Just for once, Uri Geller’s mystical powers desert him. The paranormalist who, on the command of “One, two, three” can make the strangest things happen, seemingly defying nature and the natural order of the world, is unable to predict the precise opening date of his eponymous museum in Jaffa.
He says that he hopes it will be on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day), but he can’t confirm whether that will be the Hebrew date (corresponding with April 28 this year) or the English anniversary (May 14), seeking guidance from his ever-faithful brother-in-law, his right-hand man, Shipi Strang, who confuses matters further by proffering a March date.
Even for Uri, the eternal optimist and proponent of positive thinking, this is far too optimistic.
He can perhaps be forgiven for the lack of positivity on this occasion since he is in the hands of Salem Kasem, a Druze builder specialising in the restoration of historic buildings who has discovered the unexpected as work progresses.
Secret rooms have revealed themselves and the history of the building has emerged in startling detail.
Uri has no idea precisely how old the premises are. Nobody knows.
When he relocated to Israel in 2015 after three decades in Britain and chose to settle in Jaffa, which is contiguous to his native Tel Aviv, he was immediately drawn to the ancient stone-vaulted building.
This is not unusual for Uri, who senses things that mere mortals do not.
He has a history of divining for water, oil and minerals, a skill which earned him fortunes from companies who flew him over tracts of land to pinpoint precious resources, so his innate power to identify the perfect museum premises, even subconsciously, was perhaps inevitable.
He fell in love with the building which is more or less below where he lives and occupies an elevated position at the entrance to Jaffa.
It had been neglected for years, was full of rubble and in need of major work which, because it enjoyed protected status, needed to be carried out within strict regulations.
No-one had the slightest idea about its history, save for the fact that directly in front of it is some jagged brickwork at the end of a wall which, Uri says, was where Napoleon broke through into Jaffa in March 1799 and siezed it from the Ottomans.
As work renovation progressed, it became obvious that there was far more to the building than anyone had imagined.
Hidden rooms started to emerge, a stone tethering ring for a horse was found on a wall and initially it was decided there might have been a bakery there at one time.
Uri speculates that the rooms below ground level might have been Napoleonic dungeons, but the piece de resistance is the discovery of a 1,000-year-old soap factory complete with underground vaults, mixing troughs, water cisterns and a large cauldron.
He has found pictures of a site in Nablus which is identical and has identified a bronze pot in that city of similar vintage to the factory, which would have been used in soap manufacture.
An ancient furnace has been revealed and bricks bearing the logo of a Scottish manufacturer in Fife, which, coincidentally, is near Lamb island in the Firth of Forth, which Uri owns.
They were used to repair the furnace 120 years ago.
Meanwhile, Salem and his crew of 15 continue to chip away painstakingly at the concrete that has been added over the years, hiding internal brickwork which has been revealed gradually in all its ancient splendour.
In another recently discovered room, the walls were found to be soaked in ancient olive oil, probably from the time of the Crusades.
The frontage is dominated by a giant bent spoon (naturally), which, at 53 feet-plus, has been verified by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest.
Even before the museum has opened, it has already become a magnet for visitors eager for some of the Geller magic and luck to rub off on them.
During my visit last week, a group of international lawyers taking time out from an official visit to Israel, were overwhelmed to encounter the man himself, one exclaiming excitedly: “I can’t believe I’ve met Uri Geller. He’s so normal.”
I’d hardly describe Uri as “normal” — and neither would he. After all, it’s only a matter of weeks ago that he saw himself as the perfect candidate for a role at No 10 Downing Street after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings appealed for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to apply for new jobs there.
The lawyers were happy to place their hands over a bronze cast of Uri’s hand on the reverse of the spoon and make a wish, taking their choice very seriously.
The plaque includes also nano versions of the Old and New Testaments, the Koran and Hindu scripture and the original sphere of rock crystal that Uri claims Leonardo da Vinci painted into the hand of Christ in the 16th century painting Salvator Mundi which sold recently for $450 million.
Salvador Dali, with whom Uri worked for two years, gave him the crystal, insisting that it was da Vinci’s at that time.
“I thought he was kidding,” says Uri, “but when this Salvator Mundi painting was discovered I realised that he was telling the truth.”
When the museum opens, it will celebrate the life and times of Uri, chronicling a career without equal.
Apart from an original Jewish Telegraph front page featuring the remarkable case of Liverpool Lord Mayor Eddie Clein’s chain that fell apart at this newspaper’s 50th anniversary dinner in December, 2000, displays will also include some of Uri’s trademark giant crystals.
Pride of place will go to his famous Cadillac on which are mounted spoons signed by 2,600 celebrities.
There will be nine Dali sculptures as well as gifts he has received from Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein and many others.
At Altman’s Gallery next door there are unique, limited edition artworks, lithographs and plates hand-painted by Uri for Harrod’s.
The profits from their sale will benefit the Save a Child’s Heart charity.
When the museum opens, admission will be 23 Shekels. Surely, there had to be some numerical relevance to that figure, I ventured.
I’ve left Uri pondering that one, but doubtless he will come up with an explanation...
* Visit urigellermuseum.com
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