Derren Brown: 5 Fascinating Things We Learned From The Illusionist’s Desert Island Discs

Derren Brown’s Five Star Spectacular showman will be televised for the first time on Sunday evening (April 23).

When the illusionist’s show hit the London stage last year, it was described by critics as “gorgeous” and “sobering”.

The content of showman remains top secret, but to mark the show, we listened to Brown’s fascinating 2019 interview on Radio 4 Desert Island Discs. Here are five fascinating things we learned…

The liquid latex anecdote

Brown shared a bizarre story about using liquid latex years ago when he was living in a shared apartment. “I put some of this latex on my eye one morning because it looked like special effects makeup, it looked like I was going to hurt my eye,” he said.

“I went down for breakfast and I loved the attention and when friends asked, ‘What have you done to your eye?’ I made something up.” Then, over the course of the day, he gained more and more weight until he looked “disfigured on one side of my face.”

He said, “But I couldn’t back down because I was telling people who cared that this was a real thing.” Brown said that a man who lived his life brewing beer in the bathtub was concerned that the fumes of the process had caused the disfigurement.

Brown called the whole affair a “really weird, twisted craving for attention,” and said of performing, “I could take all this pathetic insecure mess and just channel it.”

(Getty Images)

Luther Vandross and teenage shoplifting

Brown had a compulsive shoplifting habit as a teenager. He said: “I remember once, when I was a teenager, I was looking around my bedroom and I stole every single thing in my room.”

He added: “I stopped because, with a Luther Vandross cassette in my pocket, I set off the alarms sneaking out of the music department at Harrods. I was so embarrassed and I was like, ‘That’s it, nothing more.’”

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He wanted to become an international lawyer

If Brown hadn’t become an illusionist, he might have become a lawyer. Speaking of studying law and German at Bristol University, he said: “I thought I was going to be an international lawyer, but I quickly realized that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Or a German.”

Instead, he said he decided to explore “what was fun in the moment,” adding, “I remember thinking, ‘When I take a cross-section of my life, it feels like would it be in the right place?’ And it did, and that’s all I wanted, and it never went beyond that.”

At the university he wore the look of a gay recreational pirate from the Bad Spandau Ballet

He told the show, “I wore a cape for many years, I had long hair, I had a teardrop earring for maybe a week and I thought of myself as a philosophical poet but was more into the gay female recreational pirate.”

His demeanor was also quite eccentric. “I used to go into a cave tucked away on one side of the Avon Gorge and I’d sit down, light a campfire and read Nietzsche because that’s how I was!” he said.

Why he doesn’t perform tricks on people in real life

When he was young, Brown’s shyness and social awkwardness meant he “always had tricks up his sleeve” to try to win people over.

He explained: “It’s such a distraction in life, the desire to impress. It feels like you should do this, but it’s the one thing you shouldn’t do in life because it’s the only thing people aren’t impressed by! It shoots itself in the foot, but that’s been my thing for years, I always had to do a trick.”

Brown said he never does tricks on people in real life now because he finds it “really childish and silly and dishonest.”

Derren Brown: showman will be broadcast on Channel 4 on Sunday at 9pm.

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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