TV review: Derren Brown retrospective and Secrets of the Luxury Super Yachts

Benjie Goodhart / 13 August 2020

TV highlights this August include Derren Brown: 20 Years of Mind Control: Live and Secrets of the Luxury Super Yachts.



Derren Brown: 20 Years of Mind Control: Live, Sunday 16th August, 9pm, Channel 4

Whoa! This Sunday sees a live Derren Brown special going out on Channel 4, and yet I have seen it. Pretty mind-blowing, huh? Did I use some astounding, time-bending trick, or some deep-seated paranormal power to travel to the future? Wellll, not exactly. I visited the Channel 4 preview site and clicked on a link, which is only a feat of supernatural brilliance if you’re my mother.

Okay, so the first thing to say about this live celebration of Derren Brown’s career is that almost none of it is live. Mostly, it is a pre-recorded look back at his 20 years in the business, combining an interview with him with footage of his shows and testimony from his legion of celebrity fans. The show will have live bits added to it on the night. The second thing to say about the show is the general lack of live-ness doesn’t matter a jot, it’s still absolutely marvellous. Which isn’t really a surprise, as Derren Brown is, and always has been, brilliant television.

For those unfamiliar with his work, he is a psychological illusionist who openly admits he doesn’t have any special powers, and who lifts the lid – to a degree at least – on how he achieves the results he does in his shows. There’s no mumbo jumbo, no claims of omnipotence or mystique, just a very clever, charismatic and refreshingly honest performer doing stuff that is designed to make your jaw drop.

And drop it will. The tricks and stunts alluded to in this rapid-fire trip down memory lane are simply mind-boggling. Whether he’s sticking vast swathes of the population to their sofas simply through the power of suggestion, or ‘reading’ people’s minds with an astonishing degree of accuracy, there seems to be no limit to what he can do.

It must be said, though, that some of his material is seriously dark. This is no end-of-the-pier cheerful magic show. There’s not a tuxedo or a catchphrase in sight. Instead, Brown has flirted with serious controversy on several occasions. These have included his live game of Russian Roulette, giving an atheist a profound religious experience, and persuading unsuspecting members of the public to commit armed robbery and even, apparently, murder.

In one particularly memorable show, Apocalypse, he managed to convince a young man that he was living through the end of the world. With that in mind, hopefully Derren will pop up at the end of the show and tell us that the whole Covid thing has been a huge psychological illusion. Although, I have to say, at that point, I think my sense of humour might begin to dwindle somewhat.

Among those interviewed here are celebrity fans including Claire Danes, Martin Freeman, Stephen Merchant, Stephen Fry, Mark Gatiss, Dawn French, and (to my wife’s delight) Tim Minchin. She has a crush on him, to the extent that she’s already pretty much training the kids to call him ‘dad’ ahead of her second marriage.

Anyway, my own romantic travails aside, this is a riveting look at an extraordinary and unique performer. But it is, necessarily, a fairly fleeting skip through countless hours of TV shows. Those new to his work might find it occasionally frustrating, not being able to see more of the material, and have more of the backstory filled in. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing couple of hours, and that’s without the live stuff, whatever that’s going to be.

Enjoy. And here’s to another 20 years of weirdness and wizardry.

Secrets of the Luxury Super Yachts, Friday 21st August, 8pm, Channel 5

I do love a documentary about a superyacht. It’s fun seeing how the other half live. And by the other half, I mean how the other 0.0000641% live.

That’s not a random figure, by the way. According to this programme, there are 5000 superyachts out there. So 5000 superyacht owners, out of a global population of 7.8 billion, gives us a figure of 0.0000641% of the population swanning about on their own private cruise liner, sipping champagne cocktails and booking Barbara Streisand to sing happy birthday to their daughters. Only, of course, 5000 superyachts does not necessarily equate to 5000 superyacht owners. Why, I myself have three.

Anyway, the action kicks off in Port Vell, Barcelona, where 30 superyachts are up for sale. They range in length from a frankly embarrassing 30 metres (the super-rich equivalent of the free school meal) to a far more respectable 90 metres. The average cost, if you’re interested, is £40 million.

Of course, you don’t have to buy your own yacht to get a taste of the high life – you could always just hire one for the week. Take Titania, for example. It’s the yacht owned by Phones4U magnate John Caudwell (who recently featured in a show about Britain’s most expensive home – he’s clearly not afraid to flaunt his wealth for the cameras). It’s a modest little 73-metre job, with a crew of 20. It features its own waterpark, jet skis, and nightclub. And it costs just £600,000 per week. Bargainous.

