‘I still blow my own mind!’ Uri Geller on spoon-bending, showbiz and the museum he built

Self-styled psychic spent more than €6m converting old soap factory in to a museum

“I will bombard you with interesting material,” Uri Geller warns me on WhatsApp before giving me a tour of his new museum. I expected a healthy amount of exaggeration from the self-described psychic, who has for decades claimed he can bend spoons with his mind. If anything he is underselling the experience. A 16m steel spoon — certified the world’s biggest by Guinness World Records in 2019 — sits in front of the Uri Geller Museum in the port city of Jaffa, at Tel Aviv’s southern edge. The giant spoon is a taste of what is to come.

Geller left behind the marble floors and silk-lined walls of his mansion in Berkshire in 2015 and moved back to his native Israel with his wife, Hannah. Soon after resettling, he spent more than €6.2 million ($6 million) on an Ottoman-era soap factory, and more than five years renovating it and turning it into a museum.

Have you ever seen a walking stick studded in diamonds? No. Well, I got one from the king of Nigeria

The seemingly adrenaline-fuelled Geller, 75, runs every tour, answers every email sent to the museum — about 300 a day, he says — and, save for his brother-in-law, is the sole employee.

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Geller guides pre-arranged tour groups seven days a week but, to save money on security guards, does not accept walk-ins. At present, tours run for about 90 minutes. He guffaws when I ask if he makes money from the museum: “Come on, really? At 50 shekels [€14.75] per person? What do you think?” He says that he donates any profits to a children’s heart charity.

Walking through the door, it becomes apparent that Geller has broken with the tradition of documenting his life in a linear manner. Rather, he tells his story through his possessions. He seems to have crammed every object he has ever owned into the cavernous gallery, and regales visitors with tales of how he acquired them.

“What makes this museum work is, it’s so eclectic,” Geller enthuses. “Have you ever seen a crystal that is 55 million years old? No. Have you ever seen a walking stick studded in diamonds? No. Well, I got one from the king of Nigeria. So that’s what makes this museum tick.”

Effervescent as he is, he can be frustrating to interview. Asked why he chose to return to Israel — his grown-up son and daughter live in the UK and the US respectively — Geller replies: “I believe in every Israeli’s heart, if they leave Israel, there is some kind of burning desire to someday come back. I said to Hannah: ‘Let’s go back to Israel.’ And, look, there is Lewis Hamilton’s cap that he signed for me ...”

Visitors learn not just about his spoon-bending exploits and his friendships with celebrities and world leaders, but also about Geller’s art of inserting himself into the centre of every story. While images of Geller smiling with Michael Jackson and Salvador Dalí attest to genuine friendship, there are plenty who might be surprised to find pictures of themselves on these walls, such as Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela. Or Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, who are pictured above their football kits, which Geller has also collected. Even the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi gets a mention.

Despite being the curator of his own museum, Geller cringes when he explains some of the photographs of himself with celebrities from his youth. “I was on an ego trip. I was after fame and fortune,” he admits. “I had chutzpah and I walked over to famous people and I said: ‘Here, I’m going to bend a spoon for you.’”

He claims to have bent more than a million spoons in his lifetime. It is impossible to stand at any point in the museum and not spot a spoon. In places, there are holes in the floor with piles of spoons bursting out of them.

People say I did this for my legacy. Nonsense. I did this because a real-estate agent took me here and opened the rusted blue door, and I thought it was a great storage place

These days, he has a tattoo of a spoon on his elbow so he can bend it if he is stopped by a fan in the street, but at the museum he gives an actual spoon-bending demonstration on every tour. So, in the hours preceding mine, I go to a store and pick out a sturdy-looking, restaurant-grade stainless steel spoon.

I had read that the secret to Geller’s trick is that he expertly distracts the viewer while he physically pressures the metal, so it appears to melt as he begins his performative rubbing of the weak spot he has created.

As I prepare to focus and hand the spoon to Geller, I am instantly distracted by a backward step he takes on to a platform. I lose sight of the spoon for all of two seconds — and from this point, I am putty in his hands. He holds the spoon by the bowl and rubs the neck. I could swear the handle looks ever so slightly bent, but he says that is because he has already started to bend it with his mind. Within seconds, the handle begins to curve backwards. He places it on a metal frame on the museum floor, and it bends even further. It’s an impressive show — and frustratingly hard to argue with.

Geller has spent years concocting headline-generating capers that often fall flat, such as his vow to use the power of his mind to help Scotland beat England in their Euro 2020 group match, and to stop Brexit. Recently, he even promised to use his psychic powers to prevent the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, from launching a nuclear strike.

Visitors should not expect to learn much about these stunts at the museum. They will see the folder containing the CIA study testing his psychic abilities, but will not be able to read the results. Nor will they learn about the work of the late magician and sceptic James Randi, debunking Geller’s claimed skills, or the Geller-inspired Bent Spoon award, from the Australian Sceptics organisation.

So what is the purpose of his museum? “People say I did this for my legacy. Nonsense. I did this because a real-estate agent took me here and opened the rusted blue door, and I thought it was a great storage place,” he says. He describes himself as a hoarder. “I get a kick out of it — I’m inspired by seeing people astonished by my things.”

“People are forgotten very quickly ... I certainly won’t be here in 20 years,” he says. “Someday, probably, I’ll hire an actor — they will learn my stories and speak and dress like me.”

Geller says he expects to do occasional shows and television work. He also lectures up-and-coming magicians, not about the secrets of his craft, but about how he has “managed to gain this longevity that I’m still relevant”.

“It’s crazy,” he says. “I still blow my own mind as to how I managed to instil spoon-bending into world culture.” — Guardian

The Uri Geller Museum in Tel Aviv is open to groups for pre-booked tours