Thursday, 4 June 2015

Interview: Pickpocket extraordinaire James Freedman, star of Man Of Steal

Following a run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, pickpocket extraordinaire James Freedman has transferred his show Man Of Steal to the West End.

James describes himself as an honest pickpocket, educating people to avoid them becoming victims. Directed and co-written by Edward Hilsum, Man Of Steal runs at Trafalgar Studios for a limited run until 4th July 2015.

Man Of Steal sees James exposing how the bad guys really work. James reflects a lifetime spent studying hustlers, street criminals and con-men. Fuelled at an early age after falling victim to muggers and further inspired by watching child pickpockets on the streets of Paris, he began a lifelong study of stealth crime and the psychology of thieves. 

James is the only man to have picked the pockets of The Mayor of London, The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England. With his hands having been insured for £1m, his expertise is courted by the entertainment industry with his consulting on the film of Les Misérables, and Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist, the BBC’s Hustle and as The Real Hustle’s ‘pickpocket expert’. 

He also works alongside the Police Forces and other security professionals as an advisor, speaker and educator on the subjects of crime prevention, social engineering and fraud – particularly the growing areas of bank card fraud and identity theft. He has recently appeared in a regular slot on the Channel 5’s series Police 5, demonstrating the latest scams and how to avoid them.

I recently spoke to James about why he's one of the good guys, what happened when someone tried to buy a ticket to the show using a stolen debit card and being kept on his toes each night by different audiences…

You must be thrilled to have brought Man Of Steal to the West End following your sell out run at the Menier?
I’m massively excited! It’s great to be sharing it with a wider audience. It was originally written entirely as an entertainment, but part of my natural character is to want to share safety tips and advice with people. It’s always really nice when people say they enjoyed the show, and they’re also saying “I will never carry my car keys in that way again, I’m not going to put my credit card in my wallet that way and I’ve changed my pin number” – it’s just fantastic that it’s making people safe too. Because of that the police are interested in using the show to get the message out there as well which is really good.

Have you made any changes for the West End?
A little bit, we’ve got a little more space now to tell them a bit about me. I like the moments where I’m able to be completely truthful with the audience…

Well I think some moments are surprisingly touching which people don’t necessarily expect.
That’s lovely to hear! I love telling the audience about when I worked with the police as a ten year old – the police were in our house trying to look at something going on next door – and about how I remember thinking ‘how can I get my stuff back?’ from the bullies after I had been beaten up. Those are the moments I don’t have to hold back any information. The nature of what I know is that I know how to compromise someone’s debit card and I know how to steal it and I know how to get a pin number – in fact there are ways of using it without getting hold of the pin number. That’s all interesting, but of course I’m very aware that I don’t want to give a complete blue print for crime. I always assume that there’s one not very nice guy in the audience who’s just out for tips, and I never want to create a monster. 

Have you ever heard of anything like that happening?
At the Chocolate Factory someone actually came to the box office and tried to buy a ticket with a stolen credit card!

No way!
Amanda (Holland) from the box office put it through and it said ‘Please retain card’, she looked at the card and it was a girl’s name, even though the person standing there was a guy. She said “Are you the card holder, sir?” 
He said, “No.”
“Is she with you?”
“She’s in the bar.”
“Could you get her please? I just need her to authorise the payment.”
He went to grab the card, she pulled back to keep it and he did a runner. She came to tell me and I was able to track the cardholder online so I contacted them. She knew she’d had her purse stolen out of her bag the day before – this woman lived in a pickpocket hot spot – she was pickpocket aware but just hadn’t noticed. 

People don’t realise how hard it is to get up onstage and perform a one-man show like this. How do you find doing it each night and instantly adapting to the different audiences?
I’m smiling because you’re 100% right – people don’t realise. I never quite know what is going to happen because I don’t know what they are going to have in their pockets and how they are going to react. The only word I can think of to cover it is ‘alacrity’, and that comes from, I guess, years of doing it. 

And the different volunteers must keep you on your toes?
It’s very, very funny because sometimes the whole audience can see what I’m doing, except for the person to whom I’m doing it. I treat the people who come onstage as the real stars of the show because, honestly, without them there would be no show and I would never, ever want to embarrass anyone or show anyone up. I think I do it with sufficient charm.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

James Freedman: Man Of Steal runs at Trafalgar Studios until 4th July 2015.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit:  Jack Sain

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