How I Got Started in Magic

Dean Metcalfe, 18th July 2019

So how did it all begin?

People often ask me how I got started in magic. What was it that inspired me? Well, it all began in my childhood and with an early fascination with TV magic.

Childhood

You’d probably think that as a magician, I’d have had bucketloads of confidence as a child. After all, it would be difficult to imagine how anyone could carve out a career in magic if they lacked confidence. But, the young Dean Metcalfe was a bit of a shy, awkward kid and self-confidence was definitely not one of his strong points.

Growing up in London, my childhood was quite problematic and not always a happy environment. I am sure this contributed to my lack of confidence. For a while, I certainly had less confidence than most other kids of my age.

However, I soon found a way to overcome this. And that way was magic.

The TV Magicians

At a young age, I was always fascinated by magic long before Paul Daniels came along onto our TV screens. David Nixon was the first TV magician I remember and I sat glued to the TV watching his shows and his variety of both close up tricks and larger illusions.

Aware of my keen interest in magic, my parents bought me a magic set at around that time and the first ever trick I remember trying to work out was a real old classic called the egg cup. This was made of plastic and was really just a plastic ball in the cup. You would put the lid on and the ball would disappear or reappear or even change colour – many versions are available of this trick. The original version many years ago was made of beautifully polished wood, lots of variations and some of them are now very expensive as they are collectors’ pieces.

Confidence breeds confidence

The more tricks I tried, the better I got until one day, I decided to demonstrate my new skills to my friends. As you will recall, at this time, my self-confidence was not great and yet my confidence in my magic ability was high. Even so, it took all the courage I could muster to “perform” in front of other kids.

The tricks were quite basic of course but they were good enough to fool and impress (and probably annoy) my friends. I now had something that they didn’t have and I could do something that they couldn’t do. And that felt good. Incidentally, just as an aside, I also recall frequently annoying my brother in the same way and having to lock away my magic in a secret location so he couldn’t get his grubby hands on it!

Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was this – my newly acquired ability for teasing my friends (in a good way of course) – that gave me the confidence I have today.

The joke is on them

Quite close to where I lived, there was a joke shop that sold cheap little tricks and jokes and I would buy everything I could. I’d continue to fool / impress / annoy my friends, and they’d be begging me to tell them how it’s done. But I soon learned that another important skill of being a magician is to never reveal your secrets . . . or your sources. So no, I never once told them how it’s done . . . and neither did I tell them that they could buy the trick from the shop around the corner!

The magic seed had been sown

For a short while, the novelty and interest in magic waned a little and, with my new-found confidence, I moved onto other ways of teasing my friends. But there’s no doubt that by then, the magic seed had been well and truly sown.

Sure enough, my interest in magic was restored when I was about 14. Living on the outskirts of London, I made a trip into town to visit Hamleys, the famous toy and game store. It was there that I saw a chap demonstrating what I later learnt was a self-working card trick, but a very good one at that.

The trick goes like this. Someone (an unsuspecting member of the audience perhaps), picks a card at random from the pack and then returns it. The magician can then make that same card re-appear practically anywhere in the deck. The ultimate climax of this trick is that suddenly, every card in the pack changes to become the same as the initially chosen card. This effect is still being sold today and it’s called the Svengali Deck.

Dean – the young magician

Well, by now I was completely hooked. Schoolboy tricks were no longer enough. I wanted to find a real professional magic shop but, these being the days of no internet, this was harder said than done. Eventually, I did find such a shop, The International Magic Studio in Clerkenwell Road, which is still going today.

It was here that I met a very talented magician from Holland who, in brief, had a quite different style (which I call the European style) from that of most of the British magicians of comedy/patter etc. His style was about the skill and the visual beauty – it’s called Manipulation, using coins, cards and even the production of doves.

This for me was real magic.

Learning a new art

I had already experienced a few years before some live magic on a school holiday to Spain. After the performance, I rather cheekily followed the magician back stage. Sensing my enthusiasm, he showed me some tricks right under my nose with silks, coins and cigarettes. The very first trick he showed me, which I still remember so vividly, left me completely gobsmacked. It involved nothing more than a bank note and a piece of silk as I demonstrate for you here in this video.

Even back then, I realised this is what I wanted to learn. Being at the Magic Studio and meeting this suave good looking European styled magician was like striking gold. His name was Henk and he was just taking a long vacation in the UK, so was helping out at the Magic Studio. I used to pay him, which was only right, and he would teach me how to stand, how to use facial expression and even how to pick up an object. This was all an art that had to be learnt, plus all the skills related to executing the sleight of hand.

My first award and my first bookings

Henk soon realised I had the talent to enter the Young Magician of The Year. In 1977, I did just that . . . and I won (see main image)! And I received the most amazing standing ovation from my peers at the Magic Circle. Within weeks I was getting booked to perform at various magic galas, dinner and dances and at magic conventions. Everything was “all expenses paid” at that time and I recall receiving very little else but that didn’t matter.

What did matter was that I had finally made it.

I was a magician!

My first public performance

My first little performance for the public was for Freemasons (organised by Ron McMillan – a well-known character and great manipulator who owned The International Magic Studio). I waited outside these huge wooden doors while speeches went on inside and then I was called in to perform my 10 minute act. At the end, I got a standing ovation from the 40 or 50 people – all men – that were present. They did a whip round for me in a bottle which totalled £27 of coins – more than the average man was earning in a whole week. Not bad for 10 minutes I thought!

And the rest is history . . .

Quite clearly, I went on to become the world’s best and most famous magician in history. Well, OK. Not quite maybe. But I have had a very successful career in magic. I’ve performed with my wife Claudine at some stunning venues across the world and met some amazing people. You can read more about this on the history of the Magic of Dean page.

What’s even more remarkable, to me at least, is that I have lost none of that enthusiasm for magic I had as a 10 year old. If anything, my passion for real, live magic has increased and even today, I’m always looking for new ways of doing things.

So, behind every performance I give is that 10 year old boy dreaming of one day being a magician!

So, what advice do I have for other young aspiring magicians?

This is another question I get asked a lot and my answer is always the same. DON’T! 🙂

Joking aside, it is hard work and you have got to be single-minded. Like being the best at anything, be it football, music or whatever, you have got to give it your all. You’ve got to be prepared for setbacks and have a Plan B. And, once you’ve decided it’s definitely what you want to do, go for it like there’s no tomorrow.

At some stage you will need to define a particular style of magic that you like and you’ll need to work to be the best at that. You can’t be good at everything but be prepared for the fact that, because of the internet and social media, this is a fast-changing world. Try to keep up with these trends.

Close up magic is big now and the emphasis is on youthful good looks or street magic with all its tattoos. But my advice is to think outside the box and find your own way. Don’t copy others because you will just blend with the rest of them.

And finally, who is my favourite magician?

From a star celebrity perspective, you cannot beat David Copperfield for his achievements and how long he has been in the business. Plus the amount of money he has made out of it!!  My favourite illusions of his are Death Saw and Flying (a wonderful levitation).

You probably won’t have heard of most of the magicians I really admire. Some of them are now dated or dead . . . or both. But, in their day, they were great live acts – magicians such as Richard Ross and Fred Kaps (both from Holland) and Johnny Hart to name a few. Incidentally, I have had the honour of being on the same bill as Richard Ross and Fred Kaps, performing our own magic.

Current magicians Yu Ho Jin, David Sousa, Kim Young-Min are really good manipulation acts. But there are so many other acts from around the world that are also worth a mention.

The fact is, the competition is now very fierce.

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