Margaret van Hattem
A cost-effective account of the spoons
Financial Times, Number 29,832
WEEKEND FT, ‘Diversions’, page X
Saturday, 18 January 1986
© Financial Times
In 1974 the late Sir Val Duncan set a young Israeli the task of finding some bottles of olive oil he had buried in the garden of his Majorca home, assuring him that it would be his first step towards untold wealth. He was right. Today Uri Geller is a millionaire several times over. This is how it happened.
Geller was beginning to become famous for his psychic powers and was startled to find himself earning £3,000 to £5,000 a time for his lectures, performances of telepathy, spoon-bending and so forth. Duncan, then head of Rio Tinto-Zinc, was himself an amateur dowser but had never been able to persuade his board that the use of dowsing – or divining – could shave millions off the exploration budget.
The two met at a party and Duncan suggested that psychic powers could be used to earn millions. “I thought it was fantasy”, Geller recalls. “I know nothing about dowsing except, you know, crazy people looking for water with sticks.” He did, however, take up Duncan’s offer to teach him to dowse, accompanying him to his homes in Britain and Majorca, prowling around the gardens to find the gold rings, brooches and other small metal objects, as well as the olive oil, hidden by his mentor.
Gradually, Geller progressed from the garden treasure hunts to work with maps. He learned, by passing his hands over maps, to identify areas which gave off a sort of pressure. Working to progressively larger scale maps, these areas could be pinpointed with increasing accuracy. Duncan told Geller: “You’re on your own – go out and make some money.”
The first few experiences were not happy ones. “I was stupid, naïve, too embarrassed to ask for money,” he says. On one occasion, he studied a map provided by Anglo Transvaal (now Anglovaal), the South African mining group, and directed them towards an area on the South African border with Zimbabwe. “I never followed it up,” he says, “but years later George Swanson, one of their geologists, told me they’d found their biggest-ever coal deposit there. ‘I hope you’re getting royalties,’ he said, but I got nothing.”
He learnt to be more business-like. These days he charges a standard fee of £1m – more in areas he considers physically dangerous, less if he feels so inclined – as an advance against royalties.
The companies employing him do not always get their money back in mineral finds. He always finds something, he says, but not necessarily something commercially viable, nor of use to the company.
Of the 11 projects he has undertaken in the past 10 years, he says, four have been big successes, where the royalties went beyond the original £1m advance; three or four have been “total failures” and the rest partially successful, though not sufficient for the royalties to cover the advance. On the other hand, Geller insists, he saves companies money by telling them where not to bother drilling, so in that way he is cost effective.
That is Geller’s story, to be told in more detail when his book is published in October.
But is it true? Many people claim that Geller is no more than a conjurer, whose “tricks” have been exposed, though no details of the exposures appear to have been recorded. But independent corroboration of his account is hard to come by.
This, says Geller, is because his powers are anathema to conventional science. Those who employ him may find it easier to “lose” his fee in the exploration budget than to explain it to board members and shareholders.
One man prepared to confirm Geller’s tale is Peter Sterling, chairman of Zanex, an Australian minerals and exploration company which last year flew Geller to the Solomon Islands to help pinpoint gold deposits. Sterling also confirmed the level of payments being made.
“Our company had been successful with alluvial gold in the Solomon Islands but we were also interested in ore bodies. We sent Uri some topographical maps and he rang us back and said ‘You should be looking for diamonds in Malaita’. No one had thought of looking for diamonds on that island – we weren’t sure the Solomon Islands were geologically old enough for diamonds – and we were sceptical but he insisted.”
Geller insisted even more when he was flown over the islands, and so samples were taken. They have, says Sterling, been “very encouraging” so far. “We have found diamond-type kimberlite rock, which is rare, plus all the minerals usually associated with diamonds.”
Sterling is well pleased with his investment in Geller but he confirms that it hasn’t been easy explaining it to his board and shareholders. “Most mining people are pretty down to earth and materialistic,” he says, “and the sort of work Uri Geller does doesn’t fit current scientific knowledge. I’m an engineer – I have no idea how it works, though I think in 20 to 30 years time science will know, and will be building machines to do the same thing. But now – well the reaction is a bit like witch hunters in the dark ages, or flat earthers. There are a lot of flat earthers around.”
Geller himself says his powers are complementary to other, more scientifically acceptable methods, not a substitute for them. He likes to work with geologists; the more feedback they provide, he says, the more chance he has of interpreting the forces he picks up. He compares his contribution to that of Aboriginals or Bushmen whose deep knowledge of the land includes a fair idea of what minerals are around.
As for other proof? There is no doubt that Geller is extremely rich, living at the moment in two very grand apartments overlooking one of London’s loveliest parks. One is for his family, the other is his office. There are other homes in other countries. Personally he is something of an ascetic – non-drinking, non-smoking, vegan, a nine-mile-a-day runner, with the intense, piercing gaze that such a regime tends to produce.
He has been hurt and discouraged in the past by attempts to discredit him, but these days, so long as the mining magnates continue to find him cost-effective, does not much care what the sceptics say.
For his next project, he plans to find Lasseter’s Reef – a legendary golden mountain that is to Australia what the lost city of Atlantis is to the rest of the world. That is planned for next year and already he is pouring over maps of the area around Alice Springs and photographs of Lewis Harold Bell Lasseter, the prospector who stumbled out of the desert 60 years ago raving about his find and died trying to find the way back to it.
His dying message, scrawled on a scrap of paper, read “What good a reef worth millions?… I’d give it all for a loaf of bread, and to think that only a week away is lots of tucker … the blacks are not troubling me now … they know I’m dying and will wait …” Others have tried and failed, some have died, but Geller has no doubts. “I find it,” he says.