Father Camillo and Miss Agrotis by Uri Geller

16th January 2015 at 00:00
After arriving in Cyprus, the young Jewish migr was taken under the wing of a Catholic priest who taught him the power of tolerance. Meanwhile, a supportive English teacher helped him to cultivate his unusual skills

I was born in what is now Israel, but when I was 11 my mother remarried and we moved to Cyprus. When we arrived I couldn't speak English.

After a year at an American school I was sent to board at a Catholic school - remember, I'm an Israeli and I'm Jewish. I'll never forget that first day when we drove up the hill to Terra Santa College in Nicosia. Panic engulfed me when the first thing I saw was a huge cross cut out of the hedges: Christianity and Catholicism were foreign to me and I was really scared.

I was directed straight to the headmaster, Father Camillo, who was a Vatican priest from Italy. He wore brown robes with a rosary around his waist, and he could see I was trembling. The first thing he did was take out a gold chain from around his neck on which there were many Catholic symbols and crosses. From behind a small Christian medallion came out a Star of David in gold. I asked him why he was wearing it and he said: "Because we pray to one God." My fear of the unknown and of being thrown into some new religion totally ebbed away. To this day, I am welcoming of all religions.

Father Camillo remained a supportive figure throughout my schooldays and he was the one who broke the news to me that my stepfather had died.

He was also the only person to call me Uri. When I arrived in Cyprus, by ship, the immigration officer decided Uri wasn't the right name for a Cypriot and renamed me George. But Father Camillo insisted on using it. He also told me that Uri meant "my light" in ancient Hebrew. Can you believe the first person to tell me that was a Catholic priest?

I was a show-off at school and was already displaying my powers. The kids didn't know what I was. Was I a magician? A freak? I would move clocks forward in class using my mind and was able to direct a basketball into the basket from half a court away. I would bend spoons for teachers and kids and I remember bending a key for Father Camillo. He wanted to believe that my powers were supernatural.

Another teacher who had an influence on me, but for very different reasons, was Miss Agrotis. She was English, married to a Cypriot, and she totally and utterly believed in my powers and really helped me to hone my skills.

She taught English and, because I lagged behind the other kids, she offered to give me extra lessons at her apartment in the city. When I was there she would tell me all about England, London, and English culture and films. She was also very enquiring about my energy and where it had come from.

I read her mind. Well, I could never read minds completely but she helped me to improve and perfect my mind-reading techniques. I knew I could pick up thoughts, words and letters, such as the name of a city or a colour or a drawing. Miss Agrotis would teach me how to visualise these. She helped me to create an imaginary television screen in my mind on to which I would receive her thought patterns.

We didn't keep in touch as I went straight into the army after school. But when I became famous in the early 1970s, she wrote a letter to the News of the World to say how much she had always believed in me. I was astonished.

Uri Geller was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. He is fronting the Kellogg's personalised spoon campaign and will be hosting a spoon-bending masterclass at Westfield, London W12, on Saturday 24 January. To register for the event email spoons@kellogg.com, and to get your personalised spoon go to spoon.kelloggs.comuk

The illusionist

Uri Geller

Born 20 December 1946 in Tel Aviv (then in Palestine, now in Israel)

Education American Academy Larnaca, Cyprus; Terra Santa College, Nicosia, Cyprus

Career World-famous mind reader and spoon bender


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