NMP Live meets award-winning magician to the stars and the queen of close-up magic, Fay Presto. In our exclusive interview Fay shares what it’s like to perform for the Royal Family, extravagant parties, and what close-up magic can bring to your event. Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.
In conversation with Fay Presto
How did you get into magic?
I have been a magician now for 35 years, and I was quite a late starter, and I was self-taught. I had to teach myself because no one would teach me. I went where magicians go, and I hung about, and I kept my mouth shut and my ears and eyes open, and then I implied I knew a bit more than I did, and then made it up as I went along.
The market had just opened up; things had changed. We’d gone from the only people who went to night clubs wore black ties and had lots of money, and the market had sort of relaxed an awful lot. People were going out to restaurants just because they wanted to, and nightclubs were becoming much more relaxed. There was a market opening up for people to come to your table and impress the hell out of you.
Can you remember your first magic trick?
Yeah, I can still remember the first magic trick I ever performed, and funnily enough it’s still in the act – I set fire to a napkin, and put it back together again. The second one that I got on top of was the rope routine, which has now grown in to something that is really quite special.
Why did close-up magic increase in popularity during the 80s?
It rose in popularity because people had started going out more. The Wimpy was dead and people were at restaurants. There was a whole slew of classy restaurants opening up in London that were accessible to people.
Also there was a big advantage to licensing! If you had a live entertainment going on in your restaurant you could serve drinks later, so having a live entertainer in the restaurant meant they could sell more alcohol, and then that’s when they realized that actually it’s a draw, actually it’s a very useful thing to have, it builds atmosphere very quickly, those little islands of applause and laughter that you get as a magician is circulating. It’s not intrusive, but it just generates some of that atmosphere that’s really hard to build otherwise.
What is it you like so much about magic?
I don’t like magic. I love what magic will do. You see, magic per se can be extremely tedious, you know, here comes another card trick! But, if you pitch it right, and you get the right hook there, then magic can be amazing.
I love knowing that I can walk in to a room and change the atmosphere and suddenly kick start that party. That’s what I love about it. I wouldn’t sit down and read a magic book, sorry, but I will sit down and read a magic book if there is an effect in there that I know will improve what I’m doing.
What is the key to your continued success over the years?
I don’t know why, well, I have theories, I have theories about why I kind of stayed there for a while, and it’s because I worked out in the early days that it has to be direct. Magic has to be powerful, direct, simple, it has to have an easy plot, and you have to have lots of applause points going on throughout the presentation, throughout the performance.
It is a performance, and every table that you hit should have an opening effect, a couple of nice middle ones and then a powerful closer.
What are your most memorable celebrity bookings?
Well, there was Sting’s wedding, his wedding anniversary, there was Eric Clapton’s 40th birthday party, there have been parties at Cliff Richard’s house, there have been parties for the Spencer’s, there have been the odd palace thrown in here and there. I had to stop writing it all down in the end because it looked as if I was making it all up.
Here at Langan’s, when Langan’s just opened, wow we got some. I mean, it was wall-to-wall celebrities, you know. I mean, Sammy Davis junior, Frank Sinatra, they were all in, and so I opened up that little scene there.
What’s the most extravagant event you have performed at?
Oh, there was a party at Clivedon, which was extraordinary, and it was like 200 young people celebrating an 18th birthday party, and 199 of them had turned up. Everybody was on the terrace waiting for the 200th to arrive, and a helicopter flew low over the house and landed, it didn’t land on the helipad, it landed bang in the middle of the rose garden, and this young man in an immaculate dinner jacket got out of there.
This is the coolest thing, if you ever arrive in a helicopter you have to do what this young man did, he lifted down the most beautiful brown chrome leather bag from inside the helicopter and walked straight up to the terrace, and did not once, not once did he turn around and look at the helicopter! It was the coolest thing you’ve ever seen, and I will always remember that young man’s arrival.
What is it like performing for the Royal Family?
Well, performing for the Queen, and indeed for anybody with serious status is to remember that you do what you do.
Very early on I was booked to do a charity show at the Museum of Scotland, for a very young Prince Edward, and I came out afterwards, phew, done that one, and the organizer said ‘that wasn’t your act!’ I said no, but it was Prince Edward, Prince Edward! They said ‘no, you have to trust us – we booked you because we know what you do.’ And therefore, you do what you do, unless anybody has come up to you with any specific instructions.
