I continued to cruise reasonably consistently from the first one in 2010 until around 2015 when I got totally burned out and pretty tired of life on the ocean waves. Spending a lot of time at sea suits a certain type of lifestyle, but not the one I had. In December 2011, Sarah and I had a brand new baby in the house and my priorities began to shift. I still needed to work as regularly as possible but I also didn’t want to be out of the country for 30 weeks of the year.
I talk more about that burn out and my eventual return to cruising in another blog entitled ‘Just Cruising’.
Thankfully it was around this time that I came back into contact with a guy named Marc Layton. He’d been an entertainment manager for Haven in my first year working for them and escalated to a regional entertainment manager in my second. His climb continued alongside mine as he progressed from working at an entertainment agency to owning one. It was at this point that our paths would cross again and we struck up a working relationship that’s morphed into an incredibly valuable friendship too. He’s now my manager and aside from fielding calls from me about nothing at all hours of the day, he keeps my diary pretty busy too!
The first of which was on the huge stage at Craig Tara Holiday Park in Scotland! Talk about a Baptism by fire!
I’ll come back to that in a moment, first I’ll leave cruising with one more story, as promised in the previous blog.
In September 2011 I was due to fly out to a ship on the Discovery Cruises brand. They’re a high end cruise company and the passengers choose them for the scenic/historical itineraries and incredible guest lecturers. Most ships tend to have guest lecturers on board, they’re experts in various fields and give daytime talks in the main theatre about their own area of expertise. I’ve seen lectures on everything from the history of shoes to the Falklands War.
Discovery Cruises usually book celebrity grade lecturers and scale back on the visiting entertainment artists. In fact, they only open the theatre for one evening and it’s for the show of the single visiting act that week. Most ships have shows and visiting artists every night.
Now that you have the backdrop to this story, I’ll start at the beginning.
Monday morning, I was waiting for some flight details. I’d only been booked for this cruise three days before and was getting a little concerned. At 10am I received all the booking details and flight numbers for a plane that had taken off just over two hours earlier. I called the company immediately and they apologised profusely. They had meant to send the email on the Friday before leaving the office but for whatever reason, it hadn’t made it from their computers to mine. A new plan was now to be hatched.
The earliest flight they could get was going to be Wednesday. I’d fly from Manchester to Frankfurt, then stay overnight in a hotel before flying to Chania (Greece) the following morning, arriving at the ship late on Thursday.
It’s worth counting the expenses involved here, so far they’ve paid for a flight I didn’t take, plus two more to get to Greece including a stay in the Hyatt Frankfurt (with a 30 euro room service tab) in between. There was also a taxi from the airport to the hotel and another to get me back to the airport in the morning.
This is where things take a turn. The taxi driver arranged to pick me up from the hotel at 8am. I was confused. The flight wasn’t until the afternoon and the airport was just 15 minutes away. Or so I thought. There are actually two airports in Frankfurt. Except one of them isn’t really in Frankfurt at all. It’s actually in Hahn, almost 80 miles away. That’s where I would be flying from!
The next morning I took what became a two hour cab ride to make my outbound flight, signing a receipt along the way for over 200 euros!
Upon landing in Greece I was met by another taxi driver holding a card with my name on. I was to board the ship in Heraklion which I was now told was another 2 hour drive away! I arrived at the ship and signed another receipt, this one was for over 300 euros!
Over 500 euros in taxi rides!
I boarded the ship and having dropped my cases in the cabin, headed straight for the venue. I like to check out where I’ll be performing as soon as possible and remind myself why I’m there to keep focus. On the way to the venue I bumped (quite literally) into a very tall man. Google tells me he’s 6ft 7, though I didn’t know this at the time.
The man in question was Terry Waite and I recognised him immediately. In the mid 1980s he’d been a hostage negotiator and was taken hostage himself in Lebanon for over 5 years. His release happened when I was 6 years old in 1991 and I remember what a huge story it was on the television.
I bumped into him as he was entering the launderette and I was leaving. My usual routine once on board involves putting my clothes into a dryer on the way to the venue. I find that if they haven’t been packed for too long, a quick spin in the warm air is enough to rid your clothes of the telltale suitcase creases.
Terry was having some trouble freeing his clothes from the washing machine and my potentially ill judged joke about them being held hostage inspired a booming laugh that cemented us as fast friends.
That weeks other star lecturer was The Antique’s Roadshow’s Tim Wonnacott.
I checked out the venue and all was well. Remember though: 3 flights, 2 very expensive taxis, 1 hotel and then my fee! I hoped sincerely that I would be worth it.
My show was the following evening on Friday. There wasn’t much choice in this matter as I was due to fly home on Saturday morning! At 8.58pm, with 2 minutes to go until show time I peeked out of the curtain and head counted only 24 people into room. The cruise director said that the shows weren’t hugely popular on this particular ship and not to worry. I began to wonder why they’d spent all that money to get me there!
