When you work in entertainment every gig is something special and different but there are still some performances that stand out from the rest. Usually it’s for good reasons, occasionally it’s for bad reasons and sometimes it’s for hilarious reasons! Here are five stories from early in my career when I was learning the entertainment ropes .
My First Show
I suppose we should begin at the beginning. I think it was Christmas 1987 or 1988. I owned one magic book and possibly one magic set, and my primary school decided the Christmas show this year was going to be a variety show. Now, when I was a kid I was PAINFULLY shy, but I loved doing magic so I volunteered to do my own five-minute set of magic tricks. Everyone else did performances in pairs or groups, lots of it was put together by the teachers but I went up there completely solo wearing a dickie bow and a cape made from a bin-liner and did card tricks for what seemed like my entire village! I’d love to say it went brilliantly but I probably just got polite applause and my mum didn’t explode with embarrassment, which is still a result! I was hooked and have been performing at every opportunity since.
Just over ten years later I joined the entertainment team at Camelot Theme Park and this is where I really paid my dues and learned how to entertain. In the beginning my main duties were mucking out horses, operating the puppets for the Sooty Show and assisting with the jousting tournament which was a live stunt show in front of up to 3,000 people. I spent that time watching and learning from some great entertainers, particularly Steve Royle, Martin Pemberton and Paul Roberts and I quickly went from being in the background or behind the scenes to being the jester. I warmed up the crowd of 3,000 people before the joust and did my own little half-time show, as well as performing two magic shows and two magic workshops in my own little theatre. During the summer this was seven days a week for about ten weeks! It was an intense apprenticeship but it was the perfect place to try new material and very quickly hone it to perfection.
I could tell a thousand stories about the things that went on at Camelot, in fact it may be a blog for another day, but among the pranks, the accidents, the friends and the shows I will never forget ‘Flying Filth’. There was a stunt in the show where I had to ski while being pulled behind a galloping horse then do a little jump over a ramp but on the last show of the season we decided to let one of the other characters, called ‘Filth’, have a try. I expected him to just fall over straight away and we’d all have a good laugh but he did much better than that. He was wobbly from the start and kept looking like he was about to fall at any moment but somehow he made it to the ramp…. and flew! When I say he flew I mean he FLEW! Superman style, higher and further than anyone had ever flown before! Then landed, face first in the mud. The crowd were in hysterics. The knights and squires were in hysterics. The king (who was also our actual boss) went purple with laughter and couldn’t stop for about five minutes. No one could! There is a video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUNeYFQwxwA) which doesn’t really do it justice but it’s still worth a look.
While working my way up through the entertainment ranks at Camelot I got roped into doing a promotional appearance at the MEN arena in Manchester during an ice-hockey game. I was told I’d just have to wear a costume and hand out fliers before the game and during the first couple of intervals (or whatever they’re called in ice hockey!) It soon transpired that the costume wasn’t one of the usual medieval outfits, it was a great big dragon costume that was ridiculously cumbersome and I could hardly see out of it. I then found out that I was also expected to go out on the ice, entertain the crowd a bit, then do a hockey shoot out with the Manchester Storm mascot- Lightning Jack. I struggled to walk in the outfit on concrete but now I had to walk out into the centre of an ice-rink and hit hockey pucks into the goal from the half-way line without falling over or hitting anyone else with my stick. I don’t know how but I managed it, and beat Lightning Jack 2-1!
Premier League Santa
I spent a couple of Christmases working in grottos, first as an elf then as the main man himself: Santa! I’m far from being the right shape to play this part really but with enough padding and a fantastic outfit I pulled it off. Being able to do a bit of comedy banter as well as some magic set me apart from the usual grotto Santas and I soon found myself getting hired for big events and by rather wealthy clients including sports and TV stars.
The most memorable of these was when I did a personal appearance at a Premier League footballer’s house on Christmas Eve. I got changed in his garage full of sports cars, then snuck into the house past the indoor pool, picked up the massive sacks full of expensive presents that were provided and surprised the family in his kitchen. I think at the time I was still living in a caravan and this kitchen was at least twice the size of my entire living space. I had been booked for an hour so I handed out gifts and tried to have a bit of banter to the small gathering of about ten people but it soon transpired that English was no one’s first language, in fact they hardly spoke it at all! Plus the youngest child (who this was mostly for) was absolutely terrified and hid in the living room the entire time I was there. Fortunately, there was a LOT of presents but trying to communicate was still pretty painful and I only managed about 45 minutes. Still, I’d given it 110%, the footballer who had hired me seemed over the moon (not sick as a parrot) and all the family were really happy so it was a success overall.
Scoop and Friends
In 2009 I had the bright idea of putting on a theatre show with a few of my friends. At this point I was pretty inexperienced but I thought I could pull it off and, unbelievably, I did! I’ve done lots of theatre shows since, either on my own, with friends or as part of big variety shows, but that first one, with Mark James, Martin Pemberton and Paul Roberts at Chorley Little Theatre will always be my favourite. I look back at it now and think it was a bit all over the place and a lot of the stuff I did wasn’t very original but we had a full audience and somehow it all worked. For the big finale me and Paul Roberts did a card trick where we threw knives at each other, something that as far as I know hadn’t been attempted before and hasn’t since, and it went brilliantly! Unfortunately, the video camera ran out of tape (remember tape?) so there is no record of this one-time stunt. It’s still one of the favourite things I’ve ever done and if you were there that night you were part of something special. If you didn’t see it I do a different version of it in my cabaret show which is almost as good so come see that!
And that’s my most unforgettable gigs from when I was paying my dues. in the not too distant future I’ll share some stories of memorable gigs since I’ve been a more established performer. Please feel free to comment and share as always. Also, If you would like to hire a versatile magician who is experienced in a wide variety of entertainment situations please feel free to get in touch by one of the methods below.