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The real-life mentalist

Luke Jermay predicts that Scotland will vote No to independence.

For his Edinburgh International Magic Festival show Luke Jermay plans to place predicted headlines in a sealed envelope to be opened on the day	Photograph: Kippa Matthews
For his Edinburgh International Magic Festival show Luke Jermay plans to place predicted headlines in a sealed envelope to be opened on the day Photograph: Kippa Matthews

He also says that soon Japanese people living as vampires will be arrested after a botched attempt to rob a blood bank supply company; that Pope Francis will appoint women cardinals; and that, to the relief perhaps of many, The X Factor will come to an end this year.

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Over the past 12 months, he has made around 500 predictions, either of global headlines or of events in the lives of individuals, which have turned out to be true - a rate, he points out, though he hasn't worked out the stats, that is much better than "those who are self-labelled psychics". But Jermay is not some strange, mystical seer or diviner with a crystal ball. He is a mentalist. In fact, he is often called "the real-life mentalist", because, formerly he was a consultant on the American CBS hit drama show The Mentalist.

The majority of people, when they hear the word mentalism, are most likely to think of smart-suited, ever-sceptical Derren Brown performing feats of seeming mind control. They don't tend to imagine a bearded bloke, covered in tats, brandishing tarot cards and doling out predictions of the future like they're sweeties. That, after all, is the territory of New Agers and psychics, of, as Jermay puts it, "the crazy woman in the bar who predicts someone's cat is going to die".

Yet Jermay is reinventing mentalism, releasing it from its stubborn scepticism, making of it something new, and at the same time bringing it back to its historic roots. His show is designed to create wonder - he even does much of it blindfolded - yet he's also up front about the fact that he thinks "intuition" plays a strong role in what he's doing.

He believes there is a reason most mystery acts haven't touched the future in recent times - and it's not just that the people "attached to magic and mentalism are mostly deeply sceptical" . It's also that it's too risky. "Today, when you use tarot cards, the first reaction anybody gives you is that they think you're either insane or a charlatan."

In fact, he says he considers what he does to be "rational mysticism". "I don't think that tarot cards are supernatural," he says. "I think they are sorting machines for generating metaphor. So if you look at the images in the tarot card, it tricks your brain into finding patterns that perhaps you never would have thought about. It's a worthwhile machine, cheaper than a therapist."

Strange Power is Jermay's first show to deal with events that are yet to come, but it's not the first time he's dabbled in tarot. As a child, growing up with his single mum in Essex, he lived in a household that, though it was not at all New Agey, had tarot cards and books about palm-reading on its shelves. In those early years he immersed himself in deception, practising magic tricks. However, as a teenager, after a family member got involved with spiritualism, he came across a series of books which said that these people were actual magicians; they were performing magic tricks.

At 15 he got a job performing magic for tables in a Greek restaurant in London. A year later he decided to try out mentalism on the same floor, and was surprised to find it took off. Later he would work with Derren Brown, as a consultant on his television shows. It was, he says, "an interesting clash of personalities because Derren is very sceptical and I was always playing the devil's advocate."

Jermay has also long been obsessed with futurism of the type featured in the Alvin Toffler classic Future Shock. Global predictions, some of which stretch into the far future, form an element in his show, and are regularly issued on his Twitter feed. For his show at this year's Edinburgh International Magic Festival, he plans to place predicted headlines in a sealed envelope to be opened on the day.

In some ways what Jermay appears to be is a kind of information processor: he reads about 20 newspapers a day and is obsessed with writings about business and technology.

Though his global predictions seem like they could possibly be the result of a combination of trends and statistics, he notes that it requires "intuition" to make a forecast out of such material. Some of it is not that surprising. I ask him why he thinks Scotland will reject independence. He lists a bunch of theories I imagine that could have been spouted from the mouth of any political commentator: postulating, for instance, that soon more businesses will come out against it and that the monumental nature of the changes is daunting.

But it's what he does with audience members that is most mysterious. In Strange Power, he says, he still uses some of the same skills as he did in his last show Sixth Sense (in which he would give someone the name of the first person they kissed) to make snap appraisals of audience member's pasts, but these are, he says, just there to build credibility.

What he is really interested in is the future. And what's more, he also postulates that this future is something we create. His approach is quite empowering. "With the way the world is now," he says, "I think it's our responsibility to imagine as many wonderful futures and delightful futures as we can. Pick the best one and then make that happen."

Strange Power is at the Edinburgh International Magic Festival from June 28 to July 4, www.magicfest.co.uk

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