What inspired you to get pensioners to steal art?
‘I used to live down the road from an elderly couple in Bristol. There was a very chatty lady who was always out on the street talking to people as they went past. It sometimes got a bit exhausting, so I crossed the road to avoid the same conversations every time. Then she died, leaving her husband a bit lost because he had never really engaged with people. I went to his house in the end and he started telling me these amazing stories. It was a lesson in how people really do have stories to tell, but they become a little bit invisible. That invisibility seemed like a really good thing to use as a strength.’
How did you select your thieves?
‘They applied by writing letters rather than emailing! We needed people who would be up for it – not the sort of people who would go halfway and then pull out because their grandkids might be watching.’
You’ve usually worked with younger people. How did this differ?
‘Younger people probably appeal to the cameras more, they’re part of a culture that is ultra-aware of TV. These guys were happy to take anything on board and deal with what they got. It was very impressive. There is a cliché that at that age you’ve sort of seen it all and done it all, so you don’t really mind so much what people think. Which is something to really look forward to, if that is the case. We did a thing at the beginning, which didn’t make it into the show, where I took them all out for dinner. And I left early and called them up to say that they had to leave without paying. And they were as cool as cucumbers about it. Almost too cool!’
Did you learn anything from them?
‘I’m 42 and I’ve started to think about the things you need to have in place now to make sure you’re not regretful, or bitter, or lonely later on. If I could be like Rachel when I’m older, that would be great. She swims in Hampstead Pond every morning throughout the winter. Eight o’clock in the morning. She’s amazing. But they were all very engaged with life and very engaged with their retirement. It’s good to know that you don’t stop doing things just because you hit 65.’
‘Derren Brown: The Great Art Robbery’C4, Friday Dec 13, 9pm.