IT'S not every day you go for a coffee and end up getting your mind read. That's what happened to me when I caught up with Bangor-born magician and Blue Peter presenter Joel Mawhinney, aka Joel M.
Joel was introduced to magic at just five years old and has been perfecting his skills over the past two decades.
"I don't remember not doing magic," says the 25-year-old. My Papa was a big fan of Paul Daniels and it all started with some little magic kits he bought me on holiday.
"I can't give away my secrets, but I can give you a demonstration," he teases, explaining there is a difference between mind reading and influence.
"So I'll show you the difference between popping a thought into someone's head and getting a thought out," says Joel, asking me to choose a random word, write it down on a piece of paper and fold it.
I notice that Joel has his head turned while I was write.
"Next, I'll try and pop a thought in your head first. Think of a number one to 1,000. I know which number you will pick already, so don't stress about that," he tells me, writing down the number on a piece of paper.
First giving me a chance to change my number, Joel does indeed reveal the exact number that had popped into my head.
Next came 'my word'. I had chosen the word 'know', probably because subconsciously I was thinking 'how would he know my word?'.
"I do this letter by letter,'' said Joel reciting the alphabet out loud, only interrupting to tell me "try your best not to give this away". To my amazement he stopped at the letter K and quickly followed by telling me my word.
My simple reply was "that's bonkers". So how did he do it?
"There's a lot that goes into it - there's magic techniques, psychology and misdirecting. Every person is different. Not everyone blinks or taps their foot - so you have to get a baseline first, which I find easier to do if you have a chat with somebody beforehand."
I ask Joel, if he could use that influence to his advantage in somewhere like a casino?
"I'm going to Vegas in January so we shall see," laughs Joel, who often tricked his school teachers by telling them their bank PIN numbers or unlocking their phones.
"I think the teachers let me get away with some stuff because they enjoyed my magic, but I never used it to cheat in exams or anything. I choose to use it for entertainment," says Joel, who studied history, drama, history and English at A Level.
His fascination with mentalism grew throughout his teenage years. Seeing illusionists Joshua Jay, Criss Angel, Dynamo and Derren Brown perform live, as well as mentoring from Scottish stage mentalist Colin Cloud, Joel was fascinated by the influencing human behaviour side of magic.
"It's a bit more tactile and you're dealing with people, not just props. Every person is different, and thus every show and every trick is different."
With his own media studio built in Holywood, Joel continues exploring this aspect of magic with his podcast Influenced, which he describes as "Derren Brown for the podcast generation". In the show Joel performs magic with his voice alone, interviewing a celebrity guest each week and using his subliminal messaging skills.
He has amassed more than 16.5 million TikTok followers thanks to mind-blowing videos and behind-the-scenes explanations. Ironically he has less time than ever to post online, because his magic and personality also attracted the attention of television producers and last month Joel became the 41st Blue Peter presenter.
"They had me on the show as a guest doing magic in the summer and looking back that was absolutely a screen test. It's been really fun so far and getting to know the team. And I love the adrenaline of the live shows."
Joel, whose first live gig was in a cabaret club at the age of 11, admits that his performing experience helps him in his new role – especially when things don't go according to plan.
"Stuff goes wrong all the time. I've had predictions go wrong and I've hurt myself on some shows. But the good thing with magic is people don't notice because you can take it in any direction you want.
"Likewise, on BP the ability to know that if something goes wrong, you can just talk and not stress is a great skill to have."
During our chat, Joel reveals some behind-the-scenes Blue Peter secrets, including the fact that the shows aren't scripted and there is no autocue.
"We have to memorise our lines, although we do have an earpiece so if you are really struggling they will prompt. We do a full run as if it was live in the afternoon and do the actual live show half an hour later."
His biggest fear though is tripping over Henry the dog live on set. "It's gonna happen sometime," laughs Joel, who confesses to not being the most spatially aware.
"I've had staved fingers and swollen limbs. Recently I was in A&E two hours before a Blue Peter show with a messed up leg after I dropped a dumbbell on it. The thing is, as a presenter and a performer, the show must go on."
Having already kayaked and cliff jumped in Scottish waters during his first Blue Peter trip, viewers can watch Joel and fellow presenter Mwaksy Mudenda travel to Iceland during the St Stephen's Day special.
"It was great craic, even though it was freezing," shivers Joel, with effect. "We drove quads on an ice beach of volcanic ash and ice climbed down a glacier.
"It gets dark very early there so we had only so much light to film and had to be on location before the sun came up. It took hours to shoot the ice climbing and all we had to keep us warm was hand pouches, but I wasn't complaining.
"I'm one of these people who will do anything, though I don't necessarily think it's amazing when it's happening and often can't wait for it to be over.
"I think that makes it funnier. If I was an adrenaline junkie, it wouldn't make good TV. I live quite safely day-to-day, so this job is good for pushing me out of my comfort zone," adds Joel, who isn't so fond of the cooking segments on the show.
He was delighted to be able to keep his trademark style, including rings, nail varnish and floppy hair, albeit he had to compromise by using a pin to keep his hair out of his face.
"No matter how much hairspray we use it will find a way of falling over my face," he laughs.
"Growing up I wasn't goth, but a bit edgy. I've always liked jewellery. Thankfully they didn't make me change, it's part of who I am."
It's been quite a year for Joel, so has he any New Year resolutions for 2023?
"I believe that it doesn't matter what day the year it is, you can always change a habit. But my big goal for the coming year is to learn as much as I can about being a presenter and give it my everything. It's going to be really, really busy."