We caught up with magician and star of ITV2's Tricked, Ben Hanlin, for an exclusive chat for our NMP Live Meets... series. Ben talks about his first job in magic, his career highlights and what magic brings to a corporate event. Watch the interview or read the full transcript below.
In conversation with Ben Hanlin
What was your first job in magic?
The first gig I did was one of the toughest gigs of my life! It was for a ladies’ annual tennis dinner; it was forty, basically drunk, women. I was fifteen years old and they said, ”come along, do those tricks you have been doing and we’ll pass a hat around afterwards”. I remember walking in that room, terrified that these forty women thought I was some sort of weird stripper! And I remember going, “oh, I’m not a stripper, please pick a card…”, and it was tough! I got through it, and at the end of it the hat went around, and they all put a pound in, and I’m like, “I made £30! I’m like the richest kid in Solihull – that’s amazing!”
Did you always pursue a career in magic?
I never planned to do this full-time. I was always doing magic and I thought I had to get a proper job. So I went to university, got a degree, I got a proper job, behind a desk and everything, with a tie, and I was a trainee Chartered Surveyor. And then one day I realised, you know what, this isn’t for me. If I am going to do something for the next forty years, I want to try and really enjoy it.
So, I quit my job and I remember day one going, ”I need to make a living now”. I went to Stratford Upon Avon, which is my nearest town, and started to street perform. I would busk and earn money that way, and pay my bills, and eventually I created a YouTube channel; where I used to have a YouTube show. It sounds a bit weird now, but I used to stalk celebrities, and then doorstep them and film me doing magic to celebrities, and eventually I turned it into an online show. ITV saw it, and then I eventually got my own TV show, and that’s called Tricked, and I have done three series of that now. So it’s been a fun journey really.
What’s the best reaction you’ve had from a magic trick?
One of the best reactions I have ever had to a trick was making Joey Essex think that I built a time machine and that I went back in time. Now, some of you may think that Joey Essex isn’t that hard to fool. Well, maybe. But I have always had this trick in my mind for years. I love Back To The Future and I have always wanted to do the idea of making the car vanish as you drive it. I thought if anyone could believe that, it would be Joey Essex. So I convinced him, through a science lab and coats and things like that, that this is a real scientific thing, and that time travel exists and I can go back in time. So I do it, and then I come back, and he genuinely can’t get his head around how he has just seen a real-life time machine. It was brilliant! And what was great was I have never seen magic invoke that kind of curiosity in someone.
What’s the most unusual event you’ve performed at?
My job in general is a bit weird. You get paid to go to these weird places and do sometimes an hour, sometimes two hours, sometimes just ten or fifteen minutes, or twenty minutes. The weirdest one was when I got flown out to a yacht in the South of France to do ten minutes of magic to Kim Kardashian. That was a weird evening! I didn’t get much sleep and then I flew home literally on the first flight back out and then I was filming in London at nine in the morning. So that was a weird twenty-four hours!
What does a magician bring to an event?
What’s great about a magician on stage is, depending on their act, they often get people involved. So, a comedian is great, but often you’re listening to somebody. Whereas, if the magician can bring John from accounts up onstage and do something with him, or if they can do a trick that is tailored to that particular company, or that particular message, then that can really be quite powerful. For example, I do a trick at the moment where I get every single person to help me with the trick; but its involving four pictures of four of the heads of the business. So we can have a bit of fun with it.
The key is to keep it fun; to keep it light; because when people are out at an event, they don’t really want to have a good think, they do want to have a good laugh and enjoy themselves. And if you can do that and amaze them, then that’s great.
Are you often asked to create bespoke magic for corporate events?
Often with magic it is great to get an idea of what the event is doing, what the goals are of the event, and the company and the branding, and to see if we can come up with a trick that tailors towards that. You can do things like make the MD appear; make them the superstar of the night. Or, if you have an actual product, for example if you’re working with a drinks company, we will look at what tricks can you do with the drinks and so on. Or even to just get certain members of the audience that the client has maybe suggested ahead of time might be fun to deal with, and get them on board. Then there is real ‘talkability’ afterwards… because people often think with magic on TV there’s actors and stooges, whereas if you know that certain people you have picked out are definitely not in on it, then it makes it way more authentic, and it feels more personal to that event.
Do you ever work with brands for PR and media campaigns?
Over the last few years I have worked with a number of brands, like Asda, Umbro, Premier League. They often come to me with a brief, and what’s great about that is that they don’t know what the solution is. They say “we have got an idea that something could be amazing, or it could be incredible, or magical, or mysterious, or fun, or cheeky… what would be your solution to this?” And I work with that brand and go, “well here is a potential solution”.
I’ll give you an example, for Asda, it was their fiftieth anniversary of the pocket tap; you know, that’s where they tap their pockets and go, tap tap. So they said, “is there a trick you can do to our customers, involving the pocket tap, where we can then film it and put it online?” So I came up with a trick where I could get random customers, in random Asda stores, to put a handful of change in their pocket, tap it, and I could, just by listening to it, tell them the exact amount of change in their pocket. We went around and we filmed it, and then we put it online, and it got over a million views on Facebook in about three days. And that was great for Asda, because it was exactly the message they want, but it wasn’t ‘ram it down their throat’… it was done in a bit of a different way and it was a really fun project for them.
Do you enjoy hosting events?
The great thing about hosting is that it does appeal to a whole range of events. So whether it be an awards ceremony, where the brief is very simple; come out, do fifteen minutes, get the audience going, do some amazing magic and then get into the awards, that’s great. Or sometimes, it’d be a longer event, where you are there throughout the day and I’m sometimes dropping the magic in as an energizer; maybe after lunch, or later in the afternoon, just to keep the energy going where it needs to be.
What can you offer a client that’s really different?
Well one thing I do offer is a hidden camera experience. I’ll give you an example: I would go undercover as, let’s say, the security guard at an event. Obviously, you can tell that people don’t question that! Before the event starts I will target a few people that maybe have been alerted to me in advance. I’ll pull them to a side room and I’ll basically say to them a number of different things, whether they are too drunk, or whether their passes aren’t correct, whether they have snuck in, or whether their seat has been given to somebody a bit higher up the food chain… whatever it is. I will wind them up and then I’ll do some magic, and they’ll enjoy the experience, and I’ll send them back on their way. What they don’t realise is I have actually filmed that on hidden cameras, and then later on in the evening, or at the start of the show, I’ll come up on stage and I will present that entire video to the audience. And it’s great fun because you get to see your colleagues, or people you know, being wound up like you would see on the TV. So it feels like you are watching a TV show made for your company!
Do you have a career highlight?
I guess one of the moments that stands out for me was doing a trick to 2,000 people at the Palladium for ITV, that was aired on TV to five-million people, and the trick involved using every single person from the audience. So every single person has an envelope. I get them to do something; to mix some pieces of paper up, to rip things up, to help me out, and eventually, if it all works, they’ve all contributed towards the trick and they’ve been a part of it. That is one of my favourite tricks that I do, and it was just amazing to do that at the Palladium.
Why is magic so special?
Because the thing about magic is, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, which language you speak, whatever is going on in your day, how stressful you are, that your phone’s going off every ten seconds; if you do a really good trick, it just makes everyone just stop, just for that second, and go “sorry… what just happened?!” And it’s great that whoever you are, you get that same reaction and it’s just really nice to see that in people’s faces.
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