Magician Paul Daniels is back on the road with new show The First Farewell Tour – From Legend to Leg End. But the veteran entertainer has no intention of packing up his box of tricks for good, as he told Kathryn Tye.
Professional magician, international sex symbol and body builder.
Paul Daniels’ personal description on his Twitter account is typical of the tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating comedy style which has endeared him to audiences for the past four decades, epitomised by his catchphrase: “You’ll like this – not a lot.”
The 75-year-old entertainer admits that, when starting out, he made a conscious decision to introduce comedy into his act.
He said: “A big magic superstar at the time was Channing Pollock, who was tall, very good looking, very elegant, everything that I was not.
“I took a look at myself and decided to make my onstage persona fit my image – a cheeky chappy kind of fella – and just have fun. I’m glad I made that decision, or I would still be producing doves to classical music.”
Paul was first introduced to magic at the age of 11, when he read a book entitled How to Entertain at Parties, and became hooked. He dreamed of becoming a professional magician, but it was not until he turned 30 that he decided to go for it.
He said: “I became a local government internal auditor for a while, I was a soldier for a while, I ran a grocery shop for a while, but none of them were what I wanted to do. When I was 30 I thought, if I don’t do it now, I never will.
“It is still my hobby. I get paid for playing with my toys.”
Opportunity literally knocked in 1970 when Paul was spotted by a producer on the talent show Opportunity Knocks and, after appearances on a variety of programmes, he was given his own BBC series, The Paul Daniels Magic Show, in 1979.
It ran until 1994, and made him a household name, with successful product spin-offs including Paul Daniels’ Magic Sets and Magic Trick range.
The show also created another star, Paul’s glamorous assistant – and wife of 25 years – ‘The lovely Debbie McGee’, as she was always introduced.
Paul’s top tip for a successful marriage is simple: “We laugh all the time at each other, and with each other.”
Their genuine closeness is evident during the phone interview, which Debbie also participates in, answering questions for Paul while he has a drink or snack, and at times both husband and wife are on the phone, joking with each other.
In addition to Paul’s magic work, in recent years he and Debbie have taken part in a range of reality shows, including The Farm on Channel 5, and ITV’s X Factor: Battle of the Stars, and the devoted couple agree that the worst experience was Wife Swap.
Debbie said: “It felt like months but it was only four nights apart.” Paul added: “It was awful.”
But Paul is admirably honest when asked why they decided to take part in the shows, answering: “Money. I have always wanted to say that. In interviews, TV and film stars are asked what attracted them to the part, and claim to have felt a ‘deep inner emotion’ when they read the script. No you didn’t. You were offered the job and it was for money.”
His first love is still live performance, and he stresses that his present show, The First Farewell Tour, will certainly not be his last.
He said: “The Rolling Stones have been doing farewell tours for the last 80 years so I thought I had best do one. I love live shows. I enjoy the interaction with the audience, and the challenge of performing in different venues, as every one is different, and you have to solve the problems it offers in your presentation.
"Also, magic is much better live than on TV, as there is no chance people will think it was a camera trick or cleverly edited. If you see a live show, what you see is what you get.”
But Paul does admit enjoying watching the current generation of magicians perform on TV, such as Dynamo – who calls him The Godfather – although he doesn’t have any illusions about their tricks.
He said: “I like watching but I know how it’s done. How many really unique plots are there in the theatre?
"There are only eight notes in a scale and look at all the tunes that are out there. By the same token, magicians appear to defy gravity and the laws of physics and look at all the zillions of variations on that there is.
"We all have our own style but we are essentially doing the same thing. I just did it first!”
Paul Daniels: The First Farewell Tour – From Legend to Leg End, is at Gravesend’s Woodville Halls on Sunday, September 29. The show starts at 7.30pm. Tickets are £12.75 for children, £15.25 for over-60s and £18.25 for adults. Call 01474 337774.