Let’s begin with a short experiment. Think of a number between one and ten. Now think of another number between one and ten. Write both of them down. Keep them by your side, we'll come back to them at the end of this feature...
If I were a mind reader – someone like celebrity mentalist David Meade – I could probably tell you with a fair degree of confidence what those numbers are.
Mind you, at the moment, that might be quite difficult for Meade. He is, after all, an extremely busy man. Such has been the demand for tickets to see the 32-year-old’s nationwide Million Dollar Mindreader show, for example, that an extra performance will be staged at The MAC in Belfast on March 1, incidentally the same day that Creativity Month – the nationwide celebration of creativity and the creative industries – kicks off.
However, the former University of Ulster lecturer is the first to admit that his style of entertainment is not based on some kind of telepathic hocus pocus. It has more to do with mathematics, statistics and powers of persuasion. Those who would dismiss Meade's talent as not being worth a tin of beans should choose their words carefully.
'I’m a firm believer that there is an intrinsic and inextricable link between entertainment and education,' says Meade, 'and when I was teaching international business at Magee College, I always wanted to make classes more interesting. My classes were interactive, combining the areas of how psychics seems to know things about you that they don’t know about yourself, and how marketers seem to be able to make you buy things that you aren’t interested in buying.
'So I would bring 20 cans of beans into the classroom and set them across a table. Eventually the students would choose one. On its base would be a permanent mark that I had put there. Their reaction outweighed the simplicity of the idea.'
As the popularity of his teaching methods grew and Magee College began to send Meade to facilitate other events, he began to recognise the business potential in his skills and performance ability and, taking a leap of faith, set out on his own designing training and motivational programmes and doing corporate work.
'Before I sat my wife Elaine down to explain why I was giving up a £50,000 a year job to become a mind reader, I had rehearsed all the reasons in my head,' Meade recalls. 'I was expecting a two hour argument, but she instantly said yes.'
Following a relatively quiet first year, Meade began to make inroads. Motivational work for clients like Apple, Satchi and Satchi and Vodaphone followed, teaching leadership techniques to high-powered members of industry. Through that early corporate work, Meade honed the skills of how to create a sense of disbelief and surprise in an audience. Live theatre and television specials were, thereafter, a natural progression.
Meade reveals that he can whittle down what people are thinking on the basis of a vast array of statistical facts and figures relating to words, numbers, countries and names. 'That is the exciting element of live performance. While it can never be 100% proof, these things are on the tips of social consciousness. With that information it can seem that miracles are possible.'
In 2014, Meade paid a visit Las Vegas, that gambling Mecca, the city of casinos, where, astoundingly, he took a million and half dollars at a roulette table for a BBC Northern Ireland programme, Million Dollar Bet. The success of the show has led to demands for another special.
Of his television work, Meade is happy to collaborate and allow his colleagues at BBC Northern Ireland to take the reigns. 'I come with my ideas and a brilliant team of creatives make it televisual. It’s about up scaling the tin of beans idea and making it more dramatic. Mind reading isn’t of itself very visual. Their expertise is vital.'
Meade expresses a huge interest in the methods used by psychics – as do other sceptical mentalists like Derren Brown – some of his audiences still refuse to accept his denials of being a clairvoyant, and not just in Northern Ireland.
'On the television shows, we are honest about the methods we use, but even so people convince themselves that we are psychic,' he reveals. 'At a performance in London, a group of women were sure that I was receiving messages. Nothing I could say would persuade them otherwise. There is a hankering amongst the populous to connect with the other side. That is why those psychic artists pack out theatres night after night. Some people have a real need to believe that there is something else out there – maybe there is.'
Meade will be compering the FameLab international science competition in Belfast's Black Box on February 25 as part of the NI Science Festival, which runs until to March 1. An end of year television special already is in the planning, as well as dates in Arizona, Harvard and Vienna penciled in for 2015. The question hangs in the air, therefore, as to how long we can keep David Meade based on these shores.
'While my work takes me all over the globe,' Meade says, 'my life is here with my family, in particular our son George who has special health needs.'
As he continues to perform mind game and tricks for the enjoyment and entertainment of audiences across the globe, Meade's mantra about the beneficial links between entertainment and education is never far from his lips. So, too, is it his view that the arts in Northern Ireland can and should benefit with more advice from the business sector – a world that he has come to know inside out.
'As a family man I built my business first and everything else came after that. I mourn the fact that so many creative and talented people in the arts in Northern Ireland aren’t getting paid and many are having to move away. Other people in the arts could do with business and commercial support, so that they could ably learn to monetise what they do, because let’s face it, funding isn’t going up. That’s something we could all get better at.'
As all good mentalists do, Meade likes to ends with a trick. So, going back to that piece of paper with the numbers written on them. Would they happen to be three and seven?
FameLab’s live final is on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at The Black Box, Belfast. Tickets are free and available, along with a number of other pre-sale events, at http://www.nisciencefestival.com/.
by Padraig Coyle