When magician Doug Segal contacted me last week to say he could predict the front page story in Saturday’s Argus, I was sceptical.
Midweek he sent a secured envelope, which supposedly had our splash, and asked me to meet him on Saturday to compare the results.
Friday in the newsroom was a hectic one, with the council’s bullying and discrimination probe narrowly pushing the Poyet palaver off the front late on.
“That will have thrown him,” I told photographer Simon Dack, as we made our way to meet him on Saturday.
Determined not to let the envelope out my sight – as I hadn’t for the last few days – I opened it in front of him.
Heart pounding, but feeling a smug confidence, I unfolded the small piece of paper. It probably says something vague about Albion, I thought, after all that had been brewing all week.
The council report hadn’t come through until midday on Friday – a good 48 hours after he had sent the prediction in the post.
I took a deep breath and read it out loud: “Council under fire for discrimination and bullying”.
How did he do it? I had two pairs of eyes on him. I had opened the envelope, he hadn’t hypnotised me, and there is no way the council would have given him the report in advance.
Like his inspiration, Derren Brown, he doesn’t claim to be psychic.
His tricks, he tells me, are a combination of “persuasion techniques, statistics, reading body language, subliminal influences, cheating and lying”.
But what was to come was even more impressive.
The London-based Segal took me on a short tour of Brighton, stopping to point out various locations where something special had happened to him.
Once seated in a nearby coffee shop, he asked me to retrace our tour in my head and then think and write down a random word for each stop we made.
Determined to outfox him, I decided not to take the first thing that popped into my head. “Dog? Too obvious. Slipper? No, ship – we were too close to Ship Street.” I finally decided on STEPS.
For some reason the word for the second location that came to me was skirt. I changed it to DRESS at the last second. And for the final location I went for necklace – again at the last minute changing to NECK.
He then asked me to look out of the shop window at an Argus poster across the road.
On it were just three mind-blowing, breathtaking, cappuccino-dropping words: STEPS, DRESS and NECK.
With photographer Simon Dack and I ready to burn Segal at the stake, the magician walked us through the incredible trick.
We went back along the route of our tour. At each stop were a series of small stickers on bins, walls, lampposts and bus stops.
At the first location they read STEPS, the second DRESS and the third NECK.
He explained: “I see the things that nobody notices. I planted those three words in your head. You were always going to choose them.”
Doug Segal’s I Can Make You A Mentalist is at The Warren in Russell Place on May 24and 25.
Sceptics prepare to be converted.