Get IOL's cool new iPad app...
By Andrew Cawthorne
London - Nauseated by his own odours but inspired by crowds of teenage girls, American showman David Blaine is just days away from completing a 44-day starvation stunt inside a Perspex box that has both fascinated and infuriated Britons.
The handsome, 30-year-old New Yorker appeared languid but cheerful on Tuesday - raising a hand to groups of girls shouting "We Love You, David!" as he lay stretched inside his box dangling from a crane beside the River Thames.
"This last week is the tough part - I can feel it getting really hard," Blaine told viewers watching 24-hour reality TV coverage of his bizarre ordeal, which is due to end on Sunday.
Blaine, who says he has only been consuming water via a tube since entering the box on September 5, has been complaining he smells of sulphur and has repeatedly said what he most longs for is to bathe and clean his teeth.
The illusionist has also shown signs of delusion, dreaming of worms in his stomach and describing feelings of claustrophobia where the Perspex walls "feel like they're crushing my skull apart."
Thousands of Britons gather day and night at the box to taunt, laud or simply ponder Blaine.
His enemies - who deride him as an American upstart doing a pointless stunt - have sought to keep him awake with fog-horns and drums; and have attacked the box with golf balls, paint and rotten eggs.
Displaying a peculiar cruelty that has intrigued highbrow commentators and sociologists, the anti-Blaine camp has also tormented him by waving odorous fish-and-chips, hamburgers and other food at him.
Women have mockingly bared their breasts, men their buttocks. One woman ran totally naked under Blaine on Monday.
"It's not big, it's not clever, it's a grown man in a plastic box," sniffed one British website "dedicated to keeping David Blaine awake for 44 days and nights" (www.wakedavid.co.uk).
Despite such vitriol, sympathy has grown for Blaine and most people crowding under the box on Tuesday spoke up for him.
"They are all probably ugly and jealous," 16-year-old Suzannah Dickson said of Blaine's detractors.
She and two other friends, all there "because he is very good-looking", won a wave from Blaine - and a display of his tattoos - after placing banners below his box and yelling greetings.
"He's giving a great show of mind-over-matter. And it his job to entertain, isn't it?" said Kara Nesbitt, 16, adding: "When he looked at us, you could see he has got really white teeth and the biggest smile."
With the guarded zone beneath Blaine looking ever more like a shrine, covered in banners and "offerings" of flowers and teddy bears, the magician has become a puzzling symbol to Britain's chattering classes.
For some Blaine represents American hegemony riding over the world, while one columnist saw him symbolising celebrities floating above the masses but suffering their own isolation. The mystic overtones of a suffering, bearded and often bare-chested man waving wanly to onlookers gazing up at him have also struck chords.
Critics say Blaine's voluntary fast insults the world's hungry and the memory of dead Northern Irish hunger-strikers.
"Whether we love him or loathe him, David Blaine is proving that one of the easiest tricks in the world is to get under the skin of the British," wrote the Observer newspaper. "Having an American over-confident, over-hyped and overhead is more, apparently than many of us can bear."