Over the past few years since I became a professional magician, I have done magic at dozens of events from charity balls and house parties to weddings and corporate events. I’ve done magic on the radio, at the BBC, and at swanky awards after-parties. I’ve done things in the last three years I would never have believed I’d ever get to do. And on the whole, I’m not going to lie, it’s been a blast!
But everybody has to start somewhere, right?
So today I want to tell you the story of my first ever gig.
It was at that time in my career when I could face an audience with little enough anxiety that I could actually function and not be too wooden. An impending performance no longer kept me up the night before. Now I wanted to prove to myself I could make a living doing this. I needed somebody I didn’t know to pay me to do magic.
A friend had connected me with the organisers of a student ball at the University of Bradford and I had sealed the deal for a knock-down price. But nonetheless, it was a paid gig.
Now, Bradford University and I have a bit of history: Before I was a professional magician, I had been a pharmacist. And before I was a pharmacist, I was a pharmacy student. And, you guessed it, I was a pharmacy student at Bradford University. Which rather interestingly meant, I had attended this very student ball a couple of times myself. Since then, they had renamed it the ‘Paracetaball’, a rather laboured pharmacy-themed pun intended to compete with the Optometry department’s rather unique ‘Eye Ball’ (a delightfully perfect play on words) but it was essentially the same event.
When I received the venue information, I wasn’t surprised.
“Nothing changes in Bradford,” I thought. It was in the exact same hotel as it had been in years gone by when I myself had attended. The Victoria Hotel across from the bus station. I knew where I was going. I could visualise the hotel, the entrance and the ball room in my mind, which made things easier.
However, I was still nervous about this one. I didn’t want to mess this up and I really wanted the people who hired me to think I had been worth the money. The stakes had changed. And as the day grew closer, the anxiety did build. Yes, I was quite experienced by this point at doing magic in front of strangers but the money changed everything. I was being paid. Which means I was being judged.
I rolled up to the venue about half an hour early – I didn’t want to be late for one thing, and for another, on Britain’s roads for the last few years, I’ve found that you never quite know whether a road will be open or closed after 7pm. And because of this, you can never really know how long your journey will take. So I always like to be early enough to be able to respond to an all-too-common traffic diversion and still arrive on time.
As I rolled up to the venue and parked up in the car park, I took a deep breath and then made my way into the hotel, heading directly for the ball room. There were already quite a few people in there, so I headed right in and started. Getting one set under my belt had always been an effective way of making me comfortable in the past. So I got stuck in.
The crowd were responsive, which soon alleviated my anxiety and silenced the little voice in my head that was asking whether I could really get paid for doing magic at parties and whether people would really think I was worth the money.
I think they did. They were loving me! And I was loving it! A crowd was gathering around the group I was performing to. I chose a member of the group, a young woman who looked interested and like she might be very agreeable and not give me any trouble. She was to be my participant for what was about to follow.
In no time at all, her jaw dropped as she exploded with glee. The card she was holding and only a few moments earlier had been the four of spades had now mysteriously become her chosen and signed eight of diamonds, “Oh my God!” The rest of the crowd roared. This was awesome!
It had however occurred to me on some level, that the students seemed a little… older… than students were in my day. But I suppose I’d mentally justified it with, “Young people look older nowadays.” Besides from which I’ve never been especially good at estimating a person’s age.
As I finished the set my phone rings.
It’s the guy who hired me. I pick up.
Upon talking to him, it turns out that some things do indeed change in Bradford. They may be holding the ball in the same hotel but they are in fact not holding it in the same function room. I am in the wrong place! And, as I explore further, it turned out I had just given a bunch of Yorkshire Water employees the best 10 minutes of their evening!
The real gig, I’m happy to say, did go equally well. And it turned out to be the first of many.
If you want me to perform at your wedding reception, student ball or private party, get in touch.
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