Paul Daniels is the UK’s best known and most successful magic act. He’s just about to commence a brand new tour, Back Despite Popular Demand. Martin Walker conducted a Three Minute Interview with Paul back in April, but this time round decided to do it properly. He also had the great pleasure of meeting the very lovely Debbie McGee.
Martin Walker: Hi Debbie, hi Paul. Nice to meet with you both. You’re about to commence a new tour I hear.
Paul Daniels: Oh, shut up!
Debbie McGee: Ha-ha, we’re looking forward to it.
MW: With a whole new show?
PD: Yes, there’s a lot of new stuff in there. The folk that came to last year’s tour who return this year will see a completely different show. It went really well last year, sold out lots of nights and everyone enjoyed it. The only criticism Debbie and I had is that there were two tricks that I’ve done all my life that weren’t in it. So they are back in.
MW: Your audiences enjoy your greatest hits?
PD: Yes, it was at that moment that I realised I’d become a pop star.
MW: Wasn’t last year supposed to be your farewell tour?
PD: Last year was our ‘First Farewell Tour’. That was the title. This year’s title is better.
MW: ‘Despite Public Demand’!
DM: We have thirty dates so far in the UK.
PD: And then he have to go off to perform in Spain.
PD: Having said that we started with around thirty dates last year and ended up doing over fifty. Once you have a show up and running and people hear about it, my management start getting phone calls from theatres saying, “Can he come and perform here?” and “Does he have to bring his wife?”
DM: Oh dear, it’s all coming out now.
PD: That’s because I only got one piece of toast this morning…
MW: Debbie is far too busy with her own radio show.
DM: That’s right. Every Sunday morning he makes his own. It’s BBC Radio Berkshire from 11am-2pm.
MW: You’ve been doing that a little while now?
DM: Yes, six or seven years now. I’m their longest running Sunday Show presenter.
MW: Wow, and everyone can get that on BBC iPlayer can they?
DM: Yes, on iPlayer and they can listen live online if they like.
MW: So how did you get into DJing?
DM: I don’t know why they asked me, but another presenter, Henry Kelly wanted to go on two weeks holiday, so I stood in. Once Henry was back they offered me my own show. It’s a great local radio station. Tony Blackburn, Mike Read, Anne Diamond all the greats.
MW: So what sort of show is it?
DM: The show has changed over the years. The current format is more a less a half hour of general chat, a gardening phone in hour, and then around an hour and a half of celebrity guests and show business. I have roped Paul in to the odd Christmas show, though he’d normally be at home washing up the breakfast dishes on a Sunday.
MW: So you can turn the tables on him a wee bit?
DM: Oh yes, I do. I give all our secrets away.
PD: I sit and listen to my jokes being badly told.
DM: Actually, that is true.
MW: One secret, of-course, that you don’t reveal is how the magic is done.
DM: Definitely not.
MW: I remember watching the Paul Daniels Magic Shows on TV growing up and scratching my head trying to work out how you did it. I’ve talked to many comics and especially magicians who perform at the Edinburgh Fringe, who say they were directly influenced by seeing you on TV Paul.
PD: You know, we have one hundred and forty seven VHS videos, all magic and comedy. They are never repeated on TV, but they are a great source of inspiration for when we change the contemporary shows. We employ a young man who watches them and if he says I like that bit, we look at it again and see if we can adapt it to work on stage.
MW: I see.
PD: We get a young following without being on TV as some of this stuff is out there on YouTube.
MW: Well if the chap you employ to watch your shows is ever off sick, where do I apply? What a brilliant job!
PD: Ha-ha! Yes, he’s been converting all the VHS tapes over to digital for us.
MW: Are the original Paul Daniels tapes still sitting at the BBC somewhere? Will we ever see an official DVD release?
PD: The BBC won’t repeat them, they won’t release them and they won’t sell them to me. I’ve applied in various disguises, but they always say “no”. I don’t know why. I think it’s because there was no cooking in any of them.
MW: How do you feel about the current entertainment output on TV?
