Portrait From A Hero

by Kat Arnsby

I went through a phase in my early twenties, I’m not proud of it. I’m even less proud now I’m telling you about it. I wish it had been a phase of drugs, porn or veganism; all of which would have been less embarrassing. Back then, I fancied myself as a Byronic Urban Mentalist and would exclusively wear pink from head to toe.

I was, in short, a bit of a cunt. At the height of my idiocy, I discovered a performer who I fell in love with immediately, and that hero worship never left me.

I have watched everything I can find that this man has produced and I have read everything he’s written (I’ve not understood all of it). I have gone out of my way to see him perform in venues nationwide and have genuinely thought it was worth every open –mouthed minute.


I love Derren Brown and this is my hero story.


I met Derren Brown on March 5th 2012, it was a cold and windy night. It may sound like a trite way to start a story, but I live in Manchester, and it was March, so I promise you it was cold AND windy, and that this will come into play again later on.

I went to see his show, Svengali, alone, and sat in my seat for ½ an hour before the show started. I usually do this at the theatre; I like reading the programme in peace and noseying at other people as they come in. I did enjoy absorbing this programme; it was a weird, various interest magazine, styled in an attractive Victorian theme.

The show started and was going as unexpected, until he asked for women who could not paint pictures, but wished they could, to stand up.

I’ve always wanted to paint. Well, truth be told, I’ve always wished for some skill in any visual art. If just one thing that my hands created ended up looking like something other than a multi-coloured bovine placenta I would be utterly fucking thrilled.

So I stood up.

I’m not 100% sure what happened next. Something flew at my face, I ducked and the guy behind me caught it and handed it to me. Then Derren Brown started talking to me from the stage.

By this point, I’d been a Derren Brown fan for a decade and now he was talking to me. Well, he was talking to an unpredictable prop that might mess up a great trick at any minute, but in my world, my hero was talking to me.

Sometimes I imagine talking to my heroes in my head, and I am always incisively erudite. In my imagination, Charles Darwin and I have had some fairly drawn out discussions; frankly the man is just stubborn. When Darwin talks to me, I have opinions and we spark intellectually; when Derren Brown talked to me, I was mainly worried about farting in front of the audience at the Lowry.

Derren beckoned, the audience clapped and I walked towards the stage, my fear of trouser wind worsening with every step as my arse was now head height to the stalls audience and Derren was holding out a microphone. When I reached the stage, I shook his hand, fought the urge to lick his face, and he went about his business of magicking.

If you’ve seen the show, you’ll know the trick I mean. If you haven’t, I’m not going to spoil it. The point of mentioning it at all is that, on stage, I noticed that Derren Brown was an imposing figure of a man. His presence was bear-like, impressively dominant, and he was at least four or five inches taller than me; I’m 5”6”.

The trick ended brilliantly, Derren Brown hugged me, I sniffed his ear a little bit, and we called it a night. I left the stage feeling pleasantly smug and let out an unexposed, sly fart when I got back to my seat.

If only I had left it there.

My need to include fart references throws that last sentence into ambiguity. For clarity, I did not shit myself in the auditorium; what I actually did cost me far more than the embarrassment of public bowel release.

I went to Stage Door to autograph-stalk Derren Brown.

As I have previously bored you with, it was cold and windy and I now was standing outside in the slashing rain waiting to see someone who did not know me and was not expecting to see me. There were about 50 people waiting to see Derren and 40 of them were under girls under 18.

Derren Brown came out and walked straight into the mass of girls. He signed stuff, smiled for cameras and was shunted about like a toy doll between groups of excitedly rabbiting females. I was a little bit scared and stepped out of the crowd. I watched my hero talk to his fans; he was quiet, both softly spoken and sparse with words.

I felt embarrassed, I wanted to leave, but suddenly he was next to me. He had a pen in his hand and he took my open programme.

“Shall I sign it there?”

“Yep. Thanks.”

“What’s your name?” I can’t lie, it did hurt a little that the man who instigated a revolution in my understanding of memory couldn’t remember my three letter name from onstage an hour before.


“With a K or a C?” This was a man who worked with names, I was one of many K/Cats who he’d signed an arbitrary bit of paper for.

“A ‘K’, please.” I immediately regretted the ‘please’, it sounded like I was implying he might then write a ‘C’ just to be snide. A half competent ‘Blockbusters’ gag went through my head, but instead, I said “I know you’re not a fan of the C.”

I don’t know why I’d say that to a gay man I’d never met before. It’s childish, cheap and offensive; I instantly wished I hadn’t said it, and physically bit my lip to stop myself speaking again. Derren Brown then compounded the whole situation by laughing.

It wasn’t an out loud, belly laugh, but there was a definite chuckle and a bit of a smirk as he scribbled a very legible K next to a lot of squiggle on my programme. His attention was immediately grasped by a small female next to me, and I stood looking at the top of his cap as he signed her something.

Derren Brown is actually just about an inch taller than me.

Derren Brown on stage is my hero, a master of powerful content and precise stagecraft with a thrilling compulsion for detail and infectious excitement about the brain. For years Derren Brown has stimulated my imagination exclusively on my own terms, because before that cold and windy night he was never actually any closer than Darwin, or Beckett, or Freud.

Derren Brown in person is an unassuming chap who giggles at cheap gags, and I dispute my hero’s right to have a personality not entirely created by my own imagination.

In my imagination, my heroes don’t laugh at my childish jokes, and they don’t pay attention to anyone else. I don’t worry about embarrassing myself in front of them and they don’t eat, sleep or have partners. In my imagination, my heroes are all there as the best bits of me and my brain, not to represent the childish, fart-gag side of me; that’s what my friends are for.

In my imagination, my heroes have the role of confidants and moral barometers; they are seats of deep discussions of my worries, fears and passions. My internal world has been a bit damaged by having a real life moment with Derren, and now my subconscious has him hypnotising Hitler to have to say ‘vagina’ instead of ‘Reich’.

My favourite bit about my heroes is that they are exactly who I want to believe they are. I can believe they are unnaturally unique because the only understanding I have of them is built from the bricks of their best ideas, hard work and effort. I have no minute understanding of them as real people because I have no need of that to continue idolising them.

In my imagination, Darwin may be a stubborn bastard, but at least he doesn’t have the audacity to be a real person.