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Derren Brown
2018-09-17 Derren Brown at Foyles (cropped).jpg
Brown in September 2018
Born (1971-02-27) 27 February 1971 (age 53)
London, England
  • Entertainer
  • mentalist
  • illusionist
  • writer
Years active 1992–present

Derren Brown (born 27 February 1971) is an English entertainer, mentalist, illusionist, and writer. Brown began performing in 1992, making his television debut with Mind Control (2000). He has since starred in several more shows for stage and television, including Something Wicked This Way Comes (2006) and Svengali (2012) which won him two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Entertainment, as well as The Experiments (2011) which won him a BAFTA for Best Entertainment Programme at the 2012 awards. Brown made his Broadway debut with his 2019 stage show Secret. He has also written books for both magicians and the general public.

Brown does not claim to possess any supernatural powers; conversely, his acts are often designed to expose the methods of those who do assert such claims, such as faith healers and mediums. He often begins live performances by stating that his results are achieved through "magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection, and showmanship".

Early life

Derren Brown was born in the Croydon area of London on 27 February 1971, the son of Chris and Bob Brown. He was raised in the nearby area of Purley, which he described as "the epitome of middle-class suburbia". He has a brother nine years his junior. He was privately educated at Whitgift School in Croydon, where his father was a swimming coach, before going on to study law and German at the University of Bristol. While there, he attended a hypnotist show by Martin S Taylor, which inspired him to turn to illusion and hypnosis as a career. As an undergraduate, he started working as a conjuror, performing the traditional skills of close-up magic in bars and restaurants. In 1992, he started performing stage shows at the University of Bristol under the stage name Darren V. Brown; the "V" stood for "Victor".



Brown cites magician and comedian Jerry Sadowitz, whom he met at the International Magic shop in Clerkenwell, London, as being instrumental in his rise to stardom. Sadowitz put him in touch with H&R publishers and Objective Productions, a production company founded by television magician Andrew O'Connor. This gave him his breakthrough show, Mind Control (2000), and his work went on to become their first award-winning product. After several further shows with Objective, Brown set up his own company Vaudeville Productions with former Objective executives Michael Vine, Andrew O’Connor, and Paul Sandler, in order to produce his own shows as well as other projects with other performers. Its first show was Brown's TV special, Pushed to the Edge.

Self-proclaimed psychic Joe Power, the subject of episode 1 of Derren Brown Investigates ("The Man Who Contacts the Dead"), complained to Ofcom about being misled and treated unfairly, and that the programme "presented, disregarded or omitted material facts". He also alleged he had received threats from sceptics and had to move home because of it. Ofcom rejected his complaint on the basis that Power had been fully apprised of the sceptical nature of the programme, and his actions had been presented fairly.

Brown has faced allegations of using stooges in his work. Viewers complained that the subject of Apocalypse was an actor, pointing to his CastingCallPro account as evidence. Brown dismissed these allegations as conspiracy theories and then responded directly, calling them untrue and hurtful.

Other appearances

In 2008, Brown made a brief cameo in the supernatural drama series Crooked House. An interview with Brown was featured in Richard Dawkins' 2009 two-part documentary series The Enemies of Reason. Brown explained various psychological techniques used by purported psychics and spiritual mediums to manipulate their audiences. The most notable was cold reading, a technique which he discusses extensively in his book Tricks of the Mind. Some video footage was also used from his TV special Messiah. As part of Channel 4's 3D season in 2009, Brown presented Derren Brown's 3D Magic Spectacular. The show was not a new special from Brown; instead, he was the presenter for a number of other magicians and clips that were shown. However, he did include one extract taken from a 2006 episode of Trick of the Mind in which he found an object that had been hidden in the streets of Venice by a volunteer.

In January 2011, to celebrate 10 years since his first television appearance, Channel 4 held a special "Derren Brown Night". As well as re-showing The Heist (which had won a recent poll of favourite Brown specials) and one of his Enigma live shows, the channel screened a special documentary called Derren Brown: Behind the Mischief. It was a personal and candid film about Brown which included the story of how he met his co-writer (who was featured in Seance), his mother's feelings about his involvement in the Russian Roulette special, and an emotional visit back to his old school, university, and bars/pubs where he first began his career. Celebrity contributors included Matt Lucas, Jo Whiley, Stephen Merchant, and Simon Pegg. In January 2013, he was featured in a Channel 4 Deal or No Deal special, where he appeared to have predicted all the correct boxes to win the big jackpot of £250,000. That same year, he appeared in a comedy sketch at the beginning of an 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Deal or No Deal special.

