An Interview with Close up Magician and Freak show Performer Simon
Our professional Close Up Magician and Freak Show Performer Simon has been taking the entertainment world by storm as he performs daring stunts that amaze, mystify and shock audiences! A multi-talented entertainer, Simon has proved to be a popular choice for many international corporate, private and cabaret clients, and it’s not hard to see why. Combining humour, magic and weird and wonderful stunts with lots of audience participation, Simon is sure to amaze and delight guests at any event. We thought we would take the opportunity to talk to this magical mastermind and find out a little more about being the youngest performer to hammer nails in to his nose and being on Britain's Got Talent…
Tell us a bit about your magic show …
I like to think of my shows as taking old classics of magic and updating and tailoring them to fit both my audience and myself. Much of what I perform on stage originates from early 20th century magic, before I twisted it! When Houdini was performing, people would watch him trying to escape from things for up to an hour, sometimes longer. Today magicians don’t have that luxury and so must ‘hit’ people with startling magic as early on as possible! When performing close up magic, it is even more important to show something quickly to grab attention, and of course most importantly be a genuine and nice person that people actually want to spend time with. I try and take my spectators through as many experiences as possible during my show; I make them laugh, I leave them amazed and sometimes shocked. To paraphrase a famous Magician Eugene Burger, “a magic show should be like a Dolly Parton concert, an emotional roller coaster, but in a good way!” and I firmly believe that.
As well as magic, you also perform a freak show. How did you find out you could hammer nails in to your nose and swallow a balloon?
I owned a book that briefly described the techniques that swami’s and fakirs used to amaze audiences, to show they couldn’t feel pain when in a trance state. I think today it’s still a meditation technique to put rubber tubing in your nose and pull it out of your mouth. I’m not sure how that’s meant to help you meditate, but what I was reading was incredible. I just had to try it! So, at around 15 I grabbed some 2-inch nails and following the brief instructions in the book proceeded to attempt to put one up my nose. After much sneezing I managed it! Now I perform it with 5 - 6 inch nails in both nostrils and when I started I was the youngest performer to do this stunt. The balloon swallowing was a fun one. I received my audition for Britain’s Got Talent and had no idea what to do for it. I got talking to a magician who said he swallowed balloons and that he’d teach me. I don’t think I ever caught his name, but thank you whoever you are.
How do audiences react when they see you perform your freak show act?
Sideshow stunts I find run a very thin line because despite them being amazing, they are also usually quite gross. I mean, I hammer nails in my nose, swallow balloons, razor blades and needles; walk on glass and eat it, put a balloon in my nose and pull it out of my mouth… these aren’t normal things! I try to play them as comedy rather than serious acts where possible because it gets more people on side and less likely to leave them feeling ill! It’s all about the presentation. My audience reactions are usually laughter, which is great, however occasionally I’ll get someone coming up saying I made them feel ill. I was actually fired from a stage residency once for grossing people out. Even though the audience where onboard, the owner didn’t like it!
You performed on BGT in 2009, what was that like?
BGT was fun but a very long day! I was 16 and still in college and all my friends suggested I do it, so I did. After a ridiculously long wait, I got in front of the judges and sat with a blown up balloon, as my pump had burst and I couldn’t blow them up back then! As soon as I walked on and said I was a magician, Simon buzzed me off without seeing my act. Then as I started swallowing the balloon, eventually everyone buzzed me, however I can’t exactly stop, I have to carry on till it is fully eaten! Luckily the audience were on my side and were chanting to let me finish and gave me a massive round of applause! My feedback from Simon was that he was actually impressed by what I did, Piers said he loved it, Kelly said I was disgusting and Amanda couldn’t understand the trick as apparently she did that with her husband. I didn’t get past the quarter-finals, however I had a great time and would love to do it again now!
Did performing on BGT change you career in any way?
I think if anything it gave me much more confidence to carry on with what I was doing. Sure, I didn’t get into the semi finals or any of that, but at 16 to stand up in front of a completely packed audience cheering you on - that really was something. I’d highly recommend the experience to anyone. I also occasionally get people on the street saying they saw me on TV, which is always great!
It has been said that you are one of the 'dying breed of side show performers.' In your experience are side show performers a dying breed?
I think being a good side show performer is hard. Not everyone likes it, and some people are made in certain ways so they can do bizarre things you can’t. For instance I know someone that can squirt milk out of their eye, unfortunately I’m not wired that way! Because it is quite a unique field, I can name pretty much all the really good acts on one hand. Many people dabble with it, the Human Blockhead stunt being the most done as well as fire performing and glass walking. However to actually engage an audience in what you are doing without them turning away, is the hardest part. A couple of years ago, I was asked to give some final edits on stunts to go in to a book that was written to specifically teach side show stunts so I can see it possibly getting more popular, but right now I’d say there isn’t a lot of us out there!
What has been the most interesting event you have ever been asked to perform at?
This is a tricky one. I’d have to give four: The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Blind Pig Cider UK tour, KAUST 5 year anniversary in Saudi Arabia and most recently, an Indian wedding in Oman. The size of all three of these events was incredible. For instance at the wedding they had flown 800 guests from around the world to the wedding, as well as 200 people who were the bands, entertainers, bar staff … they’d even flown in 40 specialists in Indian cuisine to make the food! Working for Blind Pig was great fun! Performing in a different venue each night around the country, I also had to dress up as Randall the Magnificent, which was their ‘brand magician’. I was kitted out with a tailcoat and a turban to look like a 1920’s style magician, which was interesting, but definitely helped in my performance. I was also given loads of bits and bobs by the company to do tricks with like fake money, bottle caps and a branded deck of cards, and of course the bottles of cider themselves! In Saudi Arabia, I performed close up magic tricks as well as a stage show to around 5000 people. The atmosphere was electric and they had an incredible light show as well. I also met some really lovely people whilst there and was invited to their after show party which was great! At Edinburgh there is a different show on every corner, and everything is so diverse, you never know what you might see! I’m hoping to be in Edinburgh again this year, the atmosphere is basically one big party, it’s like nothing else I’ve performed at!
If you weren't a magician and freak show performer, what would you be doing?
Honestly I’m not sure. I’ve always wanted to be a performer of some kind. I was always in the school plays in primary and high school and studied drama in college and sixth form. I’ve never really thought of doing anything else. There have of course been times when I’ve thought, “I wonder if I could do this?” which has ranged from being a policeman, a teacher, and even a vicar once for some reason! I’d also like to maybe work on TV shows, helping to create certain effects, and I quite like the idea of being a ‘folio artist or Radio DJ, however I have terrible taste in music!