How I Lost the Magic and why I Love Derren Brown

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I’m a little bit in love with Derren Brown.

It could be his smiley eyes or his lovely little goatee, but thinking about it I’m pretty sure it’s something else.

When I was younger, probably about seven or eight years old, I loved magic. It was all I thought about, all I spoke about. I looked forward to my friends’ birthday parties not because of the food or the pretty dresses I could wear to them. It was because I could catch a glimpse of a rabbit being pulled out of a hat. I put up my hand every time the magician asked for a volunteer, even if I had seen that particular trick before. I loved it.

Of course, I believed in magic. In my childish innocence I could not even fathom the idea that this well dressed man in the top hat waving a wand around was anything BUT magical. I couldn’t even begin to think of the concept of trickery. There was no such thing, in my mind, as a trick. Magicians to me were special creatures who had had these incredible gifts bestowed upon them. But I’ll come to that later.

I had a thing for David Copperfield. Yes, David Copperfield. This guy:

While all my classmates were listening to East 17 and trading Take That stickers, I was watching my one and only video of David Copperfield poking holes through coins and walking through the Great Wall of China. Over and over and over again. When my uncle went to watch David Copperfield perform live in London, I cried for days because my mother wouldn’t let me join him. Eventually, I settled for a photo of his, which my uncle had bought me from the merchandise stall at the theatre.

My great grandfather was a very talented magician, escapologist and mentalist who gained lots of popularity worldwide after he emigrated to Australia. My mum likes to tell the story of when he met her boyfriend at the time, who was big and tall and broad and a little intimidating. As soon as this guy shook my great grandfather’s hand, he became giddy and giggly and weak at the knees. I liked to think when I was younger that magic was in my blood and that one day I would wake up with incredible abilities.

My birthday was approaching and, when my doting grandmother asked me what I wanted as a present, I said ‘A box of magic’ without hesitation. I thought that if I ever wanted to receive my powers I’d need to speed up the process a little. I spent the next three weeks excited out of my mind. I couldn’t wait to open that box and pick up my wand. I started planning all the things I would do. I would give myself curls. I would conjure a puppy. I would change the colour of the sofa in the living room from black to pink. It was all I could think of. I couldn’t sleep.

My parents, not wanting to spoil the magic of this little world I had created for myself, humoured me.
“Papa,” I said, dragging out the vowels, “When I get my magic set, will I be able to read your mind?”
“Of course, princess,” he assured me.
My mum was a little more clever. When I was being particularly bratty, she would remind me of my magic wand and suggest I go and (quietly) think of more things I could do with it.

After what seemed like eternity, my birthday came. I politely opened all the other presents first (knowing this would give me more time to become magical later on) and thanked all my friends for coming to my party. I watched the magician’s act that day thinking, “This evening I will be just like you. I will be able to make people I don’t like disappear into thin air.”

That evening, I sat on the carpeted floor in the living room with my magic box, tore away the wrapping paper and lifted the lid open. There, among the ropes and the dice and cards and rings, was a perfect black wand with white tips. I squealed, picked up the wand and pointed it at the sofa. With all my might I willed it to change to pink, then pointed the wand at it and said ‘Abracadabra’.

…it was still black.

So of course I tried again, and again, and again, becoming more and more frustrated each time. What was going on? Was I not magical? I picked up the book of instructions and began to flip through it, desperately looking for something – anything – which would explain to me what was going on and what I could do to invoke the power which this magic wand was obviously imbibed with.

Trick 1: Making your wand seem shorter
Move the white band down the length of the wand and conceal the rest of it in your hand. See Fig. A.

The hell?

Trick 2: Guessing the card
Hold the cards in a fan, paying attention to hide the small mark at the bottom. See Fig B.

What the hell is this? There are diagrams and props and… this is trickery. What is this?

I screamed for my mum and demanded an explanation. Why was the sofa not changing colour? Why the hell would I want a shorter wand? I didn’t want an audience. The magic was supposed to be for my own benefit. It was meant to help me turn brussels sprouts into Malteasers; to give my playground nemesis donkey ears. What was the meaning of this?

“No darling, that’s the way it works,” explained mum. “You learn tricks and you practise them and when you show them to other people it looks like magic.”

Right.

I abandoned the box of magic and ran up to my room, weeping. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I just cried. It was the saddest I had ever been in my life. I was not special. There was no magic in the world. It was a tough lesson for a little girl to learn.

After that, I wanted nothing to do with those con artists who called themselves magicians. David Copperfield was dead to me. I peeled his posters off my walls. At birthday parties I sat in the corner while the others let themelves be tricked by men in suits.
“You LIAR!” I wanted to scream at magicians.

And then I grew up and magic became something quite cool to watch, but not too special. It became a dance, a choreography, and as a theatre kid it didn’t really impress me. I watched Siegfried and Roy at the Mirage in Las Vegas in 2000 and I was more fascinated by the beautiful tigers than by their illusions. I watched magic shows through skeptical eyes, not enjoying the show and trying hard to work their tricks out, often succeeding. When ever I watched magic my mind drifted back to See Fig A.

And then, recently, I stumbled across Derren Brown.

I was flicking through TV channels for something to watch when I came across the first episode of The Experiments. For the first time in almost 20 years, I believed in magic. I believed in magic wrapped up in psychology. Which may or may not be a red herring. And for the first time in almost 20 years I picked up a deck of cards and began to teach myself some basic tricks. Because magic was no longer rabbits and hats. Now it was about people. And performance. And misdirection but on a grand scale.

And even when I think I’ve got one of his tricks figured out, I have to second guess myself. And that’s where the magic is.

So while Derren’ goatee is rather lovely, and while I love a man in a suit anyway, and he likes animals and he’s wonderfully funny and can write and paint and he likes Rufus Wainwright as much as I do, and while his impression of Stewie Griffin is pretty much the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while, I think the reason he’s got to me is because he is the first magician to make me want to believe in magic again.

I’ve bought tickets to Svengali – his live show – in June so watch this space for a review of that too!

3 Comments
  • Mau
    February 12, 2012

    Ok, I had never heard of Derren Brown but now I’m very curious to see his act! I too used to believe in magic…and that I was magic. I don’t remember when or how I realised I didn’t really possess any magical qualities but it certainly wasn’t as traumatic as your experience! I laughed out loud reading this post. It’s touching, funny and very well written, as always.

  • @accidentallykle
    February 15, 2012

    I don’t know why but this post gave me gooseflesh. There’s no other way to say this: I bloody love this post.

    • admin
      February 16, 2012

      Thanks Kle :D

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