From six-years-old, running along the garden path, whispering, I want to be a fairy, I want to be a fairy, to this moment, right here, right now, I’ve believed—I believe—in magic.
If I hadn’t become a real fairy or a ballerina, or if Hamburg, Berlin and Dubai weren’t the cabaret wonderlands I’d hoped they would be, that didn’t mean that something wonderful wasn’t or isn’t about to happen. It’s about having faith that the pieces will fall into their perfect place. You cannot get it wrong and you cannot get it done. Magic has its own timing, its own quirky way of things working out in perfect time and space.
If you’re becoming impatient, wondering if I’m ever going to get to Broadway, either metaphorically or literally, hold your horses, keep the faith. The stage is all set to erupt in a sparkling display of jubilant fireworks. Any minute now. Make yourself a cup of tea. Put the kettle on. Have a biscuit. Have two. These things take time.
While I played with Bongo on the beach, while I went swing dancing with Walkabout, while I concentrated on having fun just like all the personal development books advised, a potent cloud of shimmering magic dust was gathering above my Sequin Palace of Dreams. All those spells I’d cast, all those fire-fuelled prayers I’d whispered, all my fervent hopes and wishes made over decades, gathered and hung, waiting. Week followed week, my props still packed in my cases from Dubai. After precisely eight weeks, a speck of magic dust tickled my nose, I sneezed and—hey presto!—I was back in love with magic. Just like that.
Which was handy because before I left for Dubai I had entered the International Brotherhood of Magicians stage competition and the finals were in exactly four weeks’ time. The competition was eight minutes of pure stage magic. No talking, no flouncing about with feathers, no getting by with comedy, just pure, proper, technical magic, requiring real, technical rehearsal.
In my little Sequin Theatre, I had everything I needed: a video camera, a wall of mirrors plus four weeks of free time and magic friends to help and advise. Not an obstacle in sight. Except me.
My home Sequin Theatre in Brighton
“I suppose you could actually rehearse.” my husband Walkabout suggested one day. I looked at him sharply to see exactly how sarcastic he was being. He knew me well enough to know that I would do anything to avoid rehearsal. Stay inside on a brand-new morning? Not me! He looked serious. “If you don’t rehearse, it won’t happen. You need to put your costume on in the morning and perform the act three times to the camera and then watch it back. You can go out on your bike after.” I glared at him like a stroppy five-year-old. I didn’t want to put on my uncomfortable costume, tight corset and feathers first thing in the morning. I didn’t ever want to put it on. I definitely didn’t want to watch myself back on video.
But he was right. He usually is. I pinned a card on the studio wall with a quote from one of my magic heroes, Doug Henning:
The hard must become habit.
The habit must become easy.
The easy must become beautiful.
I began. Before I did anything else in the morning, I did my act once, twice, three times to camera. Even though the act I was rehearsing was only eight minutes long, the process of loading the props, performing it, watching it back, making notes on what was wrong, re-loading the props and doing it all over again took three hours.
Taking off the corset at the end was a glorious moment. The feeling of satisfaction after rehearsal rather than my usual daily guilt was a wonderful feeling too. After a week, things started to improve. After two weeks, my technical skills increased, after three weeks, everything was so much easier. Funny that—who knew?
Four weeks of daily practice later, I won the IBM stage competition, a huge trophy and another thousand pounds.
The International Brotherhood of Magicians Stage Magician of the Year.
Maybe time to change the title?
Now what? I’d won two major magic competitions and I had gigs coming in, but I still didn’t have a world-class act that international variety show producers were banging on my door to book. How would I find the key? I had a little think. And when I’d had a little think, I remembered Siegfried and Roy. Siegfried and Roy had been heroes of mine since I saw the movie of their transformation from two young German boys in post-war Germany to mega stars of Vegas with their own spectacular show featuring lions, elephants and amazing theatrical illusions. In the last show that they would ever do, Roy’s tiger dragged him off-stage by the neck, severing an artery, causing Roy to have a massive stroke. Their show was cancelled that night and never re-opened.
I’d always had the feeling that if I could only meet them, some of their magic would rub off on me. But how?
Every year in Vegas, Siegfried and Roy held a competition called the World Magic Seminar. Each year, one magician won the highly respected Golden Lion Award and a cheque for five thousand dollars. If I entered the competition, I would be sure to meet them backstage. I wrote to the organiser asking whether there was still time to enter.
“You can have the last of seven places and we’ll give you $500 travel expenses,” the organiser replied. What? Seven places? Travel expenses? I’d assumed that there would be at least thirty entrants. I Googled the list of competitors. Each one was a hotshot magic technician and top award winner of his country. Technically, I was a British award winner too, but I felt I’d won my titles with comedy, not magic.
