, and I could not wish for a better one for my own children. I already had many friends and contacts in London, and on the whole I had always been well treated by the British media, which did more than any other to help me make an international name for myself back in the early seventies. Another advantage was that my secret hideaway in Europe was only a short flight away. Finally, after watching one more television item about increasing crime and drug addiction among New York school children, I decided that all roads seemed to lead to London.
Clement Freud told me how to go about satisfying the British authorities that I qualified for residential status, while making it quite clear that he was in no position to obtain any special favours for me, for which I never asked him. So, after going through the normal channels, I and the rest of the Geller family took up residence in a whole floor of an apartment building overlooking the treetops of Hyde Park.
Clement and I became good friends. Soon after I arrived in England we bought a racehorse together, naming her Spoonbender and entrusting her to the care of the well-known trainer Toby Balding. She came in sixth in her first race, and third in her second. On 26 November 1986 I went along to see her in action for the first time, in the 3.30 race at Huntingdon, having told the press the day before that I was going to give her a little telepathic help from my seat in the grandstand.
One racing expert who was not too impressed was Templegate of The Sun, who announced in the race-day issue of his paper that he preferred to concentrate his energies on the form book, reckoning that the favourite, Preacher’s Gem ‘is more than good enough to thwart Uri’s psychic powers’. He went on:
Uri, who does not gamble, is anxious to point out that should another horse be leading Spoonbender by a healthy margin at the last flight, he would not try to will it to fail.
‘There is evidence that it can be achieved,’ he said. ‘But I would never use my powers in a negative sense. I will be quite happy if the horse comes second or third providing I believe I have heightened her performance.’
My horse got off to a slow start, and was lying in eighth position out of nineteen as the field leaped over the hurdles. On the final straight, she showed what she could do and moved steadily ahead, finishing with her nose a couple of feet behind that of the winner. The favourite was nowhere in sight.
I was relieved, in a way, that Spoonbender had not quite made it. If she had come in first, I am sure there would have been allegations that I had been doping her or poisoning the other horses, or maybe putting a curse on them. I was satisfied with second place, and from what I saw I reckoned that my horse did not really need any extra-sensory help to win one day.
On another occasion in 1985, I gave Clement Freud and a number of his friends a spontaneous demonstration of my own winning methods. The occasion was a garden party at his country home, where I made use of my magic number: eleven. When it was time to buy tickets for the raffle, I asked for the numbers 111 and 121 (eleven times eleven). The first won me a handsome Wedgwood plate decorated with the portraits of distinguished Liberal Politicians of the past, and the second won the top prize, a huge hamper of luxurious food and drink. I gave this back, in order not to appear to be overdoing things.
At Clement’s party, I met a man who, like John Howard in Australia, gave me the impression that he could become prime minister of his country one day. This was Dr David Owen, leader of the Social Democratic Party. I bent a spoon for him while he was holding it, and learned that he had been interested in parapsychology for some time.
My lucky number kept turning up all over the place in 1985. When Andrija Puharich stopped off in London on his way to a conference, I booked a room for him at the Royal Garden Hotel, near my apartment. I went round to see him there.
‘That’s funny,’ I said when I arrived. ‘You’re in the same room that Byron and Maria Janis were in last week.’ The number was 1105.
Shortly afterwards, another friend of mine called from the USA and asked me to make a reservation at a hotel near me. I called the Royal Garden, and once again my friend ended up in room 1105. Then it happened yet again – four times in a row.
I began to feel slightly paranoid. Were all my friends being put there on purpose so that their conversations could be bugged? I had a word with the manager, who assured me that it was pure coincidence.
In December, I was watching BBC breakfast television without paying too much attention. An auction was being held for the Leukaemia Research Fund, and I had a sudden impulse to put in a bid for a gold bracelet studded with rubies that was being shown on the screen. I phoned in with my bid, and heard later that I had won it. I was also told that it had been donated by the well-known British medium Doris Stokes, and that it was – you’ve guessed it – Lot Eleven.
One recent coincidence that I particularly enjoyed involved both my lucky number and my name, which is one you might think it difficult to spell incorrectly. In fact, I had never seen it misspelt in any of the thousands of press items about me that have appeared over the years, until January 1986, when the journal of the Society for Psychical Research printed a letter from my old friend Brian Inglis containing the phrase:
‘. . . in circumstances which preclude the kind of deception Gelller was supposed to have practised . . .’

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