I started doing magic aged 6, when my parents bought me a Paul Daniels Magic Set and Ali Bongo’s Book of Magic for Christmas. Little did they know that these two seemingly innocent gifts would be the beginning of a lifelong interest in all things magical...
Of course, some of the tricks were a little too advanced for my six-year-old hands but I was instantly taken by the idea of magic, of being able to do the impossible. I wanted to make things vanish or appear at my fingertips, to read minds or float objects in mid-air. Growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, Paul Daniels was still a familiar face on television and I remember being blown away by David Copperfield’s TV specials. My parents would record these specials and I’d watched them over and over again until the tape (yes, VHS!) wore out, partly trying to work out the secrets but mainly just to watch the incredible magic performances. Walking through walls, getting sawn in half by a buzz-saw or escaping from a chained crate thrown into the Niagra Falls...he did it all, without ever messing up his man-perm. Now that's magic!
Magicians say that the second time you get into magic, you're hooked for life – and I’d agree. Later in my teens, with the internet making buying magic books and tricks much easier, I became interested in magic again, and in a much bigger way. I now had the commitment and patience to really work at magic, it wasn’t just a phase but now a possible career option. As a college student, I started making a bit of extra money doing children’s parties and local festivals. A few years later I went off to London to train in Drama and children’s theatre, but still found time to work for an agency doing events across the city. A particular highlight was playing a wizard for Books Etc, for the launch of one of the Harry Potter books.
Fast forward a few years and now magic is what I do for a living. Whether performing at birthday parties, tourist attractions or weddings, consulting on illusions for stage productions or teaching the next generation of young magicians at The Grand Opera House – I love every minute of it!
I still look back very fondly at Ali Bongo’s Book of Magic in particular, it was my first magic book and incredibly inspiring to a young magician. One of the make-it-yourself tricks in it is now being sold by an online magic shop for £82.50! Sadly no longer with us, as well as a great magician himself Ali Bongo was also an illusion consultant for Paul Daniels and said to be the inspiration for the character of Jonathan Creek. I had the pleasure of interviewing him at The Magic Circle for a project I was working on, and he couldn't have been more helpful - sharing his own ideas and vast knowledge of magical concepts. He was well respected by many magicians, and in fact became president of The Magic Circle for a number of years.
Ali Bongo (1929-2009)
I regretted letting his book go to a car boot sale, but my wife recently found me a copy on eBay. It brought back many happy memories of performing magic shows in my back garden in a cardboard top hat and my Dad’s ill-fitting suit. I’d design my own posters with felt-tipped pens and charge friends and family 10p to come and watch...a young entrepreneur!
I still often flick through the book, and I recommend it to the children I teach - it's full of good advice, fascinating artwork and great routines. Magic has changed a lot over the years, with the likes of David Blaine and Derren Brown, but the principles have basically stayed the same. Now magic tricks are often sold individually on DVDs or in kits, but old books are jammed full of tips, tricks and ideas. It's exciting to be able to teach the next generation of magicians at The Magic Hatter's School of Wizardry and to regularly perform for audiences who, often, still believe in magic and the 'impossible'!