Unlike his now often-mocked contemporary David Blaine, Derren Brown's mind manipulation and edgy magic work continues to captivate. He reveals some secrets and talks about his beginnings ahead of his Dartford show.

THOSE who have watched him on TV, or seen his extraordinary live shows or read his book, will know Derren Brown is an astonishing, mesmerising, and utterly baffling talent.

His brand of psychological illusion fuses elements of magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship.

Whether he appears to be reading people's minds, contacting the dead, guessing people's dreams, or telling them their detailed medical history just by looking at them the results seem to defy logic.

Yet what's refreshing about Brown is his open and honest approach to what he does.

He cheerfully reveals he can't read people's minds or commune with the afterlife - his skill is to make it look like he can.

"The biggest challenge", he said, "is to keep the work fresh and vital. Last year I felt it was time for some changes so I created, with my production team, Trick or Treat. Thankfully it was well received, so a second series is now underway".

Trick or Treat was broadcast on Channel 4 earlier this year and created quite a stir with stunts which included a woman witnessing her own death in a staged out-of-body experience and a student who wakes up to find himself in a Moroccan street market.

Equally, Derren enabled an elderly lady with no knowledge of poker to come second in a top, televised poker tournament.

As Derren explains: "It's always been really important to me people on my shows have a good time. Even if what you see looks traumatic, they always give me positive feedback."

It is this manipulative ability to be playful, charming and shocking at the same time that has attracted Derren so much attention as well as a huge legion of admirers.

His stunt with Robbie Williams in the last series of Trick of the Mind, in which he graphically pierced the pop star's arms with needles, drew tabloid headlines, as no doubt will his next one-off special.

"We're yet to start filming", he said, "but I can say it will be a fun and exciting show rather than dark and scary. A lot of sceptics will want to watch, given the outrageous claims I will be making on this one."

This year promises to be yet another busy one for the nation's favourite mind manipulator.

Apart from the special and another series of Trick or Treat, the tour will culminate in a West End run and there are plans for an exhibition of his art work, another book and another TV series in America.

Clearly Derren's future will be increasingly successful but it's his past he has to thank for inspiring him to follow the performance path.

"It was watching Martin Taylor, a stage hypnotist up in the Avon Gorge room one night in Bristol while I was at University," he said of what drew him to magic.

"After the show I was rather obsessed with learning how to do it. Knowing that Martin also worked as a magician and given that I had owned a few tricks when I was a kid, I bought myself a big bumper magic book one day while mooching around Bristol. And it built from there."

It was at other universities that Derren first tried out his tricks and it was here his iconic goatee was premiered too.

"I grew the laughable goatee in an attempt to look a bit older and more mysterious than my fellow students," he said.

Aware that it's difficult to bring credibility to magic-related performance he said: "It's easy to explain why someone might not like it. It's can be poorly presented, surrounded by naffness, and often amounts to little more than childish attempts to fool you.

"I guess it's largely to escape those associations that I've gone the route I have."

It's through not having what he calls "genuine psychic ability" that Derren's distinctive style has emerged. Not that he doesn't covet it though, he admits "it would make things a lot easier". But he's proved he has the right kind of magic without it.

Derren Brown, Mind Reader - An Evening of Wonders. The Orchard, Dartford. March 19 and 20. 01322 222200.