Tom DeVoe is a Singapore-based ‘mentalist’, an entertainer who uses psychology, suggestion and observation to do amazing things with people’s minds. He has performed around the world, been hired by brands such as Bulgari and Jaeger-LeCoultre and appeared on Channel News Asia, CNN and the BBC
When did you first realise you had a talent for mentalism?
As a young child I was very, very observant – scarily so – and very persuasive when I wanted to be. I was told after my first day at school that before I spoke to anyone new I spent about ten minutes just watching them from a corner. Which is obviously the creepiest thing imaginable.
That caused some problems growing up. I’d get into trouble sometimes for getting our group of friends into places we had no business being, such as bars and parties at the age of about 13. I was 14 when I read about mentalism and realised that I could use these skills to entertain and do positive things. So I did my first shows at 14 in Wales, where I was living, and it hasn’t really stopped.
Can you give us some insight into the techniques you use and the things you do?
I use psychology, suggestion, observation and sometimes a bit of trickery. It’s about reading people’s body language, the way someone stands, the way someone talks, their tone of voice, what they’re wearing, and also reading what we call micro expressions, so the tiniest little twitches and looks in certain directions. You can use all of that information to form a step-by-step route to what they might be thinking… So it’s kind of like a real-world Sherlock Holmes, but I don’t solve crimes.
Did you just describe yourself as a real-life Sherlock Holmes?
No, no, no. I would never call myself that – because I’m not a twat. What I mean is that the techniques I use are also used by characters like Sherlock Holmes.
Are there certain types of people that are more or less susceptible?
Yes, it’s about the type of person. For example, if I said think of a letter, if someone is a bit of a douchebag, or if they’ve been drinking, or if they obviously want to get one up on ‘magic boy’ in front of their friends, they’re going to go for X, Q or Z. So, in fact, the people who try not to be easily read are actually the easiest to read.
What was your most memorable performance in Southeast Asia?
In Singapore in 2009 I brought a girl onstage to think of a random word from her book. She chose the word ‘paper’, and I worked it out correctly, letter by letter. We stayed in touch after the show – and we just celebrated our third wedding anniversary today.
You’re a member of The Magic Circle, a very secretive, exclusive organisation. Tell us as much about it as you’re allowed to…
Well, it’s not as secretive as people think. The building is tucked down an alleyway near Euston Station in central London, but it’s just an organisation for illusionists, magicians, mentalists and other similar performers. There’s an incredible spiral staircase when you walk in, and at the top they have a theatre where people come from all over the world to perform and… explain how they do what they do, the psychology, the mechanics. So that’s fascinating. They have a library in the basement that has thousands of magic books – some a few years old and others that are centuries old… They also have a museum that has everything from spoons bent by Uri Geller to Houdini’s water torture cell and handcuffs – amazing artefacts. And they have a bar. Which is excellent.`
If you were so inclined, what kinds of dastardly tricks could you pull off?
Well, I wouldn’t want to give people any ideas… When I’m not doing shows, I really try not to use these skills in day-to-day life. Sometimes people think I’m using certain techniques, and they’re watching what I’m doing. That makes interaction very awkward and stunted sometimes. Also, you would go mad if you were watching out for everything that everyone’s doing all the time. When the show is over, that’s it, done.