Uri lines up Brazil for his next trick

Spoonbender who took Michael Jackson to Exeter City is lining up Brazil for his next trick

Uri Geller claims he cannot work miracles but is adamant he can convince the world champions to come to Devon

By Brian Viner
31 August 2002
Uri Geller used to own a racehorse called Spoonbender. One presumes he was in the racing game to win but, all the same, it seemed a fittingly jocular foray into sporting ownership by a man best-known for bending spoons. Not too many people cared whether Spoonbender came first or last. Now, however, Geller has done something rather more serious. In May, as the most conspicuous member of a small syndicate, he bought a League football club, and with it, the hopes and dreams of a city.

On the field, Exeter City FC have not yet prospered under Geller’s ownership. They make the long haul to Carlisle today having played five games this season, losing three. They languish, if languish is not too emotive a word this early in the campaign, near the bottom of the Third Division. But last Saturday they succumbed 4-3 to Kidderminster Harriers, having been 2-0 up. If nothing else, the Geller era has been entertaining.

Which should gain the approval of a club director who knows nothing of football but plenty about entertainment, the pop superstar Michael Jackson.

Those who doubt Geller’s word that he dabbles in the paranormal should think again: what could be more paranormal than Michael Jackson becoming a director of Exeter City? The pair are friends; in 2001, when Geller and his wife Hanna renewed their wedding vows, Jackson was Best Man. And so when Geller became joint-chairman at Exeter, he asked Jackson to pay a visit to St James’ Park.

“I called Michael. I said: ‘Will you come?’ He said: ‘I will come if you bring sick kids from hospitals.’ So we organised an event geared to raise money for the club and children with Aids, 50-50.”

Having already disarmed me with his considerable charm, Geller now fixes me with his beady gaze. We are in the sitting-room of his mansion beside the Thames in Berkshire. He makes no particular secret of where he lives. Indeed, on a nearby thoroughfare there apparently used to be a warning sign, declaring “Bend In Road”. To which some wag one day added: “Nice one, Uri”.

Sitting with us, and butting in occasionally, is his affable son Daniel, who, at 21, is co-vice chairman of Exeter City.

“The tickets started selling like crazy,” Geller continues, “but I took a major risk. I couldn’t sign Michael on a contract promising he would show up, we are just friends. To physically get him to England, and then on a train from Paddington Station to Exeter, was difficult. But we did it, and now we have been in Sports Illustrated in America. Can you imagine, Exeter City in Sports Illustrated?”

No, I say, I can’t. “We are going to name a stand after Michael. When I asked him to become a director, he said: ‘Oh wow, do you realise I know nothing about sport?’ I said: ‘You don’t have to’. Legally now we have to send all our financial statements to California.” Geller smiles. “It is funny that we have to mail to Neverland.”

It sure is, and the fun doesn’t stop there. When the club’s centenary comes along in two years’ time, Geller fully intends to bring the world champions to St James’ Park.

“I am working very hard at bringing Brazil here, and doors are opening for me. After all, if we could get Michael, why not Brazil? You know why Brazil? Because Exeter City toured South America in 1914, and the Brazilian national team was formed the month they were there.

“They wanted a foreign fixture, and Exeter were there, so they played a match. According to some reports it was 2-0, others say 3-3. Anyway, I have already spoken to the Brazilian ambassador, and sent a personal letter to Ronaldo. Everyone knows me in Brazil. Uri Geller [he is fond of using the third person] is very famous there. We are doing our best to make this happen. We want a new aura of internationalism at Exeter City.”

The fans, meanwhile, would probably rather have a few points in the bag than a new aura of internationalism. To which end, the Exeter manager John Cornforth has been encouraged to bring in new players, among them footballers of some distinction, such as Don Goodman and Lee Sharpe, although the latter was released on Thursday. A concerted attempt was even made to sign Gazza. He was offered £6,000 a week and, above a certain attendance figure, a quarter-share of the gate receipts. Such manifest ambition can yield a play-off place, Geller insists.

But he is at pains to add that he is no miracle-worker. In fact he tells me several times that he cannot contrive miracles, before paradoxically explaining that during Euro ’96 he willed the ball to move off the penalty spot just before Gary McAllister missed Scotland’s penalty against England. Like all the best miracle-workers, he is more comfortable taking credit after the event than promising it beforehand. But I would hate to come over as too sceptical. Besides, his recollections of Euro ’96 stand on their own; they require no comment.

“We were hovering over Wembley in a helicopter,” he says, “and I was listening to the match in my headphones.

“I heard that Scotland had a penalty, and as McAllister put the ball down, I said: ‘One, two, three, move!’ I don’t care how sceptical you are, but the ball moved away from his foot and he missed. It was Euro ’96, there were dozens of cameras, you can check the footage. The ball definitely moved. So I want to believe that I moved the ball. The hate letters I got from Scotland…”

Let’s get back to Exeter City, I interject. How in the world did an Israeli psychic, even one resident in the Home Counties, even one who watched his first game of football at the age of five (Hapoel Tel Aviv, he thinks), wind up buying a football club in Devon? This is where young Daniel comes in. “Seven years ago, while supporting Reading, Daniel started pinning up Exeter City posters on his wall. It was paranormal. He had no explanation for it, just said that he was passionately in love with Exeter.”

Here, Daniel offers his own recollections. “It almost happened overnight,” he says. “It was very bizarre. I was watching a goal highlights programme on TV, and saw Exeter City, and at that instant felt an attraction to this team, which developed into a passion for the place as well as the club. It felt like my spiritual home.”

