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I'm quite ruthless, he almost killed me and I put my energy into getting better

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MAGIC MOMENTS: Andrea Smith chats to Keith Barry at the K Club Hotel. The magician says he likes to surround  himself with like-minded, positive people. Photo: Damien Eagers

MAGIC MOMENTS: Andrea Smith chats to Keith Barry at the K Club Hotel. The magician says he likes to surround himself with like-minded, positive people. Photo: Damien Eagers

MAGIC MOMENTS: Andrea Smith chats to Keith Barry at the K Club Hotel. The magician says he likes to surround himself with like-minded, positive people. Photo: Damien Eagers

'IF there is someone in your life who is consistently negative, even a good friend, cut them loose. I've done it a few times and it's brilliant.

" If I meet someone for dinner and they are constantly moaning, I tell them that they need to relax and have fun and chill out. And if they continue to do it, I tell them we won't be having this conversation again, because I'm not going to go out of my way to meet up with someone who is constantly moaning and complaining."

I'm having tea with Keith Barry (37) at the K Club, and the talented magician and mentalist has some strong and pretty sensible opinions on being positive and bringing worthwhile change to your life. Even if it means losing a few pals along the way!

"Surround yourself with like-minded, positive people, and don't get caught up in the same mindset as other people," he says.

"That's what I do, and now I've got an amazing, and maybe slightly smaller, group of friends. It's far too easy to get caught up in the rut of complaining instead of affecting change."

It is this determination that has seen Keith rise to the peak of his game in the field of magic, illusion and mentalism on both sides of the Atlantic, pushing boundaries and testing limits all of the time. While chatting to him, you get the sense that nothing will derail his inexorable rise to the top – not even the horrible car accident in 2007 that threatened to leave him disabled.

SHATTERED

Keith was driving home from Belfast after concert promoter Jim Aiken's funeral, when a car careered over from the other side of the road and hit him head on. In the ensuing impact, his left leg was shattered.

"I was doing 60 mph and the other guy was too, so I should have been killed," he says.

"My left leg was mangled, and I had a demolished fibula and tibia, a broken knee, broken metatarsal, and my foot was facing the wrong way. I had a seven-inch plate put in my leg and 13 huge screws, and it's still in constant pain.

"It's not getting better – in fact, it will only degenerate and get worse. My orthopaedic surgeon and former Olympic swimmer, Gary O'Toole, said it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen."

Keith says "it's" to disassociate himself from the leg, because he chooses to ignore the fact that his leg still hurts all day, every day. He has a very high pain threshold, he says, and even though he limps first thing in the morning, he was determined that he wouldn't limp on a permanent basis, even though doctors advised him that this would be the case.

And how did the other guy in the accident come off, I wonder? "I'm not being a bad person, but I couldn't care less because he hit me and to this day I still don't know why," shrugs Keith. "It's all done and dusted now, but I'm quite a ruthless person, so when people ask me how he is, why would I care? He almost killed me and what I had to do was put my energy into getting better."

Keith spent almost a month in hospital, and three months after the accident, his leg was no better. He came to the conclusion that the best physios were likely to be looking after professional sportspeople, and managed to pull some strings to get an appointment at Anfield with the Liverpool football team's physio, Victor Salinas. The renowned physio advised him that what he was about to go through wouldn't be pretty.

"He said, 'You can sing, you can laugh, you can puke, you can p*ss yourself, and you can sh*t yourself – I've seen it all,'" Keith recalls. "My foot hadn't moved in three months and he pulled and ripped it every which way. It was three days of going through masses of pain, but I went home, limping, but walking again.

"A couple of weeks later, I went back over to him again, and this time he put me back on my feet again and I was able to get rid of my crutch. And then I came home and worked with Mark McCabe from Sports Med Ireland to get it to where it is today."

Keith says that while the accident didn't change his outlook on life, he told his wife Mairead afterwards that if he had been killed, the only thing he would have changed was that he would have loved to have had a family. A year later, their daughter Breanna (5), was born, and then they had a son, Braden (2).

Keith met Mairead in their hometown of Waterford, when he was 17 and she was 16. He was friends with her older brother, Cian, who knew she liked him, and decided to help things along the way.

So what does he like about Mairead? "Everything," he says. "We are always messing and have a lot of fun at home. She's a great mother, and what is unique about her is that she is very tolerant of what I do. I could go home tonight and say, 'I'm going to LA tomorrow for three months,' and she'd say, 'Grand.' Most women wouldn't allow that, but when you have the passion for what you do that I have, you're not going to not go! I think for people like me, a lot of our success comes down to the tolerance of the women in the background."