What I needed was real magic. What did all the past winners have in common? More Googling. Photos of the winners smiled at me holding a giant cheque sandwiched between Siegfried and Roy. I photoshopped my face over the previous winners and pinned the images around my studio. Each afternoon while I walked Bongo in the forest, I whipped up the exultant feeling that I’d actually won. Winner of the Las Vegas World Magic Seminar! Me! I walked along pretending to hold the oversized cheque in my hands, Siegfried and Roy on each side, posing for the cameras.
“I know! I can’t believe it! I won!” I told the trees. Bongo turned to look at me with surprise. With my flight to Vegas paid for, my hotel room booked and my competition place confirmed, I put my head down and rehearsed.
The competition was in February. By January, the act wasn’t looking too bad. But two weeks before the competition, I got an email from the organiser.
“Due to changes concerning the use of pyrotechnics, no fire of any sort is permitted,” it declared. What? I was doing an eight-minute act and three of those minutes used fire. I wrote back desperately, pleading my case.
“We understand if you want to pull out,” the organiser replied.
Pull out? I’ve bought my flight, I’ve booked my hotel. I have to meet Siegfried and Roy.
“What am I going to do?” I asked my magician friends in a panic.
“Do your comedy coin routine. We like that.”
This coin routine was the first trick I ever learnt and not something to impress one thousand magicians in a prestigious Vegas magic competition.
“I can’t do that!” I wailed.
“What else are you going to do?” they pointed out. Fair point.
Backstage in the theatre, the competitors nervously put on make-up, checked props, checked again and re-checked. One thousand magicians waited eagerly in the auditorium of the Las Vegas showroom, each clutching their voting paper. The atmosphere was intense.
It was time.
Lovely Eugene Burger came backstage to encourage the acts before we went on.
I was first on after the interval. I walked out onto the huge stage into the spotlights. I performed my opening routine: silk scarves fluttering to reveal a suddenly appearing birdcage, plumes of cerise feathers materialising from nothing, a large diamond necklace held in my hand which I had shown empty seconds before. So far, so good. Now for my coin routine. I chose two men from the audience. Both men jumped up as instructed and followed me to the front of the auditorium and up four steps to the stage. One chap bounded up the stairs energetically. But when the other reached the stage, he collapsed on all fours, breathing heavily. Over the music I could hear him wheezing, gasping for breath. Something was wrong. The sound technician cut the track and now the rasp of his laboured breathing filled the auditorium. It was a big stage, and before I could get to him, six men from the audience jumped from their seats and crouched around him, looking worried. He continued to gasp, still on all fours, his back humped. A thousand pairs of eyes were fixed on him—a thousand and one including mine. There was nothing I could do. I stood there thinking, Oh God, I’ve killed him.
Finally, his breathing quietened and, taking the arms of the men around him, he slowly struggled to his feet. The six men stayed, watching him warily, ready to catch him if he fell again. I approached and, in character, said sternly, “Young man—” He wasn’t young. “This show isn’t all about you, you know.” My stage character has a certain way of thinking and speaking. In her world, if someone is going to have a heart attack on stage, they should do it quickly and quietly so she can get on with her act. “The choice is yours. Are you going to stay or are you going to go?”
A long pause. He took a deep breath and wheezed, “I’ll stay.” A great cheer went up. Everything from that point on was comedy gold. You couldn’t have written it better: the tension, the relief, the characters. My act was much funnier than it had ever been before. As I walked off stage I knew I’d won, I just knew.
To say I was relieved would be an understatement. I was pleased that the technical magic in my act went as planned, but I was really amazed with the success of the comedy adventure in the middle. I walked back down the long hotel corridor to my room, fell on my bed and gazed at the ceiling. It was all so very strange. There seemed to be too many coincidences happening. Was Sekhmet still spinning her magic and answering my wishes?
While I was lying on my Las Vegas hotel bed lost in my thoughts, the magicians back in the theatre were voting for the act they liked best. One magician, one vote. One thousand votes. The results would be announced tomorrow afternoon.
The next day, I put on my hot-pink, full-length satin gown and diamond necklace for the awards ceremony and walked past the flashing slot machines in the lobby of the hotel to the showroom theatre. It was still afternoon, everyone else was wearing jeans, but I had a funny feeling that I might have won. And if I was going to get that photograph with Siegfried and Roy, I was damn well going to be dressed for it. No one seemed to notice I was overdressed. In Vegas—no one is ever surprised at anything.
I took a seat at the back.
“And the winner is—"
That pause. Anything could happen.
“Romany—Diva of Magic!” Wow. Hard to get out of my seat. Hard to take it in. I didn’t move. I couldn’t move. The auditorium was full of applause. I forced myself to get up and floated on cheers and applause to the stage and up the steps. At the top, I pretended to trip and collapse on all fours as my volunteer had done, my bum facing the audience, and a great laugh went up.
