Million dollar man: Mentalist David Meade beats Las Vegas casinos - and hands back $1m
What’s it like to win a fortune, then have to hand it all back again? David Meade on how he took a white-knuckle ride on the roulette tables of Vegas
David Meade gambled his entire career when he took on the casinos in the one challenge which has so far defeated every other mentalist in the world. In his biggest experiment yet the Banbridge mind-bending star set out for Las Vegas to attempt the ultimate test of his powers and figure out how to beat the odds and become a million dollar mentalist.
In a challenge attempted by every famous mentalist on the planet, the local man has become the first to crack the casinos to win a cool one million dollars.
How he did it will be revealed in a one hour US special, David Meade: Million Dollar Bet, to be screened on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday night.
Eighteen months in the making, Meade travelled back and forward to Vegas putting his reputation on the line and testing his mental skills to the limit, studying the probability and statistics of winning and losing.
In what was ultimately a game of roulette with his own powers, it is a jubilant but mightily relieved Meade who is back home to launch his new show after nailing the world first.
"It was the most terrifying thing I have ever done and a foolhardy risk," he says. "I convinced everyone I could do it and under no circumstances was I sure whatsoever.
"It is a world first. Every mentalist out there has tried it but no one has ever done it before.
"I spoke to every famous mentalist there is before I went and every one of them said they didn't believe it could be done.
"I don't know if it was bravery or stupidity or a bit of both in equal measure and while I was absolutely certain it could work, I wasn't certain it would work.
"My whole career was depending on it and not just my TV career - I do a lot of motivational work with some of the biggest companies in the world. My reputation would have been in tatters if I hadn't cracked it.
"I feel so proud of the trust the BBC put in me to make the show. Here we are this tiny region on the periphery of the UK and this small channel has done something no one in the world has managed to do before."
Convinced his career as an entertainer and motivational speaker would end if he failed to beat the roulette wheel and win a million, Meade made four additional trips of his own to Las Vegas as well as four with his BBC film crew.
In the programme he begins his journey by exploring the topic of gambling, delving into the world of probability and meeting some people who have won a little and lost a lot.
He seeks the advice of bookies on the racetrack and visits a casino to find out more about the mathematics connected with having a flutter.
He also travels to Cambridge University's mathematics department to chat with an expert about the laws of probability and when he reaches Vegas, he meets the man known as the "wizard of odds" to discover more about how various games work and what the odds are of winning.
It's then time for the mentalist to decide what game gives him the best chance to win a million and if he can use his skills to take on the laws of probability.
Faced with the high pressure stakes in the cauldron of a Las Vegas casino, David discovers what it's like to win and to lose and viewers see his legendary mind-bending powers beat the odds in a tense game of roulette where the chips pile up as a nervous Meade makes it to a million.
"I'm not a gambler and I hadn't the first idea about how to play Blackjack or how roulette works," he says.
"Two things I discovered is that when you lose, if you have any cash left at all you begin to chase your loss and the second thing is when you win you kick yourself for not putting more on so that you could have won more.
"You have these wee chips in front of you and it doesn't feel like you are playing with your mortgage, and believe me I was.
"I was pumped up with adrenaline playing in front of a camera crew and the more I was winning the bigger crowd it generated.
"When I hit $40,000, then $50,000 and then $60,000 I don't think I would have been brave enough to go on to the $100,000 without the cameras as all I was thinking was that would put a sun room on our new house. I'm from Rathfriland and 32 years of age and never in my life have I been surrounded by so many beautiful women - as that money grew they just kept appearing from nowhere."
Of course, David had agreed in advance that if he did prove to have the powers to crack it and win a million he would hand the money back.
Married to Elaine, with two children, Tilly (5) and George, who will be two in January, David is currently in the process of building a new home for his family in Banbridge.
Mindful of the costs involved in that project, he really struggled when he won his fortune fair and square only to have to hand every penny back to the casino.
He confesses: "I wasn't really prepared for how difficult that would be. Especially as we are building a house next year and a set of taps alone cost £300.
"During the planning and prep I never took time to think about what it would feel like to have that money in my hand. I really wanted to take it. It was hideous having to give it back.
"I took a selfie with all the chips at the end but I had to delete it because it was just too awful to look at.
"Every penny used in the show was mine."
While his mentalist skills certainly came into play Meade says he would never repeat the experience, even though it could mean pocketing his million this time.
"I wouldn't do it again. I would say 60% of it was down to having the courage to play in the first place, 25% the luck of the roulette wheel and the rest was due to my skills as a mentalist," he says.
"Viewers know me well enough now to appreciate that I wasn't just going to Vegas, taking my chances and leaving my mentalist powers at the door.
"This is an entertainment programme after all and I'm not some psychic and I don't have some super-power.
"I was in a real Vegas casino and there are no camera tricks but at the end day there was a serious side to the show, too, and while gambling can be fun, I also heard how people can lose, big time."
David is looking forward to taking time off over Christmas with his family before working on two new shows for the BBC next year.
He and his wife Elaine faced a tough year last year after the birth of George in January 2013.
George was born with a condition so complex that specialists are still trying to diagnose it. He faced a mountain of medical problems in his first year and underwent numerous surgeries to correct faults with his major internal organs. The little boy also suffers countless seizures every day, even when he is sleeping.
The family is undergoing genetic testing as the baffled medical world try to identify what is causing the seizures.
David had to cancel two tours last year to be by his son's bedside in the Royal and Elaine had to give up work to become George's full-time carer.
The family are now settling into a routine as they learn to cope with little George's condition.
"We still don't have a name for it and George still has the epilepsy every bit as severe," he says.
"He might need a procedure on his eyelids to improve his vision but it is a fairly simple one and thankfully all the other surgeries are now behind him.
"He is as happy as Larry. I've never in my life seen a child who loves a good tickle as much as he does.
"Lately we have got some great equipment through the NHS. We got a table on wheels which takes him off the ground and he loves it. He doesn't have any mobility and probably never will.
"We also got an Upsee which was invented in Lisburn and which allows us to strap George to our feet to simulate walking; we have him in that every day and he thinks it's great. He is well settled which has made it easier for me to go back to work. We are building a house which will have all the equipment we need for George which should also help improve his quality of life."
Little Tilly, meanwhile, who is a big fan of Frozen, has started Ballygowan Primary in Banbridge. David is looking forward to taking both children to Disneyland Paris at Easter.
He adds: "We decided we can't stop doing everything and that George has to experience things, too, so we are going to risk travelling with him and we are looking forward to our family break."
David Meade: Million Dollar Bet is on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday, December 15, 10.35pm
From childhood hobby to high-flying career...
Having caught the bug for mind-reading and mentalism as a teenager, David Meade has been honing his act for nearly 20 years.
A university lecturer, he has combined a childhood interest with his academic interests to create the remarkable set of skills that have made him famous.
Drawing inspiration from many sources and day to day observations, he ensures his act is always developing and progressing, and he is always learning.
David still finds time to work as a researcher and lecturer in international business.
He is also regarded as one of Europe’s most dynamic, engaging and sought-after keynote speakers with a client list that features some of the world’s most successful organisations.
Working with clients that include PWC, Institute of Directors, Bombardier Aerospace, and Easyjet, he is renowned for designing custom development programmes that fit the specific needs of organisations.
David says: “In my line of work you have to keep an open mind, so I’m always open to new lessons, new experiences and new technology. It’s the only way you can keep up to date and stop your work getting stale.”