In January 2014, Brown appeared as himself in the Sherlock episode "The Empty Hearse", as part of a theory regarding how the title character faked his own death. On 9 November 2018, he appeared as a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience to promote his Netflix special Sacrifice.

In February 2021, Brown appeared in a trailer for the horror video game Little Nightmares II, in which he discussed the nature of nightmares while some of the monsters featured in the game appeared around him.


Suggested methods

Brown states that he uses a variety of methods to achieve his illusions including traditional magic/conjuring techniques, memory techniques, hypnosis, body language reading, cognitive psychology, cold reading, and psychological, subliminal (specifically the use of PWA; "perception without awareness"), and ideomotor suggestion. Others additionally ascribe methods to him that he denies, ranging from the pseudoscience neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) to paid actors.

In an interview in New Scientist in 2005, when asked how he "acquired his psychological skills", Brown says that he learnt skills as a hypnotist, which he was not sure how to apply until he started performing close-up magic. When asked whether he is able to detect lies, Brown claimed to be able to read subtle cues such as micro-muscle movements that indicate to him if someone is lying. Concerning his apparent success at hypnotising people, he stated that he can normally spot a suggestible type of person and chooses that person to be his participant. He believes that the presence of a television camera also increases suggestibility.

Several authors have claimed that Brown uses neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) in his act which "consists of a range of magical 'tricks', misdirection and, most intriguing, setting up audiences to provide the response that he wishes them to provide by using subtle subliminal cues in his conversation with them". In response to the accusation that he unfairly claims to be using NLP whenever he performs, he wrote, "The truth is I have never mentioned it outside of my book." He does have an off-stage curiosity about the system, and discusses it in the larger context of hypnotism and suggestion. In his book Tricks of the Mind, he mentions that he attended an NLP course with Richard Bandler, co-creator of NLP and mentor of Paul McKenna. He also describes the NLP concept of eye accessing cues as a technique of "limited use" in his book Pure Effect. Brown also mentions in Tricks of the Mind that NLP students were given a certificate after a four-day course, certifying them to practise NLP as a therapist. A year after Brown attended the class, he received a number of letters saying that he would receive another certificate, not for passing a test (as he discontinued practising NLP following the course), but for keeping in touch. After ignoring their request, he later received the new certificate for NLP in the post, unsolicited.

Actual versus suggested methods

Brown often claims to reveal the methods by which he achieves his tricks, but this is typically an additional layer of misdirection, as the stated methods are not the methods that he uses. The perception by his audience that he uses deep psychological insights typically aids the misdirection required for his tricks. He therefore relies on an array of techniques to prevent audiences from deducing the techniques he has used. This has led to criticism that his presentation as a sceptic is misleading, since his performances encourage belief in pseudoscience. For example, after performing a trick in which he appeared to predict lottery numbers, his demonstrated explanation included using the Wisdom of Crowds, but it has been theorised that the actual method relied on split-screen video. This has been interpreted as undermining sceptic efforts to reduce the magical thinking that mentalist performances can promote.

In a Daily Telegraph article published in 2003 Simon Singh criticised Brown's early TV appearances, arguing that he presented standard magic and mentalism effects—such as the classic ten-card poker deal trick—as genuine psychological manipulation. On Brown's television and live shows he often appears to show the audience how a particular effect was created—claiming to use techniques such as subliminal suggestion, hypnosis, and body language reading. Singh's suggestion is that these explanations are dishonest. Furthermore, Singh took exception to the programme's website being categorised under Channel 4's "Science" section. The mini-site was moved to "Entertainment" for later series.

In his 2006 book Tricks of the Mind, Brown wrote, "I am often dishonest in my techniques, but always honest about my dishonesty....I happily admit cheating, as it's all part of the game" and claimed to never use actors or "stooges" in his work without informing the viewers, calling it "artistically repugnant and simply unnecessary". However, in an October 2010 interview Brown conceded that Singh may have had a point, explaining that at the start of his television career "I was overstating the case, overstating my skills. I thought there'll only be one show, there'll never be a repeat, so I might as well go for it."

Personal life

Although Brown's parents were not practising Christians, they sent him to Bible classes from the age of five because they believed it was the "right thing to do". He became an evangelical Christian throughout his teenage years; by his 20s, he had decided that his belief in Christianity had no basis, and he became an atheist. He came out as gay at the age of 31 in The Independent on Sunday. He revealed that he was dating a designer named Marc at the time, though they later ended their eight-year relationship.