On stage I stood between Siegfried and Roy holding the cheque, just like in the forest with Bongo.
Except this time, it was real.
And this photo isn't photoshopped!
Magic is strange. It swirls, lifts and blows on currents of thought and feeling. You can hold it in your hands and mould it this way or that. You can say, “I will this to be so,” or in magical language, “Abracadabra”; then you have to inhabit the will, as if it is, as if it is already. When you really, truly feel as if it is, then it IS. When you decide and commit, believe and act as it if is already, all sorts of things you couldn’t have dreamed possible come into play.
Goethe had it right. He said:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
I now had five thousand sparkling new dollars in my bank account, thank you, and a big trophy with a Golden Lion Head on my wall. That made a hat-trick of three major magic competitions, and finally my stage magic was beginning to shape up. But hang on. Lion head? Sekhmet is a lion-headed goddess. The bronze taps on the well in Glastonbury were lion heads too. Was this all Sekhmet’s secret lion-themed joke?
I had a few more days to spend in Vegas before my flight home. Back at Patti and Badger’s house, I opened an email. Would I like to join David Copperfield for a private tour of his magic museum meeting at midnight in a secret designation in Vegas? Are you kidding? Could this trip get any more exciting?
Oh, wait, it could.
When a large black limousine picked me up at my hotel, I saw it contained four other magicians: Sylvan, legendary TV star magician of Italy, Juan Tamariz, mega-star of Spain, Jonathan Pendragon, American superstar illusionist and performer of countless presidential performances and Paul Stone, big-time show producer. And me, not mega anything at all. But they had all watched my performance yesterday and were very complimentary.
Legendary Slyvan, Juan Tamariz, Jonathan Pendragon and David Copperfield
The car stopped in the middle of a dark car park. When I got out, all I could see was a large industrial unit with a normal-looking shopfront. There were a couple of male mannequins dressed in sharp suits in the window. Strange. I turned back to see what the others were doing and there, right there in front of me was David Copperfield. Not a waxwork, not a poster, the real David Copperfield. He held out his hand to shake mine. I was so completely shocked that I said, “You look young.”
Smooth as silk, he replied, “Good. It must be working.”
He turned to greet his other guests while I gave myself a slap. You look young? Idiot. We followed him across the car park into the little shop.
“My parents,” he began, when our little group were gathered in what seemed to be a little tailor’s shop, complete with shelves of dark cloth, “owned a little haberdashery shop in New Jersey just like this one. I started performing magic when I was ten.” He handed us each a white business card. It said, Davino—Boy Magician. “At twelve, I was a shy kid. Magic was my way to fit in.” David led us through the back door of the haberdashery shop and into another room, filled floor to ceiling with glass cases packed full of ventriloquist dolls. Stubbornly open eyes stared at us from behind the glass. Onwards to a large dark room full of huge black drawers. Every show he’s ever done has been filmed and catalogued, every reference to him in every article and book recorded. Eleven Guinness world records, twenty-one Emmy awards, thirty-three million tickets sold, a knighthood from the French government, a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, listed by Forbes in the list of twenty highest earning celebrities in the world. He’s even got his own flipping Caribbean island. Extraordinary.
Onward. On through a huge industrial warehouse housing his famous illusions. He shows us the water tank of his escape from death illusion. Once while rehearsing, shackled and handcuffed, he’d gotten tangled in the chains and started breathing in water. After banging on the sides of the tank, he was pulled out hyperventilating and taken to hospital with pulled tendons in his arms and legs. He was in a wheelchair for a week.
I suddenly understood. This was a show, a carefully scripted one-man show not on stage, but in his very own magic museum. David was taking us on a tour of his life, his passion for magic and his mega success. The tour had begun at midnight and it was now 3 a.m. I was getting hungry. At 4 a.m., while the other four world-famous magicians were having conniptions over an extremely rare antique magic mechanical clock, all I was thinking about was how I could really murder a large portion of hot salty McDonald’s fries.
Finally, the tour complete, we were escorted through another mysterious door and suddenly we were back in the car park where our limo was waiting. I looked back at the haberdashery shop. I blinked; the shopfront was different. I shook my head and stared hard again but it had definitely changed. In the place of the two mannequins dressed in pinstriped suits, there was a beautiful showgirl standing on a low podium. Not a mannequin but a real live moving showgirl. Wearing a sparkling diamanté bikini and a diamond-studded feather crown, with high heels and long, long legs, she slowly fanned two huge turquoise feather fans. My mega-star magic colleagues were chatting to each other and hadn’t noticed a thing. As I stared in wonder, she caught my gaze, gave me an especially dazzling smile and winked.
If you'd like to read the complete fascinating adventure, Spun Into Gold - The Secret Life of a Female Magician by Romany Romany is available worldwide and as an audiobook.
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