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Face To Face With A Sceptic

Back in the mid-1990’s I spent quite a bit of time speaking at Universities and demonstrating my abilities, often in front of very sceptical audiences. Scepticism has never bothered me, when I read for people I am accurate or I’m not, and I’ve never seen my job as trying to convert people to a particular belief. Everybody should be allowed to believe whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Anyway, I was booked to talk at Durham University where Sir Peter Ustinov was Chancellor. He was immensely inspirational in that role, which he stayed in almost up to his death in 2004.

I was midway through my talk when I spotted him quietly tiptoeing into the back of the room. I could see him muttering an apology but there is a rule that when a celebrity is in your audience you don’t acknowledge them. Often they just want to be ‘off-duty’ and one of the crowd.

I had finished my talk and could see Sir Peter was staying in his seat. I was beginning to panic because I was a big fan but mainly that he was a very distinguished member of the British Secular Humanist Association who are opposed to any form of religious or ‘superstitious’ beliefs.

“Uh oh, I’m in trouble” I thought. Maybe I had offended him. As the room cleared he slowly walked to the front of the room. Rather shyly he asked:

“That was amazing, can you tell me what it feels like when the information comes to you? I’m intrigued.”

And that began one of the most fascinating conversation I’ve ever had. He may have been sceptical but he was a delight and hugely intelligent.

As is often the case in these situations I could tell that he wanted me to ‘read’ him. I took his hand and described a medical diagnosis that he had only found out about 48 hours earlier. As I held his hand I could hear the name ‘Socrates’ being repeated in my mind. I mentioned it to him, and his jaw dropped. Apparently it was the name of a kitten that he had when he was a small boy. I could see I had shaken him but he started to laugh until tears were rolling down his face.

He slowly got up and started to walk out of the room. As he got to the door he turned and said

“Richard, you are a most remarkable man”

This remains my favourite testimonial that I’ve ever received. Sir Peter was even more remarkable, and it’s a memory that I will always treasure. X

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