Having interviewed the gorgeous Gino D’Acampo a few weeks ago, I thought I’d never again find anybody with as much charm, likeability and zest for life. Well I was wrong! The snow fairies must have been smiling on me last Monday evening as the North Pole weather held off just long enough for me to go and meet world famous illusionist and hypnotist, Keith Barry (@keithpbarry).
Waterford born Keith has a career that’s grown from strength to strength over the last number of years. His television show, Close Encounters with Keith Barry, has been played in 28 countries worldwide. He’s also done an MTV show called Brainwashed and a CBS show called Keith Barry: Extraordinary. He’s performed for a wide range of celebrities including Colin Farrell, Samuel L Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Harrison Ford and many more. Not only does he perform the most amazing sleight of hand tricks and mind control effects, but Keith has also wowed us with some spectacular stunts, such as catching a bullet between his teeth and driving blindfolded through public streets.
Despite his celebrity status, Keith is very down to earth and easy to talk to and twenty minutes into our chat I realised I was actually supposed to be interviewing him. So I got the questions going by asking him about Twitter. Unlike other celebrities I’ve interviewed, Keith hasn’t yet embraced the Twitterverse with gusto. “I honestly just haven’t had the time to check it out properly yet,” he told me. “At the moment, I’m working 24/7 and barely have a chance to catch my breath. I set up an account earlier this year but haven’t tweeted much. The thing is, I could get somebody else to tweet for me but what would be the point in that? When I have a little more time on my hands, I’ll definitely get into it more.”
So what’s he up to at the moment that’s keeping him so busy? “I’m going to be doing a
final run of my live show, ‘The Asylum‘ around Ireland in January so I’m getting ready for that,” he said. “I’m also writing a television show called Deception with Keith Barry for The Discovery Channel. I did a one hour special which aired in the US in July and following on from its success, they’ve asked me to do a twelve part series which I’ll begin filming in February.”
Last year was an amazing year for Keith, seeing him receive The Merlin Award, the Oscars of the magic world, for Mentalist of the Year. I asked him if he knew he was in the running for the award and how he felt when he received it. “I hadn’t a clue,” he said. “It’s not like the Oscars where there are nominations and you know you’re in with a chance. I was doing a live show in The Olympia Theatre in Dublin when my manager, Eamonn Maguire, interrupted the show to announce I’d won the award. It was presented to me on stage by the president of The International Magician’s Society. I received a five minute standing ovation and was very overwhelmed by the whole experience. Previous recipients include David Copperfield, Pen & Teller and Paul Daniels, all people I admire greatly so it felt amazing to join such prestigious company.” Last year also saw Keith sell out a five week run at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, where he received another award for ‘Best Magician in Las Vegas 2009′.
Keith has appeared in over thirty international television shows, shown in over 110 countries around the world. I asked him what show has been his favourite to guest on. “I’d have to say The Ellen Show,” he said, without hesitation. “Although I’ve enjoyed them all, I love Ellen. She really enjoys magic and has asked me numerous times to guest on the show. I think I’ve been there five or six times now.”
I’ve been to a number of Keith’s live shows so I was wondering which trick he enjoys doing the most. “I think I probably enjoy the spike trick best,” he said, “because the reaction I get from people is fantastic. They usually break out into a sweat in anticipation of what’s going to happen next.” Now at this point, I broke out into a sweat because Keith began to rummage around in his pockets. If he has the spikes with him, I thought, I’m out of here! You can watch him perform the spike trick on Samuel L Jackson here, and see why I wouldn’t be too keen to offer up my hands! But thankfully, there wasn’t a spike in sight as Keith proceeded to wow me with some amazing card and mind tricks. He got me to think of a time of day, write it down and put it away. He didn’t see what I wrote nor did he touch the piece of paper after I wrote it. The time was 18.20. He gave me his watch and told me to turn the dial around without looking at it. At the same time I had to look into his eyes and picture the time. He told me to stop turning the dial whenever I wanted to, which I did and when I turned the watch over, mind-bogglingly, it showed 6.20! Not only that but Keith had written on my notepad 6.20pm! Amazing stuff!
Keith has performed stunts and tricks with many celebrities and I wondered which of them stood out in his mind. “I really enjoyed the stunt I did with Nicole Scherzinger,” he said. “I took her out in my car and drove her around the hills in Hollywood while I was blindfolded. Her reaction was brilliant – she screamed the whole way through.” I also wanted to know about two of his most dangerous stunts – the hangman stunt and the bullet catch. Does he feel nervous before doing something like that or does the danger not bother him? “God, of course I feel terrified before each stunt,” he said. “The one where I caught a bullet between my teeth is called the black trick of magic. At least twelve people have died performing that trick and I was advised not to do it. But of course the rebel in me didn’t listen! The hangman stunt was probably my favourite though. The tension in the audience was palpable, adding to my own fear that maybe something could go wrong.”
We saw a different side to Keith this year when he hosted the Irish version of ‘Deal or no Deal‘ on TV3. “I really enjoyed doing that,” he said. “It’s good to do something different and there’s always a good atmosphere in the studio. I love trying to work out in my head what’s in the boxes and it’s brilliant when somebody actually wins big.”
Keith, who’s happily married to Mairead with a beautiful two year old daughter, Breanna, credits his wife with keeping his feet firmly on the ground. “We’ve been together for around seventeen years,” he said. “She’s been with me from the start of my journey and has supported me through it all. She’s long since given up on trying to stop me from doing the dangerous stuff because she knows it will only make me want to do it more. We’re very happy and there’s nothing I love more than having time to spend with the family.”
So being a workaholic, is there any time for relaxation? Does he have any hobbies? “Fishing,” he said, enthusiastically. “There’s nothing better to relax and rest the mind. There’s great fishing here in Ireland and when I have the opportunity, I love to go out and catch my own dinner!”
And with Christmas just around the corner, will he take time off or work all the way through? “I’ll definitely take Christmas eve and Christmas Day off,” he said. “But my live show starts on 30th December so I’ll be straight back into it.” And is there anything in particular he’d like to find under the Christmas tree this year? “Honestly, there’s nothing I want or need,” he said. “There’s only one thing I’d wish for at the moment and that’s a little more time off.”
Keith had been politely ignoring his phone that had been hopping with calls and messages during our interview so sadly it was time to say our goodbyes. You can book tickets for his Irish tour of The Asylum here and check out all his various tricks and stunts here.