31 October 2020

Interview with James Randi from 2009

Interview conducted by BadPsychics member Phil Jenkins in 2009.

Following the sad passing of the Amazing Randi I thought I'd republish this interview that we conducted in 2009......

Background.

The Blackpool Magic Convention is world's biggest annual convention of its type; regularly attracting over 3500 magicians from around the globe. For three days attendees are treated to performances and lectures from some of the worlds leading conjurors including Jeff McBride, Rudy Coby, Wayne Dobson and James Randi.

I was lucky enough to catch up with James Randi in the main concourse of the Winter Gardens and he kindly answered a couple of questions.

Question = Q
James Randi = JR

Q. Have you heard of the Badpsychics website?

JR. Yes.

Q. Do you think that it's a worthwhile venture or do you think we're fighting a battle we can't win?

JR. Unfortunately, I can't answer that. For me to give a specific answer I'd have to do some research into the website; in order to see how successful it had been in the past at achieving its goals. Having said that, anything that helps to educate people can't be a bad thing.

Q. Last year Uri Geller was presented with a 'Services to Magic' award what do you make of that? (This was a question that I heard several times over the weekend)

JR. Geller would accept an award for being the 'best dog in show' if it meant publicity. What you must remember is that it was presented to him by David Berglas (former President of the Magic Circle) who's a friend of his. What I can't understand is why David has started to take his side; after all David Berglas was the first person in the UK to expose Geller for what he is… a fake. I've not seen David for sometime but I certainly intend to put him on the spot when I do.

It's also interesting to note that Geller is starting to change his stance. He no longer wants to be called a Psychic instead he prefers the term Mystifier. Personally, I think he's created a monster that he can longer control. Over the years various governments, companies, etc have spent millions of dollars researching his claims. Just imagine what these organisations would do to Geller if he was to ever admit that he doesn't have any special powers; that he'd lied to them. I can see the lawyers queuing up now. A similar thing happened to the Fox sisters (spirit rapping) and Elsie Wright & Frances Griffiths (Cottingley Fairies) once the monster was out of it's cage they couldn't stop it.

Q. Do you believe in God?

JR. In my view atheists fall in to two categories; those who do not believe full stop and those who are willing to believe should they be presented with sufficient evidence. I would say that I fall into the second category. As it is I don't see any evidence for an afterlife.

Q. Do you think that there are any special powers be they magic, psychic or esp, that might be proven over the next 15 years and are there any mysteries you can't explain??

JR. Yes, there's one… Sophia Loren! How the hell she can look so good at her age is a mystery to me (laughs). To answer the first part of your question… no. I don't believe that anything like that will ever be proven.

Q. What do you make of faith healers?

JR. These are some of the worst kind of Woo merchants. Over the years I've had lots of visits from people asking for help after one of their relatives got involved with one of these individuals. The stories are very sad "Mother has given all her money to a faith healer, she's penniless" etc. I'll offer advice where I can but often they don't have a legal leg to stand on. Not only that but many people won't go to court because it would mean admitting they've be duped.

One of the worst healers I came across was Peter Popoff who was making approximately $4 million dollars a year 'curing' people. I took Steven Shaw (better known as the mentalist Banachek) and a camera team from the BBC to investigate one of his meetings; what we found was absolutely disgraceful. Steven managed to get close to Popoff and quickly reported back that he (Popoff) was using an ear piece. We quickly set up a scanner and started to monitor the venue, within seconds we started to pick up transmissions that were being sent to Popoff by his wife. She was giving him the details of various people in the audience; what their name was, where they were sitting, what was wrong with them, etc all of which Popoff would repeat out loud to the amazed audience. Some of what was broadcast was sickening racist comments that I won't repeat here. Another thing which emerged was the use of wheelchairs as a gimmick. People would be wheeled onto the stage and subsequently cured; rising from the wheelchair and walking away. Only problem with this was that these people didn't need a wheelchair; they were just put in one in order to get them onto the stage. Then Popoff worked his magic on them and to the audience it looked like he'd cured them. The final thing we found was possibly the worst of all. In order to gain access to the venue you had to be vetted by Popoff's security team who were under strict instructions not to allow any seriously ill people in to the building. We filmed a mother with her 8 year old son who was seriously ill being refused entry; she was absolutely desperate and had been following Popoff around in the hope of meeting him but was always denied access. Finally, out of shear desperation she pushed past the security guards and managed to confront Popoff. She pleaded with him to help her child. Placing his hand on the child he said "God cure this child, I know you're busy so if you can't do it right now can you do it some time in the future. Whether it's in half an hour, a week or years from now cure this child'. What a cop out! The woman was then hustled away and thrown outside. We had the whole episode captured on film and were prepared to expose Popoff but then his lawyers contacted the BBC and threatened to sue them if they showed the footage. This would hold up the film for years and would be extremely costly; the BBC backed off and the film was never shown. Fortunately, I was able to arrange for some footage to be shown on the Tonight Show and this time we were able to include the prompting from his wife. In 1987 Peter Popoff filed for bankruptcy.

Q. Have you ever been threatened?

JR. Yes, lots of times usually by telephone or email. I just pass the information on to the FBI. Sometimes I'll get a call back saying the 'problem' has been dealt with.

Q. Can you tell us about the TV series you had in the UK in the 80's?

JR. The programme was called James Randi - Psychic Investigator which I believe was wrong. I am not a psychic investigator I am an investigator of psychics; but it was their programme so I had to go along with it.

I'm amazed we had so many people apply for the programme considering what it was we were setting out to achieve, i.e., to expose fraudulent mediums etc. Some of the candidates did get quite volatile when things didn't go their way.

I remember we had a Psychic Medium called Maureen Flynn appear on the show. She did a sitting for one of her clients; it was typical cold reading. Afterwards we interviewed the client to see how accurate she had been and he said how good she was. One of the questions we asked him was 'how many names did she bring up'. The gentleman was adamant that she had only brought up about 6 names and that most were a hit. We then showed him a transcript of the sitting and pointed out that 37 names had in fact been mentioned. He still wouldn't listen; which just goes to show how difficult it is to change the views of a believer.

Q. How do I enter the Million Dollar Challenge?

JR. It's quite simple. You fill out the form on the JREF website and send it in. Basically, you have to tell us what you can do and with what accuracy. If you are accepted to take the challenge you must first take a preliminary test and if you score high enough on that you are then invited to take the main challenge for the million dollars. To date no one has gotten past the first test.

Also, I should like to mention that there have been many claims by psychic, mediums, etc that the million dollars doesn't exist. Well, I can assure you that it does and anyone can apply for proof just by asking. The fact of the matter is that none of the psychics, etc who are making this claim have ever asked to see the proof.

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank James Randi for his time.

Interview conducted by BadPsychics member Phil Jenkins in 2009.

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