HE’S played Russian roulette with a gun and his life on live TV, predicted the lottery numbers and persuaded a group of law-abiding strangers to team up to rob a security van.

Derren Brown is Britain’s most famous mind reader and master of all things magical.

But turning a shy schoolboy with no ambition into one of the world’s best known psychological illusionist is possibly the greatest trick he’s ever pulled off.

He’s the most confident of performers on stage, but lacks self belief off of it.

“I suppose this was the quickest, most fraudulent way of impressing people,” says the 43-year-old Londoner.

“I never had any ambition. I didn’t chase it or want it, I never had a plan.”

It was while in his first year studying German and law at the University of Bristol that he had his first hypnotic experience.

“I went to see a show by Martin Taylor and thought he was brilliant. I’d never seen anything like it before. He had the most unlikely people dancing around on stage like ballerinas and I loved it.

“I had no interest at all in law or German so, after that, I spent all my time learning hypnotism.

“It definitely ticked the box for me. I think I needed to be in control and it appealed to me.

“I was signing on for a couple of years and then just managing to earn a living performing.”

TV came calling in 2000 and he hasn’t looked back.

Fourteen years and millions of TV viewers and theatre audiences, plus two prestigious Olivier Awards and countless other accolades later, Derren believes he’s finally come of age.

“I’ve just grown up a bit really,” he muses.

“It’s like anyone. The things you like in your 20s are not quite the same by the time you reach your mid 30s. I’ve changed things around a little so they still appeal to me. Everything has a natural shelf life and things can become a bit childish after a while.

“Over the years doing the TV stuff, I’ve kind of moved away from doing tricks and moved into what to me feels slightly more grown up.

“I get other people to take part in something on TV now and, because of that, stage is the more comfortable home for that sort of performance.”

And next month he returns to the Mayflower stage for a week-long stint with Infamous, Derren’s sixth show since 2003 in which he is reunited with his close collaborator actor, magician and writer Andy Nyman.

“We just wanted to do something a bit different. It’s much more personal, but still has audience participation.

Hopefully it wasn’t too obvious, but the others all stuck to a particular template, whereas this has a slightly different feel to it and is more stripped down.

“I’m fond of it. It delves into a different world of mind work.

“This should certainly have a different tone, and will mix things up a bit for those who have seen the others on TV or live. Although there’s plenty of suggestion and influence and all the things the other shows had. I love theatre, it’s my favourite thing.”

That’s not to say, he hasn’t had plenty of TV success. In fact, Derren has kept the nation gripped with a series of more and more outlandish stunts.

Over the years, he has taken on nine chess grandmasters, tied a man in a straight-jacket to a train track as a train slowly approached, hypnotised a woman into believing she had died in a car crash and persuaded a nervous flyer to take control of a troubled Boeing 737 packed with passengers.

He even had one man believe the world had ended after a meteorite shower had crashed into the earth, leaving only a few survivors infected with a zombie-like virus.

Following that show, Apocalypse, Derren was accused of using actors, the criticism that has most angered him.

“If they were actors we would have to quietly kill anyone who knew them,”

he rants.

“We spent eight months of pressure and stress setting up this huge extraordinary thing, only to unveil it and there’s this storm because some bloke blogged that he looked like an actor who appears in a Nutella ad.

“Some people like it, some people don’t like it,” he shrugs. “But the people who don’t like it make more noise.”

It certainly isn’t Derren’s only controversy, but he never “seeks it out” and just “avoids Twitter” for a while after a stunt.

Away from the stage show, there are no more TV plans at present. He’s writing a book on hypnosis in his spare time.

“It’s nice to have something to go alongside the touring, but that’s it really. We’ve filmed Infamous and will put that out after we’ve been on the road.

“Other than that, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.”

He’s being modest of course. If anyone knows what the future holds, it’s Derren Brown.

  • Derren Brown – Infamous is at the Mayflower Theatre from April 7 to 12.
  • For tickets, call 023 8071 1811 or visit mayflower.org.uk