Paul Daniels: My family values

The magician talks about his family

My mum, Nancy, and dad, Newton, loved each other to bits, so I was fortunate to have a happy childhood. They were a formidable double act. He was Mr Practical, she was brilliant with the money. Everybody liked them.

I borrowed the name Paul from my first son, who was born in 1960. I was born Newton Edward Daniels, everyone called me Ted, but Paul worked better for showbusiness.

My first home, a bungalow in Mablethorpe, on the east coast, where my dad was a cinema projectionist, was blown to bits by the Luftwaffe one night. It was a lucky escape. I was a toddler. My mum stood, transfixed as she heard the whistling sound of a bomb approaching. She ran across the road with me in her arms, only just making it into our neighbour's house before the bomb exploded and flattened ours. My dad, who was at work, was greatly relieved to find us safe.

Our next home was a two-up, two-down in Lower Oxford Street, in South Bank, Middlesbrough. Was it the poverty that made the community so strong? The whole neighbourhood pulled together and helped each other. Every Friday we had a bath in front of the open fire in the front room. Outside at the back of the yard was a toilet in a small brick outhouse. Going to the toilet in winter toughened you up no end. My mum was very house-proud so everything was as clean as it could be.

Granny Lloyd, a few doors away from us, was the town midwife and undertaker, in that she used to lay out the bodies and get them ready for the latter. She used to say: "I get them coming and going."

I was the first boy from my area to get to grammar school. Where I came from, your destiny was set early on. You went to the steelworks or the docks or, if you were lucky, were articled as a clerk in a solicitors or accountants. I was an avid reader and because of that I got a scholarship to Sir William Turner's Grammar School in Redcar. It was six miles on the bus each way.

My youngest brother died at six weeks of age. I was too young to know what it meant, but now I think how devastating it must have been for my parents. He was called a blue baby, as he had a heart problem. In those days, there was nothing doctors could do. He seemed to improve and we all got used to having him with us until one day my mum discovered him dead in his cot. It was a terrible blow for her and my father, but the grief seemed to pull us together.

My ambition to become a magician was purely seen as a hobby. It was handy, as it meant kids at school liked me more. But I was meant to take a proper job. Show business, acting – that just wasn't proper work where I came from.

When my girlfriend, Jackie, got pregnant it was a total shock. It was the late 50s, so I sat down with my parents and hers, and we agreed to get married. That is how it was in those days. It wasn't the best marriage – Jackie left me in 1962 when my first son, Paul, was 18 months old. She just left a note, saying she'd gone off with her dancing partner, someone she'd met socially. She came back a week later, and I thought that my son needed a mother so we made another go of it. We stayed together, had two more sons, Martin and Gary, whom I love and cherish, but eventually parted company. I've been married to Debbie for 33 years. I was so lucky to meet her.

I don't understand people who say they hate their mother or their father. You should find a way of loving your kin. My mum is still alive and going strong at 96, running her own house and I think the world of her. She lives only half an hour away. My three sons are scattered across the country – in Wigan, Cheltenham, Doncaster – but we all keep in touch and I'll do anything for my family. Debbie and I are both like that. Family comes first.

The spring tour 2012 of Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow features Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee . Details

Roz Lewis

The GuardianTramp

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