My West London Life

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Darren Delaney

January
10

Professional magician Darren Delaney on performing at the Royal Variety Show afterparty, conquering fear, the best pub roast in London and 'magic with rubber ducks'

You first became interested in magic at nine years old, when you received a magic set—what sparked your interest and why do you think it captured your imagination so much?

Paul Daniels was the big TV magician when I was growing up, and I used to love watching his show, so I suppose he was my first inspiration. I’ve always been pretty inquisitive and wanted to work out how things worked—I used to record TV magic programmes and watch them over and over again until I could figure out the tricks.

When I was about 10 or 11 I discovered a few magic books in my local library and one of them listed various magic shops around the world. One of them was Davenports Magic Shop at Charing Cross, the oldest family-run magic shop in the world. They used to have a young magicians’ club on Saturday afternoons so I began attending every week—it was the first time I’d met other magicians and that’s where I really started to learn and get opportunities to perform at the club.

What memorable moments or gigs along the way have you felt most proud of?

There have been many! Performing for 600 people at The Sunday Assembly at Conway Hall a few years ago was a big one. I’ve also been lucky to perform for several celebrities over the last few years, including table magic at Dame Esther Rantzen’s birthday party—that was both fun and really surreal at the same time; every table included people I used to watch on TV over 20 years ago!

I do a monthly show with other magicians at The Illusioneer in Herne Hill and we had Iain Glen from Game of Thrones turn up there recently. Last year I was one of the official performers at The Royal Variety Show After Party. I’ve also done birthday parties for a world-renowned neuroscientist and a very famous playwright.

You did charity and other events even as a teenager—did you always intend to become a professional magician full-time? How did your career in magic progress?

I guess there was always a dream of being a professional magician when I was younger, but I don’t think I really understood that it was a viable option back then. I got a regular job after finishing education, and magic stayed a hobby for many years. Then I started gigging a bit on the side, mainly through word of mouth and without proper marketing or promotion. As I realised how much I enjoyed it, and was good at it, I started to take things more seriously, had a website built and invested in marketing. Once I got busy enough, I quit my job and went full-time.

Now, the majority of my work is private events, a mix of corporate entertainment, weddings and birthday parties. I don’t do kids’ parties though—children are a tough audience and I leave them to the specialists!

What sort of magic do you do?

Most of the work I do is close-up magic, where I’m either mingling with people and performing for small groups over drinks, or at the tables over dinner or lunch. It’s a lot of fun, and many people comment that they’ve never seen good magic that close before—only on TV or perhaps on stage. There’s nothing that beats seeing miracles happen right under your nose.

I also love to perform on stage when I have the opportunity, and I do a bunch of spots at cabaret nights around London. I’ll be performing at Conjuring at The Court at The Drayton Court Hotel in West Ealing in a couple of months’ time.

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What’s the best part of your job?

I genuinely love performing magic, and it’s amazing to be able to earn money from my passion. No week is ever the same and I get to meet a bunch of really interesting and diverse people, and perform at some lovely venues.

It’s also nice not to have to set an alarm clock—I get to wake up naturally every morning and don’t have to deal with the rush hour! I guess that’s several “best bits” rather than one, but there you go…

…And the worst?

It can be surprisingly lonely at times. I have a lot of free time Monday to Friday daytimes, when most other people are working, and working in the evenings and weekends can make social plans difficult. As I work for myself, I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck to keep me motivated with the business side of things, so beating procrastination can be difficult and I have to remember to give myself a pat on the back when I’ve done a good job.

How much time do you spend developing new magic for your shows?

It varies a lot—I have a working repertoire of tried and tested material, so for the majority of shows I can grab my bags and be ready to go. I’ve got notebooks full of half-ideas and works in progress, and occasionally I’ll dig one of those out and start to work on it.

There’s quite a lot that goes into developing a new routine: once I’ve got the technical side down, and a rough outline for how I’ll present it, I’ll take it out into the “real world” and see how it plays. From then I’ll start refining things based on how that works out.

