We caught up with magician and Britain’s Got Talent 2015 runner up, Jamie Raven as part of our NMP Live Meets…series. Jamie talks about his decision to audition for BGT, the rise in popularity of magic, and what magic can bring to your event! Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.
In conversation with Jamie Raven
When did you first become interested in magic?
My earliest memory of seeing it properly was in India on a family holiday in a restaurant. It was my family and the family we had gone to visit, and a magician comes over and performs, does magic at the table, and at the time I didn’t realise but 11 years later that is what I would go on to do.
He did something that I had obviously never seen before, but I’ve never done and I’ve never seen since, which was that he finished his show and then he offered to teach the kids at the table – take them away and teach them a couple of tricks, and I was one of the kids.
I remember that day I learned three tricks – one was the Indian rope trick, where the rope is loose and then on your command it will stand up, there’s a card trick where you deal them in to piles and there’s a wonderful trick where you take a pencil and you put it in a plastic box and it’s in three sections, you pull it out and unbelievably split in to three bits, put it back in, pull it out and it is in one piece. That was my earliest memory.
What do you love most about magic?
Firstly, I think, what I love most is that when you watch it done live there is no substitute for it. So, you watch it on TV, great, and I love magic on television and it is the best medium for people to see what you do, but when people watch magic on television, most of the time if they don’t understand or they don’t know how it works they say ‘ah, actors, stooges, camera tricks, edits!’ Now, 99% of the time it isn’t.
When you do something live for someone, right in front of them, there’s nothing to hide – you’re just there and it’s just you and skills that you have learned and you’re trying to entertain people. It’s like singers sing, and if they’re good at singing you know how good they are. Painters paint – if you watch a painter painting from scratch you know how good they are. And what I love about magic is that if you are any good, when you show somebody something they will never see what you have actually done, they will see what you wanted them to see, and there is an irony in the fact that nobody will ever see the work that you put in, and that tickles me.
You show something, a trick that fools them, and you literally take over their brain for like a minute or whatever it is, and it gives them something to talk about and I think it’s quite cool.
Was it a hard decision to audition for Britain’s Got Talent?
Britain’s Got Talent is one of the biggest shows in the world, and if you perform for a living, if you get on that show and hit it there is no greater boost to your profile.
I did the audition, semi-final and the final, which is a total of about 15 minutes on TV. You cannot do less time and have your profile boosted any greater than that, I promise. That is like half of one TV special, but so many people watch it at the time.
So, when the show started, I, along with a load of other magicians, realized that it’s an incredible opportunity, if you get it right. Problem is that early on, and until quite recently, rightly or wrongly I didn’t think that they treated magic fairly. So, if you can sing you come out and sing three notes and they know you can sing. If you can dance you come out, you do your routine in 5 seconds and they know. For magic to be impressive you need to establish credibility, you need to set something up that seems to be fair and then pull the rug afterwards, and sometimes that takes a bit of time.
On a show like that you walk out and you have got three minutes and even if you take 30 seconds to talk about something they might buzz you, and then you are done and you look like a fool. There’s nothing set up, despite what people think, there’s nothing fixed.
They ask you if you are interested, and I had been asked a number of years previously and I’d always said no because in my head I didn’t think I had a fair crack, that magicians did. Then an American magician won America’s Got Talent the same year I did it, called Matt Franco, and I thought well maybe its going to change now. Because I was season nine, and by season nine the only acts that had won it were singers, dancers, a dog act called Ashley and Pudsey, who I met recently and are lovely, a shadow act that is still sort of dance, but that sort of thing, and a magician had never won it, so I thought I would give it a go, so I decided to and here we are.
Did you expect to have such a fantastic response from the BGT judges?
I think people get nerves and excitement confused. You get that same feeling of butterflies in your stomach, but I think you are nervous for something if you don’t know what you are doing. I think you are excited for something if you know exactly what you are doing and you want it to be the best that you can. They feel the same – it’s that whole adrenaline-rushing thing like a rollercoaster.
So, I have got that feeling of, I’ll say nerves as it was a bit of nerves obviously, but it was also excitement because I am thinking that 5 minutes and everything could change. Walk out and I’m terrified, but I’m always told walk slowly, shoulders back, breathe deeply, no one can see your insides so they don’t know what you are feeling, just talk slowly. So, I have done my little thing and I’m looking at the screen over my shoulder, it was like the audience went mental, I turned back around and David Walliams stood up, and I thought wow! So instinctively I just went ‘thanks mate’ and shook his hand and then Alicia was next and she stood up as well, and then Amanda, I was thinking ‘please stand up, please stand up’. Because sometimes you know three do and one doesn’t, and then he stood up so I shook his hand and he said something to me, I’ve got no idea what it was, it was so loud I couldn’t hear him.