Since 2004, Brown has been the patron of the Parrot Zoo Trust in Friskney, Lincolnshire. In an interview with LeftLion magazine, he said, "I'm a big fan of parrots. I think they're fascinating creatures. Many of them live for longer than us humans and it's interesting to me the way they learn to mimic human voices even though they don't really comprehend what they're saying."



Television series

Year Series Episodes Date(s) Notes
2000 Mind Control 3 27 December 2000 – 2002 Hour long specials
2003 Mind Control 6 28 February – 4 April 2003 First full series
2004 Trick of the Mind (Series 1) 6 23 April – 28 May 2004
2005 Trick of the Mind (Series 2) 6 15 April – 20 May 2005
2006 Trick of the Mind (Series 3) 6 26 April – 30 May 2006
2007 Trick or Treat (Series 1) 6 13 April – 18 May 2007
2008 Trick or Treat (Series 2) 6 2 May – 6 June 2008
2009 The Events 5 9 September – 2 October 2009 10 minute lottery prediction plus four 1 hour specials
2010 Derren Brown Investigates 3 10 May 2010 – 31 May 2010
2011 The Experiments 4 21 October 2011 – 11 November 2011

Television specials

Year Special Date(s) Synopsis
2003 Russian Roulette 5 October 2003 Brown performs Russian roulette live, at an undisclosed location in Jersey
2004 Séance 31 May 2004 Brown hosts a séance at Elton Hall in east London with students from Roehampton University, claimed to be live, but later confirmed by Brown to have been recorded
2005 Messiah 7 January 2005 Brown travels to the United States and convinces five leading figures that he has powers in their particular field of expertise: Christian evangelism, alien abduction, psychic powers, New Age theories and contacting the dead.
The Gathering 29 May 2005 Brown performs memory tricks in-front of an invited audience at a secret location in London, revealed at the end of the programme via a trick based on a taxi-driver's route
2006 The Heist 4 January 2006 Under the guise of a motivational seminar, Brown uses conditioning over a period of two weeks to influence four members of the public to willingly choose to commit what they perceive to be an actual armed robbery of a security van
2008 The System 1 February 2008 Over several weeks, Brown convinces various members of the public that he has a fool-proof system for choosing the winner of horse-races and persuades them to bet increasingly large sums of money, to the point of convincing one of them to part with their life savings (the system is later revealed to be a confidence trick in which Brown had simply used different people to cover all possible scenarios)
2009 3D Magic Spectacular 16 November 2009 Brown hosts a show in which some of the world's greatest magicians perform in 3D
2010 Hero At 30,000 Feet 8 September 2010 With the help of family and friends, Brown transforms the self-confidence of member of the public Matt Galley through a series of staged incidents to the point where he willingly boards a plane (having been afraid of flying) and then takes the controls when he believes the pilot has been incapacitated (it is later revealed the landing phase was conducted as a simulation)
2011 Miracles for Sale 25 April 2011 Brown teaches an ordinary member of the British public the tricks of faith healers, to the point they can give a convincing performance to a group of church goers in Texas
2012 Apocalypse 26 October 2012 & 2 November 2012 (two part special) With the help of friends and family, over several days and using a special set, Brown convinces ordinary member of the public Steven Brosnan that the world has ended in a meteor strike, in order to change his perception of his life
Fear and Faith 9 & 16 November 2012 (two part special) In part 1, Brown uses the cover of a drug trial to convince various members of the public to overcome their fears using "Rumyodin" (your mind). In part 2, Brown convinces various people that they are having supernatural experiences, to the point of convincing an atheist they are having a religious experience
2013 The Great Art Robbery 13 December 2013 Brown convinces a group of old age pensioners to steal a painting owned by art collector Ivan Massow, while at the same time telling Massow the exact time and date it would be stolen (during an exhibition)

