Ok, I’ll admit it - there’s a possibility the headline of this post may be slightly misleading. I know, magicians are normally completely honest characters, so I’d imagine that statement came as a bit of a shock. Having said that, I was part of a TV show that won a BAFTA, so that still counts, doesn’t it? I’ll explain the story and let you decide for yourself.
Stephen Mulhern is a well-known presenter in the UK, but he’s also a terrific magician and used to host a children's TV show on CiTV called Tricky TV. I would watch the show after school and remember thinking it was brilliant! Stephen does a fantastic job on it and there was a particular section, featuring a different young magician every week, that I particularly enjoyed. Well, I say enjoyed - I actually used to watch it while desperately wishing that I could be one of those magicians too. It seemed like so much fun… and I’d get to be on TV! I just had no idea how they got on there.
A few months after the series ended, I was reading the latest issue of Secrets, the monthly magazine published by The Young Magicians Club, which featured an article saying that Tricky TV were looking for some new young magicians to perform in the second series of the show. To apply, we had to submit a video of us performing various quick tricks, which we’d potentially be able to do as an individual segment. This is what I’d been waiting for! This was my chance to be on Tricky TV and meet Stephen Mulhern!
I immediately threw down the magazine, whacked my parents old video camera on charge and gathered a variety of tricks that I thought would work for the show. A few hours later, the video was complete and I sent it off to Paul Andrews, the producer and lead magic consultant, with baited breath.
I’d never met Paul before and had absolutely no idea how the whole TV thing worked - or even how long it would take to hear back from him, if at all!
Admittedly, I think a part of me was secretly hoping he’d be so impressed by the crude video filmed in my parents living room that he'd offer me Stephen’s presenting job instead of just the small ‘young magician’ section - but I suppose the latter would have been fine too.
As I’ve now learnt is typical with TV, I didn’t hear a single thing from them for quite some time. To me, those weeks of silent anticipation felt like an absolute eternity! But then, the call came…
Paul left a voicemail on our landline - which even felt a little bit dated back in 2006 - saying that he’d love for me to be featured on the show and how he'd like me to perform ‘The Flying Card’ trick. I felt ecstatic and genuinely couldn’t believe it! I was going to be on Tricky TV! I phoned back and he spoke with my parents to discuss the finer details.
The series was filmed in The Maidstone Studios in Kent, around 4 and a half hours away from our house - so my dad took some time off work a few weeks later, and we drove down the day before the shoot. It was during this journey that disaster struck.
Before we continue, I suppose I should tell you what ‘The Flying Card’ trick is. The general idea is that a playing card appears to spin and float in mid-air. It flies around my arms and even my entire body. A metal ring is then passed over the card to prove that there’s no string or wires. It’s a cool trick, even if I do say so myself.
So picture the scene: we’re over 4 hours into the journey and I’m envisioning how exciting tomorrow is going to be. The lights, the cameras, the… I was stopped in my train of thought, suddenly filled with dread.
“Oh no!” I gasped. “I don’t have the ring!” I turned to my dad, awaiting his reaction.
“You forgot to bring the ring?! Are you sure?” he questioned, trying to disguise his dismay.
We pulled into the nearest service station and I frantically checked my bags, twice. Nothing.
“Well,” he said with a sigh in his voice, “it looks like we’re going to have to get it.”
So, now 4 hours into the journey down south, we had to turn the car around and head back up to Liverpool… all to get a metal ring. Now, let’s not forget here that this is my first TV appearance. This is a big moment! All I needed to remember was to bring some cards and this ring. I had two things to pack and I forgot 50% of them.
During the, understandably, frosty drive back, my dad had an idea: he picked up the phone and called my nan. She lived around 10 minutes from our house, so my dad asked if she’d at all mind picking up the ring and meeting us with it. It was a big ask, but my nan came to the rescue! She travelled for two hours to meet us half-way! Amazing! It was ridiculously nice of her to do and absolutely softened the blow of what would have been an additional 8 hours added to our journey. Situation avoided! Well, kind of.
9 and a half hours after we initially set off, we finally arrived at the hotel. We ordered some food and my dad had a well-deserved Heineken. I had a Diet Coke with no ice. Getting here was a bit of a debacle, but tomorrow I’d be filming a TV show!
Upon waking up the following morning my body was filled with a narcissistic spasm of excitement. I was both excited beyond words and absolutely terrified as we drove up to the studios. The sheer scale of it was staggering.
Walking in, the first person we met was Paul. He’s an awesome guy and couldn’t have made us feel more welcome. This was also the first time I got to meet the other young magicians who would be performing as well. There was no time for small talk here though. We were promptly whisked away to have our make-up applied and our costumes fitted before being led to our green room. Well, I say that - our ‘green room’ was actually the set where they filmed Art Attack. It was full of paint-splattered walls, enormous fibre-glass erasers and towering 15-foot-high coloured pencils.
“Make yourselves as home everyone; we’re just setting up the location and will let you know when we need you.” And with that, Paul was gone.
The next forty minutes or so were spent getting to know the other magicians. Now, you should know that magicians love absolutely nothing more than sitting around and showing each other magic tricks. It’s as incredibly nerdy as you’re currently imagining, but we each try to do a better trick than the last person’s, whilst making slightly passive-aggressive comments at the end of each. It sounds awful, but it’s secretly brilliant.
It was at this point that Paul came back into the room, “Stephen [Mulhern] is on his way, everybody…” he announced. There was a palpable excitement amongst us all as we anxiously anticipated his arrival. Moments later, he made his appearance.
You could probably say I got somewhat star-struck meeting him. He was a real idol to me growing up and the first real celebrity I ever got to meet. He went out of his way to introduce himself to everybody, and even pull a chair over to me and spent probably the best part of 30 minutes talking to me and doing some magic tricks. He really is a genuinely nice guy.
One of the shows runners came into the greenroom to tell me that they were all set and ready to film my trick and, strangely, I remember not feeling nervous at all. Each step we took towards the set just seemed to fill me with even more excitement.
Filming the trick went without a hitch (thankfully!), and after getting a few establishing shots with the rest of the cast they told me that they’d got everything they’d needed and thanked my dad and I for driving all the way down to film it. If only they’d known we nearly had to do the journey twice!
It was beyond exciting to be on a proper TV shoot. Meeting Stephen and Paul was brilliant and I couldn't wait for it to be broadcast a few months later. As we left the studio, I considered taking one of those massive Art Attack pencils as a memento. My dad said it was unlikely to fit in the car.
We spent that night in the hotel and set off early the following morning to make the journey home. I double-checked that the metal ring was in my bag before we left.
Excuse both the terrible quality of this clip and my high-pitched Liverpool accent - but here is ‘The Flying Card’ from Tricky TV season 2 in all its glory: