David Meade: I will never be able to communicate with our son
As mentalist David Meade continues his Fake Believe tour, he tells Stephanie Bell about his three-year-old son George's complex health problems and why he will continue to keep seeing psychics.
Northern Ireland's master of illusion is back on the road once again, leaving audiences astounded by his mind-bending tricks.
David Meade continues to up the ante on a career which has made him a household name as a mentalist and every year his tours get bigger and longer, taking in more venues on more nights, as tickets sell out within minutes in every town he visits.
His live tours allow him to get up close to his audiences, which he thrives on, and there is no hiding place for David as he mesmerises with his clever repertoire of illusions and canny, mind-reading exploits.
The fact that he is the hottest ticket in town is something he very much appreciates as he works hard to keep his act fresh and to deliver an even more gripping show each time.
When he is not touring or making TV shows, David (33), who is also a researcher and lecturer in international business, is sought after as a keynote speaker in the corporate world, working for blue chip companies like Apple, Facebook, PWC and Harvard.
Away from his busy work life he is a dedicated family man married to his teenage sweetheart Elaine (36), who is a full-time mum to their two children Tilly and George.
George, who is three, was born with a complex rare disorder which continues to baffle doctors and which greatly restricts his life.
He can't walk or talk and the lion's share of his care falls to Elaine, while David works hard to ensure that she can be at home for both George and Tilly.
George started school just two weeks ago and both David and Elaine are delighted to see their son gain some independence.
David says: "It is really magic, we never thought he would ever go to school. He has only been going for a couple of weeks and it is great for him.
"It is easy to complain about the health service, but I can honestly say that the Belfast Trust look after the parents as much as the kids and they have been amazing to us.
"George's condition is still undiagnosed, although they are certain it is a genetic disorder. We are really used to it now. We had so many ups and downs trying to manage his seizures and now it is just like he is sneezing, as we are completely used to it.
"We have met other parents in similar, better and worse circumstances than ourselves and you don't realise there are thousands of us out there and everyone is just going from one day to the next and trying to do their best.
"My job is super easy compared to Elaine's. She is a super hero. Her career was looking after kids and recently we had a few kids over for Tilly's seventh birthday party. I looked at Elaine looking after the kids and I just thought some people are built for it, they have it in their DNA and I feel so lucky to have her.
"George will never walk or communicate with us, but we are convinced his vision is in good shape as at one time they thought he couldn't see. He had surgery to remove his eyelids and it was a godsend. He can sit up and reach for a toy and he is doing really well. He loves plenty of tickles and play."
David says he does feel guilty that work takes him away from home, sometimes for days at a time if he is doing corporate work overseas, but he is grateful that business is good, allowing Elaine to stay at home.
Tilly is in primary three at Ballydown Primary and David describes her as "a proper little mummy for George".
David was brought up a Catholic in Rathfriland, while Elaine (36), a Protestant, grew up in Loughbrickland.
The couple met when David was 15 and have been together ever since. They now live in Banbridge, but are hoping to get planning permission to build a house on family land which Elaine inherited in Loughbrickland and which David jokingly refers to as "Presbyterian land".
Their mixed marriage, he says, was never an issue.
"We were probably mindful of it in the early days, which is why we went to America and got married in the Empire State Building as we didn't want any of that awkwardness with a wedding at home.
"We don't think about it at all and although it is a significant part of our lives, it has become a funny part of my live show and I do joke about it. I think it is amazing how far we have come.
"I love the fact that this stuff is insignificant to Tilly. She is in a classroom everyday that is truly multi cultural and she has never once come home and said anything about that to us. It makes me ashamed of our generation that we do notice."
Oddly, David caught the bug for mind-reading and mentalism when as a teenager grieving for the loss of his father he tried to find some comfort by going to mediums.
It also sparked a lifelong fascination for the psychic world and today he is probably their most outspoken critic.
He makes no bones about the fact that he thinks most of them are frauds, but it continues to fascinate him and he still visits psychics in the hope of finding what he calls "the real thing". To date he has visited close to 200.
He says: "My dad died from cancer when I was 12. I was fascinated by the fact that psychics could put me in touch with him and I started going to them.
"After about a year I realised it was a really clever and convincing game. I'm essentially doing the same thing they are doing; the only difference is they pretend to be talking to the dead.
"I put them into two categories - those who don't realise they are naturally good at reading people and others who are deliberately out to trick us with a set of techniques to make it look like they know you.
"It really worries and saddens me, especially in times like this when, because of the recession in the last year or more, people are struggling with financial need and are going to psychics for some solace.
"They would say they are giving people hope, but they are selling it and there is a difference.
"When I was going to them as a teenager I did feel really vulnerable and I didn't tell anyone about it and it felt like my chest had been ripped open.
"At the same time I was inspired by it and how they could make me feel like they really knew me. We all have a hankering to believe in the unbelievable and I really worry for those people who have given everything to try and contact people they have lost.
"I have kept going to psychics all these years because I want to find someone who can do it. I am incredibly opened minded. I also go because I can learn from them; I really like to see how they are doing it."
David draws inspiration from many sources and day-to-day observations for his act, which he is always developing and progressing.
He tours every year and each time brings new material and even more mind-boggling tricks to his audiences.
Even though he would easily fill large theatres like Belfast's Grand Opera House, he prefers to do smaller venues so that he can get close to his audiences.
His current tour is his biggest to date because of demand and he himself marvels at just how popular his shows continue to be with the general public.
He says: "We sold out every seat everywhere and have had to add on extra nights and new towns because of demand.
"Every single night on tour I sit behind the curtain and listen to the chatter in the audience and think 'what on earth are you lot doing here?' It makes me feel very lucky that people want to come and see my shows.
"I thrive on live audiences. It would be awesome to do somewhere like the Grand Opera House and we could sell the tickets, but you lose that close relationship with the audience. I really want to meet people at my shows as, after all, they are paying my wages and I will spend a few hours after every show talking to people.
"I find it amazing to hear secret things. For instance, I did a piece where I had a jug explode on stage with nobody touching it and I discovered tons of people thought it had been done using a weird laser beam.
"Now I am able to clarify for everyone at the start of my shows that there are no laser beams used in any of the tricks."
David has performed in a series of programmes for the BBC over the years. In 2014 his fame went global when he became the first mentalist to take on the casinos in Las Vegas and win a million dollars.
He gambled his career to figure out how to beat the odds while being filmed by a BBC crew.
The fact that he pulled off what every other mentalist had tried and failed to do saw him shoot to stardom on a global level, with so many bookings he had to open an office in Belfast and appoint two full-time staff to run it.
His work now takes him all over the world, which is one of the reasons why we haven't seen him on our TV screens recently.
He says: "I'm doing less and less television because it doesn't pay as much as people think and, in fact, 40-50% of my work is corporate and takes me overseas. I was recently in Seattle and Amsterdam and Miami and every week I would be in London, Liverpool or Manchester. It is fabulous to be so busy and the only hard part is being away from my family."
His current show is very different to anything he has done before. In the second part he picks someone from the audience to join him on stage and participate in pulling off illusions which leaves both them and everyone else in the room stunned.
He explains: "This time I have another person doing the amazing things that I do and it is exciting for them because they don't know how they are doing them. There are things that seem impossible to them like walking over broken glass or bending a steel bar.
"I get them to think of the thing inside their head that they always wanted to achieve, but thought was impossible, and at the end of it I tell them what it is.
"I have to make it bigger and better every year. If the material is not fresh every year and people come to see the same thing they will never come back and that can be pretty hard and stressful."
David's tour continues at the MAC in Belfast March 17-20 and The Braid, Ballymena, March 26