But as far as the British Royal Family is concerned, you treat them as human beings, which indeed is what they are.
You performed for Princess Diana many times. Was she particularly fond of magic?
I’m not sure if the Princess of Wales had a particular love for magic, but there was, I’d like to think, there was a sort of a synergy there. I remember I was at The Savoy waiting for the premier of The English Patient, so we had a lot of people from The Red Cross, and Dickie Attenborough, and all sorts of people, and it was running a little bit late. I was standing in the foyer waiting for the guest of honour to arrive, and the entourage came in and swept through the foyer, and they were in a great hurry to sit down, and the Princess said ‘no, sorry, I want to talk to Fay’, and it was just a lovely moment.
I made a television documentary a few years ago, and my niece was in it because I had taken them to the Hard Rock Café. I was doing another benefit for the Red Cross and a black-clad arm reached through the little group of people I was talking to, grabbed me by the shoulder, turned me round and said ‘aren’t you talking to me this afternoon Fay?’ I said ‘ma’am, you’re very busy!’, she said ‘no. Your niece is very special, isn’t she?’ Because she had watched the documentary, and I was able to phone my 11-year old niece up and say the Princess of Wales thinks you’re very special, and the gasps from the other end of the phone just had to be experienced, it was extraordinary.
Why book a close-up magician?
Close-up magic is very useful in an event because it kick-starts the party. I am not there to find the seven of diamonds, you know, why am I going to book a magician? Well, not to find the seven of diamonds. What it does is, you arrive at a table, you pick your tables, if you, can so that you generate a spontaneous round of applause and laughter, and that, funnily enough, gives other tables permission to laugh, and you get these little islands of enthusiasm and joy speckled around the room and eventually the whole room goes.
Then you stand up at the end of it, and maybe do just one trick for the CEO to make a speech or for the best man to start the speeches at a wedding, they stand up to an audience that is applauding and facing where they’re going to be.
Now, the trick is not to give them a tired audience. Sometimes it’s really hard to tear yourself away, but you must give that person a focused audience who are in applause mode, and it’s got to be long enough to get the smokers back in the room and people in from the loo. Once you have done that, then those speeches are going to be ten, fifteen, twenty percent better than they would have been.
What makes a successful entertainer?
How do you become a successful entertainer? Work begets work. If the quality of your work is good, every time you go out to work someone will go ‘I want some of that!’ If you’re getting repeat business, you’re doing it right.
If you have to send out enormous mail outs and engulf people in emails then maybe you need to look at it, but repeat business is the best and easiest business for anybody to get. If you’ve got a room full of people who are saying ‘I’d like to do that again’ then you’re succeeding.
It’s very odd; an awful lot of my work is repeat business. The same people want to see the same tricks. There is very rarely an ‘oh we have done that, what’s next?’ It’s like I often say, if you buy a CD you don’t play Strawberry Fields Forever once and then never listen to it again, you want to share it with your friends. Especially like being here in Langan’s, people come back week after week, month after month, year after year, to see it again, and it’s always a little bit different.
How do you like an audience to feel when they leave a party?
At the end of the night I want people to go home and go ‘wow, that was fun!’
These days, with social networking and Google and stuff, I don’t necessarily want people going out and saying ‘how does she do it? Got to find out how that’s done!’ I want them to go home feeling that was most entertaining, and I very glad I saw it. They only have to go to google and find out how it’s done, I’d rather they didn’t want to.
I’d much rather they go away going ‘wow, that was good, must go back there, let’s have her in again’.
What’s your most memorable audience reaction?
The most beautiful thing an audience can do for you is give you a standing ovation. You must not choreograph it.
I remember once I was doing a large table of 18 year olds in a private dining room in Portobello Road, and these 18 year olds, who were not that sophisticated, just spontaneously stood and applauded, and meant I must have really touched something.
Those moments when an audience can’t help themselves but just stand up and clap is an amazing feeling, and it happens… about once a month.
If you're interested in booking Fay Presto you can enquire online, email us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our friendly booking agents. For further information about Fay, private performance details, testimonials and video clips, view her profile.