PD: The Sunday Palladium show came back on last weekend but I haven’t seen it yet. It’s an old but very good idea. Why have all the impressionists, singers and comics in different shows? Why not mix them up? There’s no reason you can’t do that with modern performers. I find current TV very boring. It’s very samey. There’s nobody being Cecil B. DeMille and going for the spectacular.
MW: Do you watch dramas and stuff like that?
PD: Yes, if there is a good play on. I don’t watch soaps. I prefer stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. Once a year I listen to the Archers and I’ve caught up.
MW: Ha-haha. That’s very good.
PD: People who come to our live shows can expect a good laugh. In the early days I won all the comedy awards around the club circuit. Much of the humour was edited out of the TV show. “You are the magician! You can’t be funny!” I did sneak a bit of comedy in.
MW: But it’s a family show.
PD: Yes it is. It will baffle you, but in such a way that you won’t think about it till you’re on your way home. It’s a good night out, where you come home with a happy felling.
MW: What do you think about those in the industry that claim to have genuine supernatural powers?
PD: Magicians hate it, because they know that there is no such thing. Psychics are frauds, there is no one who can talk to the dead. We as magicians find it offensive. They use psychology and in some cases, straight forward conjuring tricks, to take money off people who are suffering. It should be made illegal.
MW: I personally couldn’t agree more.
PD: There is not one proven psychic, it’s just nonsense.
MW: So do you describe yourself as a skeptic?
PD: No, I’m not skeptical about it at all. I’d love it if a ‘real’ psychic came forward, but it’s not going to happen. A long time ago my cousin decided to become a monk and go to Thailand. He shaved his head and got himself an orange frock. I said, “There’s no need to go that far, we can start our own church here. I’ll provide the miracles in the back ground. You can be the front man.” Because that’s all that religion is. We should all be very happy with what we have got. We have got a life.
PD: Someone said to me the other day that life is too short. I pointed out that it is the longest thing we have got.
MW: You don’t believe in an afterlife or any of that?
PD: No I don’t. There isn’t one sniff of evidence for an afterlife. I can understand why people want to believe that one day we will all meet somewhere else. Psychics exploit those people and feelings and it’s wrong. If you want to know more, check out “The Fox Sisters” online (Wikipedia link) and find out how it all this spiritualism started.
MW: I will.
PD: We do a couple of “Mind-reading” tricks in the show. So far, even experienced magicians haven’t been able to figure out how we do it. So that’s genuine you see. Trust me, I was once examined by a doctor…
MW: It must make your blood boil because you know how all these psychics do their tricks. Anyway enough about them, back to you…
PD: Ha-ha. What’s the phrase again? “Enough about me, now what did you think oh my show?” Ha-ha.
MW: So after this tour, what next?
PD: Who knows? Just this week I’ve taken bookings from both Spain and America. It’s a wonderful job I’ve got. I never know where it’s going to take me and Debbie next.
MW: No thoughts of retiring?
PD: I tried it. I didn’t like it. I’m not one to sit around. It’s exceedingly boring, my brain is so active. I like to be doing something.
MW: I’ve been reading your autobiography, which came out in 2000. “Under No Illusion”.
PD: The publishers have been on to me to bring it up-to-date. Apparently I write well. But I hate doing it. Ha-ha.
MW: Well I’ll leave you to wrangle with your publishers. I live up in the Scottish Borders, but I’m hoping to get down to catch your new tour.
PD: You’re in the Scottish Borders? So do you get a vote in the upcoming independence referendum?
PD: English people living in Scotland are allowed to vote? Scots living elsewhere aren’t?
MW: That’s right.
PD: Weird. I get people tweeting and asking my opinion and I always reply that it’s nothing to do with me, its up to the Scots to decide. All I can say is that I hope everybody votes. So then nobody can argue about the result.
MW: Some pollsters are predicting a ninety percent turnout.
PD: That’s good.
MW: The big day is on Thursday.
PD: That’s only a big day because it’s our opening night… I do think it’s unusual – and I said this when I appeared in the Scottish Parliament, why would anybody vote for more politicians?
MW: You have a point.
PD: I don’t think of myself as English to be honest. I think of myself as “World”.