“A lot of our clients,” says Mr Caudwell quite unnecessarily “are high-net-worth individuals.” Right. And I suppose the rest are retired dinner ladies from Wolverhampton, who just decided to shell out £1.2m on a fortnight’s holiday for a bit of a giggle?

As the saying goes in boating, the best way to end up with a small fortune while owning a yacht is to start out with a large fortune. Not only do they cost roughly the GDP of a medium-sized developed country to buy, you then have to pay the crew, and exorbitant maintenance costs. Titania, for example, costs £6 million a year to run. That’s £16,500 every day. (Sorry, I appear to be quite the maths geek today).

Not that it stops me wanting one. The cameras meet a yacht designer, Mark, who is working on a build for a secretive billionaire, known only as Mr G. You may be wondering, at this stage, if G is for Goodhart. I couldn’t possibly comment. But what I will say is that I’m VERY pleased with the look of the boat. It’s a thing of exceptional beauty. It emerges it’s going to be called Life Saga, which, once again, might convince you that I’m the secret buyer. As I say, I can neither confirm nor deny this.

The rest of the programme chunters along in an entirely predictable fashion, in that we get to tour around various magnificently opulent floating palaces, hearing stories of wild antics beyond the outer limits of our very imaginings, all set against the backdrop of an azure blue Mediterranean. I mean, genuinely, what’s not to like? Let’s face it, most of us are going to be spending our holibobs this year on the sofa watching Eggheads with a packet of Custard Creams, so a little glamour is not uncalled for.

At the end, Mr G is due to take delivery of his brand new superyacht. At the last minute, he has requested a stool be placed in the yacht’s swimming pool. Maybe something has been lost in translation here, but I was always led to believe pools had to be closed if a stool was found in them. Still, the rich like to do things their own way. As I will happily explain to you over cocktails, next time you come aboard the Life Saga.

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The best… and the rest:

Saturday 15th August

VJ Day 75: The Nation’s Tribute, 8:30pm, BBC One: Pre-recorded on Horse Guards Parade, this event marks the 75th anniversary of VJ Day. Key moments of the conflict are recalled through testimonies, readings and musical performances, and The Duke of Cambridge will also give an address paying tribute to the veterans and the wartime generation. Narrated by Joanna Lumley.

Monday 17th August

Supershoppers, 8pm, Channel 4: Helen Skelton and Sabrina Grant return with a new series of the consumer advice show, which this week looks at how to save money booking a last-minute staycation. (Hint: Don’t book a superyacht called Titania.)

Jamie: Keep Cooking Family Favourites, 8:30pm, Channel 4: The chirpy chef returns with a new series, helping families create nutritious and value-friendly meals. Tonight’s dishes include a one-pot chicken-and-sausage dish, and a new take on an old favourite: Spag Bol.

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies 1/2, 9pm, ITV: This fact-based two-part drama stars the always-excellent Jason Watkins as Jefferies, the man whose life was turned upside down by an irresponsible gutter press when he was (wrongly) accused of murder. Concludes tomorrow.

The Trial of Alex Salmond, 9pm, BBC Two: Kirsty Wark presents this one-off documentary looking at the recent trial that saw the former First Minister acquitted of 14 counts of sexual misconduct. Wark speaks to many of those involved with the trial, and examines the growing rift between Salmond and his successor, Nicola Sturgeon.

Tuesday 18th August

This Farming Life, 8pm, BBC Two: Series four of the gently mesmerising series following life on some of Britain’s more remote farms, including the Lake District and the Highlands.

Manctopia: Billion Pound Property Boom 1/4, 9pm, BBC Two: New four-part documentary series examining the remarkable property boom in Manchester. The winners stand to make a great deal of money from the area, but the losers will find themselves priced out of their own neighbourhoods.

Wednesday 19th August

Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport, 8pm, ITV: Another in the seemingly endless list of fly-on-the-wall docs set in airports. Useful for those who are nostalgic for the days when holidays were actually a thing.

Coronation Street Icons 1/4, 8:30pm, ITV: In the absence of any actual action from the cobbled streets of Weatherfield, we take a trip down memory lane, looking at some of the most significant characters ever to grace the world’s oldest soap. Tonight, Ken Barlow.

Thursday 20th August

Emmerdale Family Trees 1/4, 7pm, ITV: In the absence of any actual action from the cobbled streets of Emmerdale, we take a trip down memory lane, looking at… oh, you get the idea. Tonight, the Dingles.

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