It may not be the coolest answer but The Paul Daniels Magic Show was probably the show that was most influential to me as a kid.
It was a classic magic variety show, proper Saturday-night family viewing, which I came to when I was around eight years old when magic was in its prime, attracting millions of viewers. It introduced me to the world of magic and I quickly became hooked. I got my first magic set shortly after and would always ask for a new magic book or magic trick for my birthday and at Christmas.
It was an incredible show, full of international guests and different types of acts, right through to ventriloquism and juggling, the kind of which you just don’t really see any more on television. Now it’s more about celebrity or having a competitive angle to the format, whereas this was far more about the performances and the actual content. It was always inspiring and Paul Daniels was a brilliant host.
I was 11 or 12 when my dad managed to track down Paul Daniels’ agent. He phoned him up and said: “My son’s a magician and would love to go professional and he loves Paul Daniels’ show!” He offered me some great advice and got us tickets to a charity show that Paul Daniels was hosting in Middlesbrough. I was lucky enough to meet him afterwards and he put me in contact with a magician and friend of his called Harry Nicholls, who was based in Leeds, close to where I lived.
From the age of 14, I started having hour-long magic sessions with Harry once every two weeks or so, where he would teach me much of his working men’s club set from his heyday. Some of it is arguably a little dated now, but it was attention-grabbing stuff and fun to perform. I learned a lot from Harry, and still perform some of that material to this day. I subsequently joined the junior section of the Northern Magic Circle and that was another turning point, allowing me to grow as a performer and building my confidence. Once I turned 16, I started working as a close-up magician at hotels and restaurants, using it to pay my way through university.
Often as a close-up magician, you’re employed to entertain at a large function, but much of that has to happen in the background, as you’re not the reason people are there. And so a lot of the time the magic has to pack a punch and do it quickly too. I always used to mix comedy in with the magic – and gradually the comedy took over.
I ultimately think that comedy is more difficult than magic. There are fewer places to hide in comedy. Or at least it’s easier to be a lazy close-up magician than a lazy comedian. But maybe I’m just talking about myself!
I’m still always reading magic books. I’ve got a pile in my bedroom about 10 high still to get through, and I’d love to do a straight magic show at some point or some kind of storytelling show that involves magic – anything to give the viewer that feeling I had when I was a kid.
Intelligence season two is on Sky One and Now on 8 June