This, ladies and gentlemen, was it. I was about to do my first ever gig. My first ever proper gig! I was about to perform close-up magic for people I’d never met. People who had no relation to my family. People who were completely unaware that a high-pitched, 11-year-old magician would be interrupting their perfectly pleasant evening to show them some close-up tricks. Oh, the excitement!
The event in question was for the Roy Castle Heart Foundation, being held at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool. Richie Smith is a big supporter of the charity and had been asked to perform close-up magic on the night, so it was he who invited me along to perform with him.
I was bursting with anticipation when he mentioned it to me and genuinely couldn’t wait for the night to arrive. I practiced my various sleight-of-hand routines tirelessly to ensure they were just right and told everyone I knew - anyone who would stand still long enough, frankly - that I was going to be performing at a real black tie event.
This is going to be huge, I thought!
A few weeks later, the day finally came. This was the day I was going to become a proper working magician. Overcome with enthusiasm, I stepped into my suit with aplomb, filled my pockets with all sorts of magical paraphernalia and cheekily sprayed my neck with one of my dad’s eau de toilettes. I was ready to let the big guns out. I was ready to baffle people with minor close-up miracles whilst smelling like a 40-year-old man. This lot had no idea what was about to hit them.
Richie had planned to pick me up that night so we could travel to the venue together… all while he gave me a pep-talk on the way, of course. I didn’t need any encouragement though; I was confident and ready to go! At least, that’s what I thought.
As we pulled into the car park, it all suddenly became real. I was actually going to have to do this. I could feel the butterflies dancing in my stomach and wondered if it would be too late for Richie to turn the car around and drop me off back at home. It was the first time I had ever experienced any kind of stage fright like this; I just wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go through with it.
We walked into the building and I was taken aback by the sheer scale of it all. The table dressings, the staging, the formality of everything! I was filled with trepidation, but I had to do this. I had to!
To get the ball rolling, Richie performed for his first group, then he handed me the figurative baton. He pointed to a random circular table and sent me off, alone, to perform for them. I took a gulp of water and tried to pretend I was in control.
With baited breath and sweaty palms, I made the approach…
Now, before you continue, I’d like to point out that this is something of a dramatic moment. This is a big life event! It’s one of those moments you remember for the rest of your being; like losing your virginity or having your first Banoffee Pie.
So, to put you in the right frame of mind while you read this, feel free to pop some Coldplay on in the background. It’ll be like those times on the X-Factor where the contestants talk about their nan.
I edged closer, rubbing my hands against my trousers as I did. Wide-eyed and a little to eager to please, I positioned myself between two ladies who were smiling and reminded me of some of my mother’s friends. “Hello everybody!” I said, chirpily. No one responded.
“Hello?” I said again, louder and trying to feign even the slightest bit of confidence. Almost in unison, the collected 10 or so people turned to look at me, somewhat confused. “I’m the, erm, magician tonight. Would, erm, you like to see some magic tricks?” I asked, gauchely.
“It’ll only take a moment,” I offered.
A pregnant pause fell over the table. “That would be great,” said one of the women sweetly. She cast me a smile and the other people around her seemed to follow suit. Delighted, I reached into one of my bulging pockets and pulled out a deck of cards. I gave them a few shuffles, spread them between my hands and said, “Would you take one of these for me please?” I was in. I’d actually started doing magic for a group of total strangers!
I stayed at that table for maybe 5 minutes performing various different sleight-of-hand tricks, before thanking them for watching and wishing them a good night. I walked away to a round of applause and headed over to Richie who, it turned out, had been watching from just a few feet away.
“You did good, kid. Ya’ did real good,” he said, shaking my hand. I remember thinking it was strange he used a quote from the movie Rocky III at the time, but I appreciated it nonetheless.
I performed at maybe 5 or 6 more tables that night, gradually building in confidence. I’ve got no doubt it wasn’t very good, but I think the very fact I was a kid in a suit doing magic tricks was enough to win them over.
Elated, I joined Richie for something to eat and we made our way back to my parents’ house. He offered me some pearls of wisdom on the journey and was as encouraging and supportive as always.
Arriving home, I thanked Richie enormously for inviting me along. He turned to me and said warmly, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
I left the car and made my way towards the house, excitedly swinging open the door so I could tell my mum and dad all about it. I felt it best to ignore the Casablanca quote.