Illusionist Derren Brown reflects on hiding behind magic before coming out as gay

A graphic shows a cut-out image of magician Derren Brown surrounded by pictures of mouths shouting towards him and there's also a single eye looking at him. To the right of his head is a big question mark. The background is in rainbow Pride colours.

Magician and hypnotist Derren Brown says that he used the “dazzling” nature of being a magician to hide his sexuality, and further opened up about “shame” associated with coming out.

While appearing on a recent episode of The Diary of a CEO podcast, hosted by Steven Bartlett, Derren Brown opened up about using his career as a hypnotist to distract people from his sexuality as a gay man.

“I didn’t come out until I was quite late in my 30s… I think the old, outmoded cliché of the gay man, in particular being a hairdresser, an interior designer, an actor – what they have in common is the notion of being able to create dazzling services because they deflect people from if you’re feeling shame about what’s underneath.”

Brown continued, comparing staying in ‘the closet’ to “literally hiding behind a [magic] trick”.

“I think magic’s very good for that as well, you’re creating this bubble around yourself, literally hiding behind a trick and people will look at that trick and go, ‘Oh gosh you’re amazing.’

“I think all of that was helpful to me, as somebody that was not ‘out’ and working all of that stuff out.”

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Brown has previously spoken about using magic to hide his sexuality, but opened up further to Steven Bartlett on the podcast, which was released last week (12 January).

He continued by reasoning that a lot of his drive to succeed as a magician was down to the energy diverted from “not being out”.

“All that energy was going into creating this ‘Mr Magic Persona’. Although it’s easy to say [you should always come out], I wouldn’t be sitting here, talking to you now, if that had been an easy ride.”

Bartlett also probed Derren Brown on the magician being “prone” to shame and the emotion being a “familiar place” from when he was younger.

“The experience of it just becomes an easy resting place…

“[Shame applies] specifically with ‘the gay thing’, I think that’s what it is. Hopefully, it’s different now… if you feel like those things are just embarrassing, you’re finding that out in real time about yourself.”

Derren Brown continued by charting the dialogue between his façade and interior as someone in the closet.

“It becomes an uncomfortable centre of everything that starts to affect so much of what happens on the surface. There’s a real experience, if you’re not out, which I’ve recognised in many friends; there’s a bit of a bubble around you which you’re having to maintain a curated exterior. And part of that is what’s happening underneath, which feels uncomfortable and difficult and shameful.”

For Brown, the reason why coming out is “liberating”, is that people “just don’t care”.

“The reason why it’s liberating is that people just don’t care. That shameful centre that’s there… when you’re open about it, why would they care?”

A “multi-award-winning master of mind control and psychological illusion”, Derren Brown’s current show Showman is live in the West End until March 2023, following a sold-out tour of the UK and Ireland. It has “received the most off-the-charts reviews of his career”.

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