‘I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life’
That’s the sentence going through my head one Wednesday in the December of 2003.
I was sitting in the library of East Durham College, which has since been entirely bulldozed and rebuilt at another location in the same town of Peterlee in the North-East of England.
Thankfully my friend Marc is both incredibly frugal and a huge fan of music, so it’s for those reasons that we found ourselves in the library every single Wednesday, with him staring into the college bought NME magazine and me staring out of the window.
Marc’s desire to read that magazine without paying and the college’s generous decision to stock the library with it (it was a music and performing arts college) may well have been the defining cornerstone in my life. That and the fact that at age 18, almost all of my decisions involved girls.
Coincidence one out of the way, lets move on to number 2.
I fancied a girl called Beth. She was funny and pretty and as usual for me, totally out of my league. At some point, I’d asked Marc to ask her out for me and to my complete surprise, she said no.
Beth was in the library that day, minding her own business at a computer when she was soon joined by Marc and I.
When I was about 4 years old, my family started going to Haven Holiday Parks all over the country. Mainly Primrose Valley in Scarborough. I loved everything about those weeks. The swimming pool, the toboggan run (sadly no longer there), Jester’s entertainment venue, the talents shows, arcades and the close proximity to ones family that comes with spending a week in a caravan.
Those holidays continued until I was 16 and although the reasons I loved them changed, my love for the holiday itself never diminished.
It’s with this backstory that I immediately recognised the Haven logo, displayed proudly upon the website Beth was looking at. Back to the library…
It turned out that she’d been on those holidays too and that she was now thinking of auditioning to be one of the iconic ‘Havenmates’. For those not in the know, these are the on site resident entertainers (now called Funstars) that cater for all of your entertainment needs during the week. They do everything from 8am morning activities to late night discos with singing and dancing in themed shows during the evening. They work exceptionally hard and to the children (and some of the adults), they are undoubtedly celebrities.
Beth was planning to audition on the very last available day, the Sunday of that week down in Great Yarmouth. As it was a five hour drive and she’d only just passed her driving test, she asked if Marc or I would like to accompany her for the drive.
For reasons related entirely to the career I had absolutely no idea I wanted (probably) I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately Marc was busy (real shame), so that Sunday, we set off on what was about to be an exciting but entirely unromantic adventure.
Once at the audition my nerves kicked in. I played guitar for Beth to sing ‘Everybody Hurts’ and for myself also to sing ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s. The nerve wracking part was that the other 30+ people auditioning remained in the room for the solo performances. Once that was out of the way, a group dance number and some individual interviews with the heads of the entertainment department brought a close to the audition. My interview was with a lovely man named Simon Morgan. He immediately put me at ease and I’m delighted to say that we remain friends to this day. He’s too modest to accept any credit for my career but I can’t underestimate the thanks I have for his input.
The audition itself seem to go by in a flash but the month following was a lot longer. Eventually, on the 21st of January 2004, I received the letter I’d been hoping for. Kind of.
I was on the reserve list! Auditioning so late in the process meant that places were filled and I wouldn’t know if I was getting one until after the dust settled and the people who’d already accepted jobs decided if they were keeping them.
Fortunately for me, showbusiness isn’t for everyone and under the bright glare of the spotlight confidence sometimes fades. A couple of weeks later I got a second letter stating that if I still wanted the job, I was moving to Blackpool, at Cala Gran Holiday Park.
It’s worth noting that at this point in my life, I was 18 years old and had absolutely no interest at all in being a magician. When I was 13 and at a youth drama school, a friend taught me a ‘DL’ (sorry, that part is for magicians only) and I learned to do it pretty well, but that was it. Magic went back into the draw for another 6 years. My only exposure to magic prior to that was via the Wayne Dobson and Paul Daniels magic shows on TV.
Once I arrived at the holiday park it was incredible fun and a HUGE learning experience. Aside from the 70 hour weeks, the going to bed at 4am and the getting up at 7am, I loved it. Being part of that team was a joy and I’ve stayed in touch with most of the people I worked with back then.
It was during this time that I first saw magicians live.
Every week we’d have a ‘speciality act’. I remember seeing John Danbury on the very first night I arrived and being completely won over by his class and charm. Doing the sound for Atmosfear (with Dave Burns) and being blown away by their costumes and unusual ideas.
The biggest influence on me was undoubtedly a magician called Paul Dabek. He was funny, had killer technical skills and his act seemed to encompass everything I’d always imagined about magicians whilst still being entirely contemporary. The most amazing thing is that he was (and still is) a year younger than me!
I feel it only fair to point out that these are OLD pictures from the time.
I’m delighted to say that I’m great friends with all of the performers named above and that they’ve become great supporters of my work in the same way I remain a fan of theirs.
During this season I started to wonder if I too could be a magician and then did absolutely nothing about it for almost a year.
The following season, after a brief winter job working as a part time bingo caller (using bingo calling skills I inherited from both my mother and father, but that’s a story for another day) I went back to work for Haven. This time in the Lake District at Lakelands Holiday Park.
In the first week of the season the team decided we’d have a day out to Blackpool. The entire previous year I’d been living there but had absolutely no idea that it was home to one of the UK’s best magic stores. The one that now, we were parked right outside of.
Sadly it’s no longer even a shop, it’s been converted to flats.
My friend Joanne suggested we take a look inside. The shop was owned and operated by a name familiar to almost every magician on the planet, Mark Mason.
Mark is widely regarded as the best magic demonstrator on the planet and among the most prolific producers and creators of magic tricks out there.
I left JB Magic that day with every trick I could afford. Hundreds of pounds of stage magic tricks and not a clue how to use any of them but, I was going to learn!
Because there was one thing I did know,
That I was going to be a magician.
FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT IN PART TWO (available NOW)