Keith's last shows have been quite dark and bizarre, and The Dark Side saw him performing feats based around the occult, with Ouija boards and past life regression. This time, his new show, Brain Hackers, is a fun, family-friendly mentalism show. On that note, I am a little freaked out that he has just guessed the name of my first boyfriend, Des, from the annual teenage hotbed of a summer in the Gaeltacht in 1982!

CHILDHOOD

It was actually while growing up in Williamstown in Waterford, that Keith was given a magic set for Christmas when he was five, which is how it all began. He and his sister Michelle had a lovely childhood, picking blackberries and mushrooms and calling into their grandparents who lived next door. His dad Ken and mum Kitty were very tolerant of his emerging interest in magic, although he remembers asking his mother to wrap his head in clingfilm as tightly as possible during The Eight Deadly Sins stage show, to which the poor woman replied, 'What in God's name are you doing Keith?' But she took part in the act, anyway! He actually passed out one night on stage while performing the stunt, but Keith believes in pushing himself to the absolute limit, even to the point of being tasered by a policeman on his Discovery Channel show, Deception, where he had 50,000 volts shot into him with two darts!

Keith decides on what it is he wants to achieve, and then sets about working out the steps necessary to achieve the end results.

He began this at an early age, as he bought a book on hypnosis at 14, and taught himself the techniques. The first time he successfully used hypnosis was to convince his pal David Burke that he was a chicken in their Irish class at school.

While the prank landed them both in hot water, and Keith was threatened with suspension, it had a lasting effect on the tricky twosome. Keith realised that he could successfully hypnotise people, while David was so impressed that he borrowed the book from him and is now a professional, practising hypnotherapist in Waterford.

Keith went to NUI, Galway, to do an honours degree in chemistry, and Mairead also attended the university to study psychology. He was actually given an award for achieving the highest marks in chemistry finals at that time, and had a paper published.

After graduation, he went to work with cosmetics company, Oriflame, as a scientist, and while he loved his job of inventing women's make up (it was animal cruelty-free, he assures us) his heart lay with magic and mentalism.

He managed to persuade the management at The Kitchen nightclub to allow him into their VIP area once a week to demonstrate his techniques, and having impressed Pat Kenny there, soon found himself on The Late Late Show.

He decided to give up the day job, and worked doing magic for corporate events, weddings and children's parties (the last kids' party he ever did was for one of Gerry Ryan's children, 15 years ago) and then started making a name for himself with TV and stage shows. While his shows have always pushed the boundaries (who can forget him driving a car blindfolded, with terrified celebrities like Nicole Scherzinger in the passenger seat) he also spends a lot of time in the US, as he has become very successful there.

Keith has already had a CBS special, a show on MTV, headlined Planet Hollywood in Vegas, and is hoping to spend four to six months there this year, as he is currently in negotiation with three US networks for a new TV series. He also has a 50-date tour of Ireland coming up, and will perform in South Africa and Australia this year.

DEVASTATED

While his strong opinions can get him into trouble, Keith has a compassionate side and would like to set up and oversee a hypnotherapy clinic, where the therapists will have been trained in his techniques to help people.

Most people will recall how devastated he was when his beloved grandfather, Paddy Barry (82) was critically injured and subsequently died in hospital in 2009, after being attacked by thugs who kicked down his front door and forced their way into his Waterford home.

"And still to this day, nobody has been caught for it and nothing has been done," he says, sadly. "My grandfather was a quiet man, who went to the pub once or twice a week, and was sitting at home drinking a can of Dutch Gold when they broke in. His greatest fear was what actually happened, and he had four locks down his door but they were all smashed. I was so close to him, and still to this day, it is very raw and difficult, although as time goes on, you just have to move on and, I guess, suppress it."

While Keith says that being away from his family is hard, there are payoffs in the nice lifestyle they enjoy and he has great fun with his children during his down times. Breanna already loves performing magic tricks, and he has one wish for his children for the future.

"I hope they'll find something in life that they love and follow it with a passion, because most people don't do that," he says.

They plod along, bored, and complain about their lives, instead of getting up and doing something about it, which can be bloody hard but is so worthwhile. I don't know too many people who jump up on a Monday morning excited for work, l but do, and that's what I want for my kids."

The six-part Keith Barry: Brain Hacker series begins on Sunday, January 12, at 9pm on TV3. Keith's 50-date Brain Hacker tour, including 14 nights at the Olympia Theatre, runs from March to May 2014. See dates on www.keithbarry.com


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