The Greek Uri Geller

Athens is one of the world’s most ancient cities, a seat of civilisation since the beginning of history. And since the beginning of time mankind has demanded entertainment.

I spent my adolescence in Cyprus, helping my mother and stepfather to run our little boarding house, the Pension Ritz, on Pantheon Street in Nicosia. It had 14 bedrooms, and the day that I arrived there from the kibbutz in Israel, I found two presents waiting for me — a little wired-haired terrier with black and white markings, called Joker, and a blue model Cadillac.

I loved both my gifts, and for most of my adult life I’ve had a dog called Joker… and a Caddy in the garage!

 It was in Cyprus that I first learned to speak English, at the American School in Larnaca. But I also picked up a few words of Greek from the youngsters I played with on the streets, and it’s incredible how the memories of youth never fade away — I can still remember those snatches of Greek slang.

 I don’t think I’d better try them out on my live television show, though!

My catchphrase, 1-2-3, has been translated into Greek, and I use the Greek words for ‘WORK!’ and ‘BEND!’ But I won’t try to type them here, because I’d need a whole new alphabet.

 There are very few photographs of me from my Cypriot days, but one of them has caused a great stir here in Athens.


 On national holidays, my mother, Muti, would always hang a Greek flag from the balcony of our hotel. All the houses did this. In one childhood snaphot, I am standing with Muti, one arm draped over my beloved Joker, and the flag is just visible in the background.

 I produced this picture on a late-night chatshow, and the effect was incredible. Everyone seemed thrilled that I could prove I had always loved Greece.

 After the show, the host remarked to me that Pantheon Street was famous for its cinema, and that brought more memories flooding back. In those days, almost all the movie-houses were open air, and I was able to sit in a back bedroom and watch the films for free. I had to strain my ears to catch the dialogue, but that didn’t matter — most of the movies were war films or cowboy pictures.

 I grew up watching Alan Ladd, Gary Cooper and John Wayne. Marlene Dietrich made a serious impression on me too, though I’m pretty certain that wasn’t a cowboy film.

 The food in Athens is fabulous, and we keep discovering great restaurants. The taste of a feta salad, or olive bread, or vegetables soaked in oil, can bring back a whole feast of memories. The pasta is amazing here — it isn’t only Italy where you can enjoy the best spaghetti.

 And after a meal, we can settle down in the business lounge here on the seventeenth floor of the Hilton, and look out of the picture windows to the Acropolis, spotlit and spectacular on its hilltop.

 I vowed when we left Israel at the start of the Seventies that, however hard I worked, life would always be one fabulous holiday. And I’m certainly keeping my promise here!

 Getting to the restaurants has been more difficult since Saturday, when the show launched and smashed all viewing records. I had a strong presentiment that we were going to enjoy a success, but this beat all expectations.

 We ran for an incredible two-and-a-half hours, and more than 40 per cent of the country was tuned in for the last hour, sometimes peaking at more than 46 per cent. Our share of the crucial younger audience, aged 15-44, was two-and-a-half times the channel’s average, and you could hear the cries of joy from the executive offices.

Some of the contestants on the show


In Cyprus, we hit 50 per cent viewing figures. Not even in Israel has the show ever managed to attract half the entire population.

 On the rival channel, their Beat The Blondes show had been the previous Saturday’s big hit. Our viewers outnumbered them by almost four to one. So all our hard work has paid off, not to mention the panic of the dress rehearsals.

 Twenty-four hours before we hit the air, the chaos was alarming, just as it had been when we launched the show in Turkey… but everything was all right on the night. It must be something about the Mediterranean mentality… they don’t get too worked up until it matters.

 When we left the studio, I felt utterly drained. I collapsed into the limo, and it wouldn’t start — the battery was flat. Even the car had used its last ounce of energy.

 The next day, we were all over the media. Even rival TV stations were replaying clips from the show. Much of the controversy focused on the terrifying performances of some contestants — one guy with an enormous beard, Zacharis, appeared to hang himself in a truly gruesome act.

 The show’s presenter, Christos, told the audience that he wouldn’t let his own kids watch anything so frightening. That’s like Cheryl Cole telling X-Factor audiences to switch over to Strictly Come Dancing.

 As a result, a ten-minute stroll to a restaurant is now taking us anything up to an hour. Hanna tells all the autograph hunters that she’s got my signature on the piece of paper that really matters… our wedding certificate.

Greece’s Top Model is another big hit on television here, and like my show it is a format which is globally sucessful. But I don’t think anyone will tune in to see what fabulous designer creations I’m wearing, or how I’m doing my hair this week.




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