The show itself was fine. It went as well as comedy magic can do in a room of only 24 people with combined age of roughly 2000.
At the end of the show a small portion of my audience were asleep and during my play off dutifully woke up and politely put their hands together with absolutely no idea what they were clapping for before getting up and leaving. All except one lady.
A waitress gently ruffled her shoulder and the poor woman went entirely sideways for a lie down. There was no waking to be done. She was dead.
Now, before this story takes a dark and sad turn, there was no shock. No alarm raised. No squeal from the waitress turned grim reaper. This occurrence is as common on ships like this as accidents in episodes of casualty. It comes with the territory. Apparently, some people go on endless world cruises safe in the knowledge they’ll spend their final days on board in the lap of luxury. I suppose if you have the money for it, why not. There are certainly worse places to meet ones maker.
I remember that lady smiling and laughing in the early parts of my show. I do not remember which of my routines she chose to go gently into that good night, but after the amount of times I’ve died doing them, she was welcome to take her pick. God bless her.
I flew home the next day via Switzerland and chalked up another great story for the annals.
5 flights, 4 taxis, 1 hotel, 1 show, 24 audience members, 1 death – and for the first time it my career, it wasn’t mine.
SO, as I was saying. Via the agency he was still working with at the time, Marc Layton started to book me at Haven. I was coming full circle. I remember very clearly that season of 2011 performing at Primrose Valley (the park where I’d gone on holiday as a child) and contemplating on stage that the last time I’d stood there was for a talent competition over ten years earlier. The show itself was great and I beamed with pride when I called my parents on the drive home.
Things with Haven would pick up slowly and surely over the years and I was delighted my diary was starting to fill with stage magic shows. This allowed me to say no to some of the close up magic gigs I was being offered. I really love close up magic, I just don’t have much passion for close up magic gigs. For the non magicians who’ll read this, perhaps I should explain the difference.
Close up magic is the study of intricate sleight of hand for the purposes of astonishment. Moments of wonder beyond all that is imaginable can be created using ones hands combined with only small props, misdirection or even just words themselves. Close up magic gigs however can often make this intricate mastery entirely redundant when you’re faced with a room full of drunken corporate salespeople who would rather you bothered someone else so they could continue abusing the free bar.
I prefer performing on stage because at very least, the existence of the stage itself suggests that the place has been ordained suitable for entertainment and that there might be some on. This cannot always be said for the third function room down the hall in the Leicester Marriot. (Location and hotel chosen at random for comic effect)
My place in the magic community also began to shift around this time. The first half of my lectures is always stage material. For all I’d originally become known to magicians as a close up guy, (thanks to the release of Supercharged Classics – see earlier blogs) I was now being booked to perform on stage at Presidents Dinners and for the Gala Show at magic conventions.
The first of these was the IBM (International Brotherhood Of Magicians) convention in Southport, September 2011.
I was due to be the opening act of the whole convention and my nerves were through the roof. I got so nervous prior to the show that my bowels became my master and I spent a good hour prior to that show sitting on the toilet in the hotel. The upshot of this was that I breezed into the backstage for the show, now showered and changed at the point the show had already started! The compere, a lovely man named Pat Fallon (who I’d go on to work with many times over the years) was holding court in the professional manner for which he is known. Just moments after he noticed I was present he began to introduce me and on I went. I have no memories of the performance at all. It flew by in a nervous haze and before I knew it, I was heading back to the wings. I regret that my late arrival probably made it seem like I didn’t care. The truth was that I cared too much, although I was far too embarrassed by the reason to admit to where I had actually been.
Thankfully my nerves eased and I was able to keep my bowels in control from then on! Just as well as I had a lecture about an hour later. I remember the lecture itself being a tremendous success and selling out of the DVD’s I’d brought within minutes after. This experience was something of a turning point psychologically and I realised that no matter how big the show, when performing for magicians, they only even want to see you do well. I’ve not suffered from those nerves since.
Things pretty much stayed the same for a couple of years. I performed regularly for magicians as well as on the holiday park circuit for Haven. Close up gigs popped up from time to time and I took in some incredible cruise itineraries. During 2012/13 I visited Brazil, Norway, Iceland, Chile, Sweden, Finland, Russia and many other wonderful places. I stood at the feet of Christ The Redeemer and saw ballet at The Hermitage in St Petersburg. I performed at my first comedy clubs and began bi weekly trips to KOS for First Choice holidays in their resort.
Then in 2013 a new chapter in my life was to open. I didn’t know it at the time but I was about to book my first pantomime.
Oh yes I was!
FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT IN PART SIX!