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Blaine Talkin'

HAWLEY GRIFFEN paddles his own canoe around the lake of fire to bring you these despatches from the infernal city of Dis.

BLAINE: Two minutes later, he was cradling a baby...

TO MANY, DAVID BLAINE is an enigma. A mystic savant, a sage, a guru. And yet, he remains a humble man of the people. Eschewing the glitz and glam of Las Vegas' magical excess, Blaine prefers to ply his own trade on the Manhattan sidewalks, pounding a relentless beat along those mean streets, making playing cards appear from behind elaborately corn-rolled heads or apparently smashing fake rolexes, only for them to emerge (from his crumpled Donna Karan handkerchief) gratifying unscathed. This urban jungle is his forum; he will never tire of displaying his love for the streets, nor exhibiting his admirable realness.

But to some enigma is too small a word for David Blaine. (Maybe if it had three e's in it. And seven a's). Because, to a growing number of people, David Blaine is more than that. Indeed, to a growing number of people, David Blaine represents nothing less than the saviour of humanity itself.

Blaine first appeared at the age of 12 performing slight of hand for the elders of the Magic Circle. Veteran Catskills sword-swallower Art Spiegel witnessed his debut. 'He was what you might call precocious, you know what I mean?', the octogenarian recalled 'I don't remember much about the tricks he was doin', but he already had that fruity little goatee.'

'Badoom - tish!', he added. 'Thanks. I'm here all week!'

Blaine's next public appearance was a seemingly improvised piece of trickery at a friend's wedding. The actor Kevin Spacey, friend and acolyte, takes up the story:

'The Wedding was in full swing, when all of a sudden, the quality of the wine seemed to just FREEFALL!

'I mean, we were drinking bottles of Chateau haut brian graves le grand Cru 1990! Let's just say the natives were getting more than a little restless! But David just walks up to the bar and starts explaining exactly what he's doing, in that slightly subnormal monotone of his, whilst doing something distracting with his hands.

'And the next thing you know everybody's drinking Chateau Petrus 1982 Pomerol and the party's right back on track. I tell you, I think he's just aces!'

During his rise to the top, Blaine has not been without his detractors. Haughty, indeterminately European Illusionists Siegfried and Roy have been amongst his most vocal critics.

'How can he even dare to call himself a Magician when he continues to verk on zer streets amongst zer lepers and prostitutes?' sniffed Siegfried (-or possibly Roy).

'Can he train a large Siberian tiger to ride a tricycle whilst zmoking der bubble pipe? I zincerely doubt it! He wants to be bloody well ztruck off !' he spat, bursting into uncontrolable sobs, and being escorted away under a security blanket.

DAVID BLAINE: So cool, he's icebox...

Perhaps Blaine's greatest rebuttal to his critics (and perhaps his followers surest claim for his extraordinary powers) was the reckless endangerment of his own life he undertook, with refreshingly little rationale, when he decided to bury himself in ice.

Blaine appeared triumphantly entering Manhattan, dressed in a seamless, shrink to fit Prada T-shirt and riding on a skateboard, flanked by 12 of his closest celebrity pals (amongst them Leonardo Dicaprio and Michael J. Fox ).

As the icy wall closed over him and the sky grew dark, Blaine appeared momentarily distracted and muttered something inaudible which followers claim may have been 'Forgive them Father' but which detractors have alleged was more likely to have been 'Shit! I'm really poorly prepared for this dangerous stunt!'

Time gathered outside the ice cave and the crowd grew silent.

Many of them went home as it was boring.

On the third day, as they rolled away the stone, it was a confused and disoriented David Blaine that emerged, babbling and unable to walk - but, miraculously alive. A visibly emotional Cameron Diaz later addressed the crowds 'Why do you continue to look here? He is risen. By helicopter ambulance'

Later, I managed to interview the man briefly and found him in a contemplative mood. As Tobey Macguire vigorously massaged his feet, I asked whether he truly was the anointed one, the deliverer of humanity, the Messiah? Blaine held me for a moment with those hypnotic eyes, a mysterious smile playing about his lips. When he answered his voice was just the merest whisper. 'It is you who say it.'

Then, pausing for a second he added. 'No. Don't be ridiculous! God no! What are you? Nuts?'