"I guess I've gone from being somebody who wanted to go: 'Look I can do magic tricks – aren't I clever?' to having grown out of that now," says Derren Brown, who Channel 4 audiences have watched apparently predict the lottery numbers and play Russian roulette live on air. His Easter Monday show aims to discredit faith healers – and do so using a member of the public posing as a pastor who can perform miracles. "[It's] about somebody else's journey rather than me looking clever and doing tricks and things."And they can be busted - easily - if you understand the landscape, but lawyers are reluctant to go there.
Those who watched Hero at 30,000 Feet last autumn might question Brown's change of direction; I'm not sure I was ever convinced by the idea, let alone the execution. But his new adventure finds him firing on all cylinders – faith healers shouldn't expect an easy ride. "I realised it wasn't just [like] psychics and mediums," Brown says. "I realised they're genuinely dangerous."
Brown grew up Christian and saw faith healers as "worrisome" but not to be taken too seriously – a view he didn't change until he abandoned his faith. "Coming out of Christianity altogether and having a slightly clearer sense in my own mind of what I believed and what I didn't believe … it was much clearer to me: no, no, this is just a scam," he says.
And so, Brown recruited a volunteer, and taught him the tricks of faith healing: how the blind are made to see, the deaf hear, limbs lengthened. And then "Pastor James" and Brown headed for America to see if they could play the healers at their own game. The pair's adventures make for some great television – but Brown also wants to make a serious point: that faith healing exploits those it claims to help.
"You have the despair of all those people who are no better – and it's despair because they're blaming their own selves and their faith for it not working," he says. "And then you have these hordes of people who are following these healers round America; chronically ill people going from gig to gig to gig – and it just never happening, so there's that wake of despair. And then there's the money side of it." The top healers, Brown says, earn more than Hollywood A-listers – and what's more, because it's religion, it's all tax free.
Why, I just don't know,...