the million dollar mind reader

The documentary series exploring remarkable stories of human experience continues. Psychic Derek Ogilvie claims he can read the minds of infants who are too young to communicate verbally. Now he agrees to undergo a series of experiments to test the limits of his alleged abilities. He even faces the ultimate sceptic in the form of James Randi, an investigator who has offered $1million to anyone who can provide evidence of the supernatural.

At a meeting room in Scotland, dozens of mothers flock to see a man who offers them the seemingly miraculous possibility of communicating with their infants. Derek Ogilvie says he can interpret babies’ thoughts and feelings. “I open up and allow information to freely come from the child,” he explains. “That information may take the form of an image, a picture or a movie.”

Derek, 42, knew from an early age that he possessed a kind of gift. Throughout his childhood he received a series of paranormal visitations, before the spirit of his grandmother urged him to seek a job on the radio. It was the start of David’s journey towards becoming a professional psychic and a minor celebrity.

The parents who turn to Derek for help are impressed by the highly personal and specific information he seemingly extracts from their children. “He’s fantastic. He gets everything spot on,” says one mum. Yet Derek must constantly defend himself from charges that he is feigning his abilities. “I’m no liar. I’m no fake,” he says. “Analyse what I do, and you’ll see that I really do it.”

To this end, Derek has agreed to subject himself to a series of tests. His first stop is Goldsmiths College, London, where Professor Chris French has arranged for him to perform a reading on six children. After spending some time with the toddlers, Derek will record the specific information he has gleaned from each child. Crucially, he will meet the kids without the parents being present – to rule out any possibility of “cold reading”. This is a technique whereby psychics gather details about their subjects by analysing their reactions to a battery of comments and observations.

As the experiment begins, it is immediately apparent that Derek is struggling to make a connection with the infants. In the absence of the parents, he even begins cold reading from the child minder. At the end of the test, the parents are asked to pick the reading they believe corresponds to their child. Only one child is correctly identified – well within the boundaries of chance. Professor French is satisfied that there is no psychic ability on display. “My opinion? He’s fooling himself – [and] he’s fooling lots of other people,” he says.

Derek is genuinely upset by the results, but vows to fight on by taking the biggest challenge of all. He flies to Florida to meet paranormal investigator James Randi, who has offered a $1million reward to whoever can prove the existence of the supernatural. Randi has spent his whole life debunking the claims of psychics. “My experience has always – in every case – been negative,” he says. “There’s no evidence to support it.”

Randi has devised a simple test in which Derek must guess which one of ten objects a child in the next room is holding. Derek finds his surroundings off-putting, but he has at least been allowed to choose the child in question and spend time practising with him. Despite this preparation, however, Derek only guesses one object correctly. “I can’t say that he’s a fraud or a fake – all I can say is that he can’t do what he says he can do,” is Randi’s verdict.

Bitterly disappointed by the outcome, Derek claims that the test is designed for people to fail. His one remaining hope is to allow scientists to perform a digital scan of his brain – with astonishing results.

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