Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee interview
Paul Daniels is just as much a live-wire in real life as he is on stage, and when we meet to discuss his new show he is straight into the jokes, most of them at his own expense.
“Comic, magician, international sex symbol…” the diminutive funnyman says by way of introduction, as “the lovely Debbie McGee” – his wife and onstage-partner – looks on. I ask if he is ever “off”. “No,” Debbie says with a smile. “Paul is exactly the same at home as he is on stage. I don’t know anyone else so resolutely positive about life.”
The couple, who married in 1988, are touring a new show, Back Despite Popular Demand! – which, they tell me, contains some old favourites as well as new tricks. “People complain when we don’t do tricks they expect to see every time they come to see us, so we’ve included two oldies, my signature illusions as it were, but everything else is different,” says Paul. “And the great thing about a live show is that it’s never the same twice because the audience is different each night.”
In a previous tour the couple introduced a Q&A as part of the show. “Some of the questions were really left-field and kept me on my toes,” says Paul. He enjoys the contact with fans, and is a keen tweeter and blogger, but even though he’s very much a fan of modern gizmos, says about using it his act: “You can use technology, providing it’s not technology that does the trick.”
Paul makes most of his own props and is also a keen handyman at home; during the floods last winter their Thames-side Berkshire home was not seriously affected, as he had built a system of gates and pumps – even though their garden was under water for several weeks. And once Debbie came home from shopping to find he had installed a mezzanine floor in his large workshop. Why? “I thought, well, it has a high ceiling, so why not?” says Paul.
The Middlesbrough native, who started doing magic tricks at the age of 11, has developed illusions for several shows in London’s West End, including Cats and Phantom of the Opera. He and Debbie like to go to Las Vegas to see the big magic shows and Paul is a keen student of the artform – and he has an extensive collection of books and artefacts. “Lots of people contact Paul if they need to know anything about the history of tricks and illusions,” says Debbie.
With more than 40 years in the business, Paul says he rarely doesn’t know how another performer does a trick, but occasionally even he is foxed. “Then I break it down, bit by bit, and eventually I will work it out,” he says. “And I tip my hat to anyone who could stump me.”
As a member of the Magic Circle would he ever reveal the mechanics of a trick? “Oh no, why spoil the illusion? What people are seeing defies the laws of nature and of physics – matter can’t disappear and then reappear, for example – so they know it’s not real but can’t understand how it’s done and that makes great entertainment. And a lot of what makes it fun is the chat that goes with it, of course.”
He also does occasional “mentalist” tricks – mind-reading – and talks with awe about some of the great performers in this field, but Paul is less keen on psychics, who, he believes, use the same tricks but for less noble purposes. “If they are talking to those who have passed, why do they never ask them, ‘What’s it like?’” he says scathingly. “A lot of them may think they’re not doing any harm, but for me they are continuing the sorrow [of the bereaved]. I believe once you’re gone, you’re gone.”
I ask if anything ever goes wrong with a trick and they both laugh. “Not that the audience would be aware of,” says Paul. “When I’m creating a show, I plan the routines and then I plan the get-outs: so if anything goes wrong, I’m ready.” Debbie adds: “It rarely happens that anything goes wrong but when it has – someone fainted in the front row once – Paul was completely unfazed and carried on cracking gags while he was being helped out.”
Back to the tour, which Paul and Debbie are enjoying as they travel around the country. “We love doing the show but travelling can be a pain,” says Paul. “So we stay in nice hotels and eat lovely food, and explore an area when we possibly can. This is a great country and we love discovering new parts of it.”
Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee: Back…Despite Popular Demand, Whitley Bay Playhouse, Wednesday 29 October, 7.30pm, £18.50/£15 conc/£12 under 16’s/£50 family. Buy tickets.