The best I hoped for was that they would say we quite liked you, we liked what you did, we’d like to see some more, and they said so many lovely things, and the show is edited so they cut down a load of them, but I remember David Walliams saying it was the best magic trick he had ever seen. Amanda said loads of lovely stuff, and then Simon Cowell said, and I’ll never forget, he goes ‘I know this sounds crazy, but some people believe in ghosts, I now actually believe in magic!’ And I remember standing there and the feeling of pressure lifting, and elation, and going from that point of dread before.
Because I had a lot riding on it – this is my job, it’s my career, I spent 10 years doing this and I had a lot of work lined up and if I had bombed, if they had showed it, that’s not good. Then they said that and I thought wow, that’s amazing, you don’t know if you’re through or not, but I thought hopefully they will show the audition, then basically raise my profile, that’s why I did it.
I’ve been working for 10 years and I love it, doing close-up gigs, and it might be for it might be a corporate thing and don’t get me wrong I love doing them, but I always wanted to do theatres. I got in to it because I like performing, so if you want to do theatre shows people need to know who you are.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration comes from lots of different places. Sometimes it could be a piece of music, you hear a piece of music and think ‘that’s cool, I would like to do something with that’. Sometimes it might be a joke. Sometimes it might be that something happens in the world – there might be a news story or something.
I was asked to do The Gadget Show Live earlier this year and they wanted tricks with technology – we’ve never really thought of that before. They said to me ‘can you do things?’, so we have a think about it. In the tour I’m doing in June there is a whole section now based on technology, and that wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t have asked me to do it.
Sometimes you might get asked to do a trick for a company that has a certain line of products and they want a trick with it. Say they make clips, okay, I’ve never done a trick with a clip before, what could I do? Sometimes I will be at a show and something wont work and I will have to change it on the spur of the moment, and that might spark something else. And sometimes you will be doing a show and someone will come up to you afterwards and go ‘could you…’ and they say something that you have never thought of that is so much better than what we have been doing for so long.
What is the most unusual or spectacular event you’ve performed at?
Recently we did an event for Virgin Atlantic that was the inaugural flight to Detroit and got to do some tricks with Richard Branson. I did a couple, the one with him on the stage was amazing, but on the plane on the way over, he is a big magic fan and they said he is in the bar, you should go and do something for him. So, I do the trick and when I finish he says ‘throw him off the effing plane!’ – that was amazing. I got a photo with him afterwards he was so lovely.
And then the event I did for you guys the other week. I was just mooching round, having a chat with some kids doing a couple of tricks and their dad comes up – it’s David Cameron! ‘Oh, you alright? How’s it going?’
What is the reason for the rise in popularity of magic?
I’d say probably the Internet, and I’d say, obviously magic on television. When I was growing up it was Paul Daniels as the only magician on TV and then years later this country got introduced to a man called David Blaine, who sort of made what we call close-up – street magic – doing magic with everyday things.
After him we got Derren Brown, who’s my favourite, I think he is the best magical performer this country ever produced. He is a mind reader, so it is less the slight of hand, it is the same theories at work, it’s just very clever.
And obviously more recently you’ve had Dynamo and Troy, and Ben Hanlin’s had his show. And I think that with the Internet now, with Facebook, you have views, for example, like YouTube views.
So my audition has, I had a look the other day, something like 18 million views on YouTube, and YouTube used to be where you got most of your views – it’s not now, it’s Facebook. I have had 250 million on Facebook because there’s a share button, people see things and they share it, and you’ll see a clip of a guy doing an audition on Uzbekistan’s Got Talent, right, how would you ever have seen that before? Someone’s seen it, liked it, and shared it.
There is a saying that you are only 5 people removed from everyone else now. You could befriend a random stranger on the other side of the world and you have probably got three friends in common, do you know what I mean? So I think YouTube obviously helps, and now Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, social media information travels quickly. Britain’s Got Talent, any show that highlights magic will make it more popular if it’s done well.
What does a magic act bring to an event that other types of entertainment don’t?
With magic, whether it’s close-up or on a stage, you are going to show somebody something at the beginning and they won’t know what’s going to happen. Surprise is amazing, there’s a saying ‘don’t show a magic trick twice’, that’s not because you don’t want anyone to see it twice, it’s because when they know what is going to happen that element of surprise is gone. So, you do show them twice, but you change the ending so that people think they’re going to know, because a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
But with the act that I do on stage I get people up as well so you involve people and everyone feels like they’re involved. Obviously when there is a band and people dancing they are involved, but you can get people up, like the boss of the company, so he comes up and he helps you with a thing, and then it’s someone’s birthday and they come on and help you, but as I mentioned earlier on, magic is one of those things that when you see it live…you can’t compare it to magic on television.
If you go to watch a magician perform there is nowhere to hide, you’re just there watching someone and, yeah, I am incredibly biased, but I actually think it’s the best.
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