Looking fondly at his son, Geller takes up the tale. “So one day I said: ‘OK, let’s go and see a game’. We got to Exeter, and first went to see the cathedral, and the place where they hanged the first witches in England, and Daniel, who had never been to Exeter before, knew how to get to these places. I believe in reincarnation but still I was amazed.”

To cut a fabulously weird story short, when the opportunity arose earlier this year to buy the club, the Gellers pounced. And the arrival of Michael Jackson, one famous June day, served early notice that remarkable things were in store. In what kind of condition, I wonder idly, is the cutlery in the club canteen?

Geller smiles. “You know, I met all the team, pulled out a spoon, and said to them: ‘Now, I am going to bend a spoon for you. It is the only time you’ll see it because I will never do it again for you. This is not about spoonbending. If ever I see you in the dressing-room it will be about motivation and inspiration. With all my powers I can’t make you win, but I can make you feel more positive about yourselves, and more positive about the team’.”

Surely, though, a mind that can bend metal can also repair torn hamstrings? Another smile. Hard as I try, I can venture no brand of scepticism that Geller has not heard a million times before.

“The first port of call should always be the club doctor. We should never abandon conventional medicine. But if someone can bring in spiritual help, motivational help… why not? Why shouldn’t sportsmen search for that little more that psychology can give, that self-belief can give? Why do players cross themselves before a match? Because it is an added bonus. ‘Hey, God is going to help me’. So many players carry a talisman, you would be shocked. I know one player who carries his wife’s hairpin, and attaches it to his thigh with rubber bands.

“Now, I was asked [before the World Cup] to heal Beckham’s foot. And I thought the best way was to show his foot on TV, and ask 10 million people to touch it, because I believe we are all connected by a spiritual thread.

“Shall I tell you what? About 9.9 million people did, and when Beckham was asked about it, he laughed and said: ‘You know what? It healed’.

“Now, I don’t claim to be a healer. I see hundreds of sick children. They come to the house, and I tell them I am not a miracle worker, not a healer, but I do believe in positive thinking. So, don’t ever abandon conventional medicine, but a positive frame of mind speeds up the healing process.”

According to Geller, lots of Premiership footballers have sought his guidance towards a positive frame of mind. Indeed, many of them have sat in the very chair I am now occupying. “I had a goalkeeper here, from a Premiership club. He had lost his confidence. I taught him how to visualise [success], a technique used for centuries. And it totally changed his outlook.”

Enough sportsmen and women have plainly benefited at the hands of sports pyschologists teaching visualisation techniques that I have no reason to doubt him. Nor do I doubt that he is very good at it. But Geller can never quite resist treating one’s credibility like he treats a spoon, bending it further and further until it seems certain to snap. The ending of Newcastle United’s so-called London jinx, the team’s improbably long run without winning in the capital, was, he casually adds, down to him.

“I believe in telepathy, in extra-sensory perception. There are sceptics who don’t and that’s fine, controversy is always good. Two separate sources asked me to break that jinx, and it’s my opinion that you can unite 60,000 fans to project something positive. I went to Highbury, stood close to the dressing-room and concentrated, and that day Newcastle beat Arsenal.”

Who asked him for his help? “I can’t mention names. One was the local newspaper. The other I can’t reveal, because you know what, there is a ridicule factor. I had Glenn Hoddle sitting right there and he denied it. He made me look like a liar.

“He came here with Eileen Drewery, while he was still England manager. They wanted to show me a healing system, and she did it, she put her hands on me. I was here, Daniel was here, my daughter, my wife, my brother-in-law, but in a press conference Glenn denied it. I mean, come on, if I wanted to invent a story about someone coming here I would invent it about the Queen, not Glenn Hoddle. But when that happened, when Hoddle made me look like a liar, I said I would never again reveal my sources.”

Spoken like a true miracle-worker, even though, by his own admission, the joint-chairman of Exeter City isn’t. He does bend and autograph a spoon for me before I leave, though.

Uri Geller: The life and times

Name: Uri Geller.

Born: December 1946, Tel Aviv, Israel.

Age: 55.

Occupation: Paranormalist and celebrity psychic. Joint-chairman of Exeter City FC.

Lives: Berkshire.

Family: Wife, Hanna. Daughter, Natalie. Son, Daniel.

Currently: In the jungle of Queensland, appearing on ITV’s ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here!’

Career: Rose to fame in the early 1980s for his spoon-bending antics and has since become a legend of the paranormal. Claims to have stopped Big Ben twice and to stalling the 2000 Olympic flame for several minutes.

Highlights: A “pupil” of Salvador Dali, Geller has had work exhibited in major galleries in Europe, USA, Japan and Israel. His drawings also appear on Michael Jackson’s new album. Working with the FBI and CIA, he has used his Mindpower to track serial killers and wipe KGB computer files. Author of 10 best sellers, including “The Little Book of Mind-power”.

See you in court: Sued American television chat show host, Johnny Carson, for making him look foolish by bringing out different spoons to bend. Currently suing console giant Nintendo for depicting an evil Pokemon monster as “Yuri Geller”.

Lifestyle: Geller is a fitness fanatic, cycling 27 miles a day. Has three showers a day. He is also a vegetarian.

They say: “Uri does enjoy his home comforts and he won’t enjoy not being able to wash. He will find that really hard.” Wife, Hanna, on Geller’s current TV venture into the jungle.

Did you know? Geller used to be an Israeli paratrooper and is related to Sigmund Freud.



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