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Inside the mind of a forensic mind reader

When I was eight I started reading the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Photograph: Stewart Attwood

I became fascinated by this guy who could look at someone and seemingly know everything about them. I thought: "That's amazing, I want to do it." I initially didn't realise Sherlock Holmes wasn't real, so was disappointed to learn the truth. By that point it was too late: the bug had bitten.

As I got older I became interested in psychology and sciences. I left school at 15 and started university at 16 studying forensic investigation and specialising in criminal profiling. I was also fascinated with mentalism and psychological tricks and would perform at comedy clubs and cabaret nights. When I left university I had combined all of those and as a result have been branded "the forensic mind reader".

Mentalism is the truest form of magic: there are no props or sleight of hand. The only things I use are people and their minds. There is no trickery in the normal sense.

I can walk into a room and deduce details about complete strangers. That was the ambition when I was younger and over almost 20 years I've worked out my own techniques. As amazing as Arthur Conan Doyle makes it sound, it isn't always easy.

There is no such thing as mind-reading. My talent is making it look like I'm reading minds. You watch how people react and can see whether they tense up or look a bit worried. The bottom line is everyone is hiding something. It's not just about picking up the physical clues but also the psychological ones.

A big part of what I do is understanding human interaction and communication. When people don't realise you are watching, you get to see the real them. Sitting in a coffee shop, you see natural human behaviour: it's fascinating to watch them put that mask on and change character when the person they are meeting arrives.

Things that often come up at perfomances are names of first loves and pets. But it can also be obscure scenarios: a woman in the audience recently was thinking about the time she put a chicken in the oven and it exploded. I picked up on that.

I have a list of things I'm never going to reveal, or people wouldn't come and see my show: secrets, incriminating details, whether personal, professional or illegal in some cases. I try to keep it lighthearted and fun. I would never, for example, tell if someone was having an affair.

I recently froze a set of predictions into a block of ice then later smashed it open. It was based on what I thought celebrities - Frankie Boyle, Ellie Goulding, Professor Richard Dawkins, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry - would post on Twitter.

I would say I was 85% accurate in what I predicted. Essentially it was a case of watching them on Twitter in the weeks running up to it to get a sense of what they might be up to that Friday. But if you decide to think I have Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais on speed dial and they owed me one? That's entirely up to you.

Colin Cloud: The Forensic Mind Reader is at the Edinburgh International Magic Festival from June 28 until July 4. Visit magicfest.co.uk and colincloud.com.

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