Stage shows

Year Tour No. of Shows Dates Notes
2003 Derren Brown: Live 2003 Began at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol
2004 Derren Brown: Live 43 15 March – 16 May 2004 Concluded with a London run at the Palace Theatre. Never recorded for television broadcast.
2005 Something Wicked This Way Comes March – 18 June 2005 Played for three weeks in the Cambridge Theatre, London, also played at The Old Vic, London.
2006 Something Wicked This Way Comes 44 21 March – 27 May 2006 Won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment Show
2007 Mind Reader – An Evening of Wonders 42 29 April – 17 June 2007
2008 Mind Reader – An Evening of Wonders 72 26 February – 7 June 2008 Concluded with a West End run of 32 performances at the Garrick Theatre
2009 Enigma 73 17 April – 25 July 2009 Included West End run of 30 shows at the Adelphi Theatre
2010 Enigma 92 10 February – 25 June 2010
2011 Svengali Tour played in two major West End theatres: Novello Theatre and Shaftesbury Theatre
2012 Svengali Won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment Show
2013 Infamous
2014 Infamous 128 11 February – 27 July 2014
2015 Miracle Included a run at the Palace Theatre, London
2016 Miracle 118 8 February – 16 July 2016
2017 Underground 8 March – 1 April 2017 A collection of Brown's favourite work from previous shows as a warm-up for his Off-Broadway debut
2017 Secret 21 April – 25 June 2017 First stage show in the United States of America. Performed in New York City at the Atlantic Theater Company
2018 Underground 63 3 April – 5 July 2018 UK and Ireland tour based on the 'Secret' show Included a run at the Playhouse Theatre, London.
2019 Secret 16 September 2019 – 4 January 2020 Brown's Broadway debut, performed at the Cort Theatre
2021 Showman August - November 2021 & March - October 2022 UK and Ireland tour which was originally planned to start in 2020 (postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic). Includes a run at the Apollo Theatre, London.
Broadcast on television
Title Date Notes
Something Wicked This Way Comes 29 December 2006 Filmed at The Old Vic, London
Mind Reader – An Evening of Wonders 13 January 2009 Filmed at the Garrick Theatre, London
Enigma 6 January 2011 Filmed at the New Wimbledon Theatre
Svengali 18 September 2012 Filmed at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Infamous 22 September 2014 Filmed at the Grand Theatre, Leeds
Miracle 10 October 2016 Filmed at the Palace Theatre, London
Showman 23 April 2023 Filmed at the Apollo Theatre, London

DVD releases

Title Release Date Information
Derren Brown: Inside Your Mind 6 October 2003 (re-released 16 April 2007) Footage and some unused footage from Brown's Mind Control series
Trick of the Mind: Series 1 25 April 2005 First series of the Channel 4 show Trick of the Mind
Trick of the Mind: Series 2 27 March 2006 Second series of the Channel 4 show Trick of the Mind
Something Wicked This Way Comes 5 May 2008 DVD release of the stage show with the same name, including segments not shown on Channel 4
Derren Brown: The Specials 3 November 2008 Collection of four of Derren Brown's one-off television specials: "The Heist", "The System", "Séance" and "Russian Roulette"
Derren Brown: An Evening Of Wonders 18 May 2009 DVD release of the stage show with the same name
Derren Brown: Enigma 17 January 2011 DVD release of the stage show with the same name
Derren Brown: Live Collection 17 January 2011 Collection of three of Brown's stage shows: Something Wicked This Way Comes, An Evening Of Wonders and Enigma
Derren Brown: The Experiments 15 October 2011 Collection of four of Derren Brown's Experiments: "The Assassin", "The Gameshow", "The Guilt Trip" and "The Secret of Luck"
Derren Brown: Svengali 1 April 2013 DVD release of the stage show with the same name
Derren Brown: Infamous 15 December 2014 DVD release of the stage show with the same name


Brown has written six books: Absolute Magic, Pure Effect, Tricks of the Mind, Confessions of a Conjuror, Happy, and A Book of Secrets, and released books of his street photography and painted portraiture. The first two books are intended solely for practitioners of magic and mentalism, whilst his books Tricks of the Mind, and Confessions of a Conjuror are aimed at the general public. He has also written a book exploring the history and philosophy of happiness; Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine.

Absolute Magic, subtitled A Model for Powerful Close-Up Performance, is not so much about magical methodology as about how magicians can make their performances magical; it is written in a variety of styles: sometimes humorous, sometimes serious. He warns against an act that conveys the feeling of "Here are some tricks I've bought" and urges magicians to make their performances experiential and memorable by involving the audience. In some respects a lot of what he says is evocative of the content of Darwin Ortiz's Strong Magic but his book expresses it in the context of his experiences, performance style and theories of how performance should be.

Pure Effect is a more traditional book of trickery and technique and offers an insight into some of the methods that Brown employs, and offers a starting point for development for the reader's own use.

Brown's first two books were intended for magicians; they were written before his fame. He has said that he pulled them from the market when he found that non-magicians would bring them to his shows for autographs. He says he felt bad because, "...they're spending a lot of money on those things and...if they wanted to find out how I was doing the TV shows it wasn't really answering that question."

