by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2003-12-02
Since he first found fame bending spoons and playing mind-games with TV viewers in the mid-70s, Israeli-born Uri Geller has continued to be a regular fixture on TV and radio, with recent appearances including the reality TV show I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and the Louis Theroux documentary Louis, Martin And Michael, as well as selling his own range of jewellery on the shopping channel QVC. Here he tells SJ about his love of foreign synagogues, his affinity with Britain and his plans for Chanukah.
1. What do you enjoy about the UK and what was it that made you move here?
What made me move here is a strange story, I lived in the United States and Richard Branson asked me if I could fly with him on the inauguration of Virgin Atlantic over 20 years ago, and next to me sat Sir Clement Freud, who was then a member of parliament.
I happen to be related to Sigmund Freud myself, my mother is a Freud and my name in my British passport is Uri Geller Freud, and I invited Clement to my home in Conneticut and he somehow managed to convince us that England is a much more civilised country than the US. My kids were small then and I said maybe it's about time we moved, and that's why we moved here. Throughout my life I've always been attached to the British system - first of all Israel was occupied by Britain in the 40s. My father was a British soldier, and I still have his British medals, then a British soldier shot two bullets into our window when I was six months old. I was in a pram and who knows, maybe that triggered something in me. I'll never know but it was a bizarre happening. Later on my parents divorced and my mum took me to Cyprus where again there was a British occupation and I was very much attached to that system - the money was British, the flag was flying everywhere, I went to a British school. And then when I went back to Israel I had loads of English friends I stayed in touch with, and ultimately England made Uri Geller. While I was still living in the US it was David Dimbleby's show, years ago, that put me on every headline of every paper around the world, when I bent the spoon and asked people to get their broken watches, and the BBC's telephone system blew up, so many people called in! So the United Kingdom really made Uri Geller.
2. Do you still have family in Israel?
Yes, I just got back from there the day before yesterday. I went with Chaim Topol, we had launched a village for children in Northern Israel, and I do see my relatives when I'm there and all my friends.
3. What's your background originally?
I was born in Tel Aviv. My mum is Austrin from her side, therefore the Sigmund Freud connection and my father is Hungarian.
4. How important is your Jewish culture to you?
Very. I announce that I'm an Israeli every time or try to announce it every time I'm on TV or radio. I have not changed a lot since I left Israel. I'm not a religious man - I believe in God and I pray to God but I don't adhere to deep religious rituals. But I try to protect my Jewishness, my culture.
5. What are you up to at the moment? What's your next book?
My next book is called Nobody's Child, it's my fourth novel. I learnt so much from reality television that the story is basically about three childless couples who are on a reality TV show where the prize is a baby. It's an outrageous and controversial idea, which I actually patented in the US at the American Patent Office, simply because I was very concerned because some scrupulous producer or director would actually try and turn it into a show. These reality shows are getting more and more outrageous. And I do many different things - I paint and I design and I have a line of jewellery which I present on QVC, and I have a weekly column in The Mirror and the Jewish Telegraph.
6. Do you have fond memories of the whole I'm A Celebrity
Oh absolutely! It was very difficult, some stages of the show physically were very hard and mentally there were all the fights and bickering. But otherwise it was worth doing and I would do it again. We raised £800,000 for our charities.
7. Did you see the Louis Theroux In Search Of Michael Jackson documentary?
I didn't see it, I was on a plane flying home from Israel at the time. But I came back to about 80 emails from people about it. I had to be as straight with Louis as I could, I think honesty is always the best policy with that kind of thing.
8. How are Exeter City doing?
Very well, hopefully they will catapult back into the League (they are currently in the Nationwide Conference League) I'm not attached any more to Exeter in any form, shape or manner but I'm still a fan, me and my wife and son, we follow Exeter. One of their strikers, Sean Devine, he's been scoring goals and he's there because I signed him and I believed in him. It was awful to be relegated from the League, it's the pits when someone loves and adores the club.
9. When was the last time you set foot inside a synagogue, and which shul do you go to?
I make a point of going to a synagogue in each city that I visit, and the last synagogue that I visited was obviously in Israel a week ago. But the most interesting synagogue I've been to was two weeks ago in Trondheim in Norway, which was the northern most synagogue in the world. There were some children from Oslo visiting two, it was fantastic. I was also at the Irish Oscars a few weeks ago and I visited the Jewish museum in Dublin, which is also quite fascinating. I don't belong to a shul in the UK though.
10. What are you doing for Chanukah?
I'm always with my family. My birthday is on 20 December so I'll be celebrating.