Do you have a current favourite trick that you enjoy performing?

There are a few, but one is a routine which involves a playing card that somebody has freely chosen ending up inside a sealed chocolate bar. The idea for the trick was not mine, but I’ve written my own way of performing it with a tongue-in-cheek science theme, and it involves dressing an audience member up in a lab coat, goggles and various other ridiculous things. It gets a lot of laughs, and ends with a magic trick that’s really amazing. It’s the kind of thing people tend to remember for quite a long while.

Do you get inspiration from any famous magicians and illusionists?

Absolutely! There’s not a great deal of really new magic—most things that magicians perform are variations or re-workings of existing ideas. Many of my favorite magicians are not widely known outside of the magic world. For instance, my favourite magician is Juan Tamariz, who’s well-known in Spain and widely regarded in the magic world to be the greatest living close-up magician. I’m lucky enough to have met him and attended his workshops on a couple of occasions.

In terms of famous magicians, I’m a big fan of David Blaine, and although he doesn’t technically refer to himself as a magician, I rate Derren Brown as the best live performer around at the moment.

What trick has been hardest to get the knack of to this point?

I guess the hardest thing is not technically a magic trick. I also do memory stunts and I’ve become known for performing a routine that is a mix of memory skills and mathematical feats. I memorise a random list of objects very quickly in order and then create a perfect magic square from memory for any number called out by the audience. It sounds strange saying it like that, but I’m told it’s very entertaining and people tend to remember it for a long while afterwards.

I performed that at a night at the Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly Circus, and six months later a guy recognised me in a bar because he’d seen me do it. It’s satisfying to perform as I’m genuinely doing what I say, which is really difficult! I’ve spent several years getting the performance down to how it is now, and still consider it a work in progress.

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What is your life philosophy?

You only live once. Get out there and do the things you love, and enjoy as many experiences as you can in the short time you’re here.

Where are your favourite places to relax, eat, or be entertained in west London?

I live in Pimlico so spend a fair amount of time locally; we have a really nice local community here, which is unusual in Zone 1, with some nice little independent cafes and restaurants and proper pubs. I prefer pubs over bars—going further out west The Elgin and the Windsor Castle in Notting Hill are good ones. I love a good Sunday roast too and The Orange on Pimlico Road does one of the best in London.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow their passion and turn it into a career?

Ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”. Many people don’t do what they want in life because of fear—fear of the unknown, fear of failing, etc. But in many cases if you actually consider it, the worst possible outcome is not often that bad. Once you realise that, it’s easier to take steps towards making your ideas a reality.

If you can, get advice from people who’ve been successful doing what you do. I have a good network of friends who are professional magicians and I’m a member of The Magic Circle, so I’m never short of people I can ask for help or guidance when I need it.

What was the last book you read?

Homos Dues: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. I really enjoyed his first book about the history of humankind, and this is the follow-up, with his predictions for what the future has in store for humanity. I try to alternate between non-fiction books and fiction, so am now on the lookout for a good novel to read.

Have you had any unusual requests or performance stories?

Quite a few, yes—recently a guy who’d booked me for a corporate event called and asked “Do you do any magic with rubber ducks?”. It turned out it was associated with an in-joke at the company—I actually did manage to come up with something for that one!

A few years ago I was booked to perform at a well-known neuroscientist’s birthday by a few of her PhD students. They asked me to turn up at a university and pretend to be a visiting lecturer, then go into a magic show to surprise her. That was a really fun one—although her first question when she realised I wasn’t a genuine lecturer was “You’re not a stripper, are you?”. I think she was relieved to find out that I wasn’t!

Since we’re in the season of resolution-setting, any goals for the coming year?

Keep on performing!

It’s not really a resolution as such, but I would like to put together a 45-60 minute one-man show. Maybe I’ll get around to that before the year’s out.

darrendelaney.co.ukdarren@darrendelaney.co.uk

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