Tricks of the Mind is Brown's first book intended for the general public. It is a wide-ranging book in which Brown reveals some of the techniques he uses in his performances, delves into the structure and psychology of magic and discusses hypnosis. He also applies his insight to the paranormal industry, looking at the structure of beliefs and how psychology can explain why people become 'true believers'. He also offers autobiographical stories about his own experiences as a former Christian, and discusses his scepticism about religion, allegedly 'psychic' phenomena and other supernatural belief systems.

Confessions of a Conjuror was published by Channel 4 Books in October 2010. It is a mix of autobiography and humorous observation told mostly through footnotes and diversions while Brown describes performing a single card routine for a group of people at his old restaurant gig. (ISBN: 978-1-905-02657-9)

Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine was published on 22 September 2016 by Bantam Press. (ISBN: 978-0593076194). A condensed version of the book, entitled A Little Happier: Notes for reassurance, was published on 15 October 2020. (ISBN: 978-1787634473)

On 2 September 2021, A Book of Secrets: Finding Comfort in a Complex World was published by Bantam Press.

In 2023 Notes from a Fellow Traveller was published by The Neat Review. It was launched on 4th July at The Magic Circle and is aimed at magicians and mentalists rather than lay people. It is based on a journal written during Brown's sell-out UK Showman tour in 2022/23 and was produced in paperback, hardback and a Deluxe Limited Edition of 300 copies.

Other productions and publications

Brown co-presented two web-based series for Channel 4; The Science of Scams and The Science of Attraction. In The Science of Scams, a number of videos were placed on YouTube purporting to show various kinds of paranormal phenomena such as ghosts, telekinesis and a tarot card reading. In a second series of videos, Brown and his co-presenter Kat Akingbade explained what was actually happening, exposing each as a specially created scam. The Science of Attraction was co-presented by Brown, Akingbade and Charlie McDonnell. The shows examined the physical and psychological factors that can influence our feelings of attraction to other people, especially those of the opposite sex. The series featured a number of experiments designed to show how these factors can be influenced.

Brown has recorded some audio extracts from Tricks of the Mind. In them he expounds on the three subjects essential to his performance—Magic, Memory, and Hypnosis. The extracts last around 40 minutes each, disclosing tips and techniques Brown uses in his acts (as well as day-to-day) and narrating the highlights of his book.

The Devil's Picturebook is a near 3-hour home-made video. The first half explains in detail some classic card routines from his earlier career as a conjurer, all of which rely on sleight of hand, misdirection and audience management. The second looks at psychological card routines and shows a distinct move towards mentalism, for which he is now known. It is an instructional video for aspiring magicians and not an entertainment piece. For this reason, it was available only to practitioners through a password-protected "magicians only" area of his website. The clue to the password tells you that the word itself begins with T and is a type of palming trick.

International Magic Presents: The Derren Brown Lecture is an 80-minute lecture DVD of close-up mentalism and subsequent discussion of various aspects of Brown's performance. Again, this product is not intended for general consumption but is directed at magicians and mentalists only.

In 2007, Brown performed in the short film Medium Rare.

In 2008, Brown made a guest acting appearance in BBC Four's Crooked House as Sir Roger Widdowson.

In 2008, Brown provided caricatures for "The QI 'F' annual".

In 2009, a book, Portraits, was released containing a selection of Brown's paintings and bizarre caricatures of celebrities.

In 2010, Brown appeared in a special Comedy Gala for Channel 4 and Great Ormond Street Hospital. He appeared with Kevin Bishop, who played his jealous annoying twin 'Darren'.

Thorpe Park ride

Brown created a new virtual reality dark ride at the Thorpe Park amusement park, which opened on 8 July 2016. "Derren Brown's Ghost Train" was set aboard an old train carriage in an abandoned warehouse. The experience lasted around 13-15 minutes and was Thorpe Park's most expensive ride experience. The ride had live-action actors and holograms while passengers were strapped in wearing VR headsets. In 2017, the attraction added new experiences to the train and 'Rise of the Demon' to the name. The ride closed in 2022; it was rebranded and rethemed as Ghost Train, a project without Brown's involvement.

Playing cards

In 2019, Brown collaborated with playing card company Theory11 on a deck of cards that are sold on the company's website.

Awards and nominations

Year Work type Title Award Result
2000 Television series Mind Control Rose d'Or for Light Entertainment Won Silver Rose
2006 Stage show Something Wicked This Way Comes Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment Won
2007 and 2019 The Academy of Magical Arts Magician of the Year Won
2010 Stage show Enigma Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment Nominated
2011 Television series The Experiments BAFTA award for best entertainment show Won
2012 Stage show Svengali Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment Won
2014 Stage show Infamous Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment Nominated
2018 Stage show Underground Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment Nominated
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