Alex Casey chats to Dynamo, one of the world’s greatest living magicians, ahead of his arena spectacular in Auckland.
Dynamo is sitting way too close to a giant steak knife for my liking. If he was any other magician – and yes, there have been others – I would be worried that he might end up hurtling it at me, suddenly in a sequinned bikini, while I rotate on a garish winning wheel. Alas, Dynamo is not like a regular magician (wears a top hat), he’s a cool magician (wears a hoodie). And The Grill by Sean Connolly doesn’t seem to have a spinning wheel to hand.
The man who hovered atop The Shard, walked across the Thames and is generally regarded as one of the greatest living magicians in the world, is dressed head to toe in black and sits hunched at the end of the long dining room table. He’s softly-spoken, and doesn’t appear to need the four or so henchmen around him. “Sorry my voice is husky, I left it back in England,” he jokes, while his cronies circle outside.
The publicist tells me before we start that his name is really Steven. He’ll always be Dynamo to me.
I’ve been reading a lot about your grandfather this morning, where did he learn how to do magic?
He was a soldier in WW2 and he learned magic in the army. As well as fighting the war, he learned all these tricks. So he came home and started doing all this magic down at the pub and for me and my friends. He was an amazing guy, and the only real male role model I had. He taught me how to swim, he taught me how to ride a bike. My father wasn’t around because he was in jail. He couldn’t teach me anything from in there – apart from to not do bad things and go to jail.
And he taught you how to fight baddies with magic, eh?
Well, this is how it all started. My granddad saw me getting beaten up and put inside a wheelie bin and showed me a magical technique to stop them being able to lift me up. I tried it the next day at school. It worked, they couldn’t put me in a bin again. Then there were rumours going around school that I was a crazy demon child, so my granddad taught me to do more things to scare them away. I was a skinny kid, and the bullies threatened to snap me in two if I didn’t give them my dinner money. So my grandpa taught me this:
[At this stage Dynamo bends his little finger in a way that I have never seen before. It makes me feel quite sick]
Have you since encountered those bullies now that you are famous and cool?
I actually saw one of them working on a nightclub door as a bouncer in Bradford. He let me in, so that was cool. No bins around either.
Why do you think that magic tends to attract loners and misfits?
I think magic gives you the ability to do things that are kind of extraordinary and peculiar. I was never going to be a footballer – I even tried BMX-ing and skateboarding – but magic was the only thing I had a knack for which gave me my own individuality. I was a bit misunderstood and I was able to do all these strange things, so it sort of justified my oddness. I’ve definitely made it work for me now that I’ve got older.
In 2018, when your smartphone has VR and basically everything is magic, how do you still manage to amaze people?
As soon as it became normal to see everyone walking around with a mobile phone, I immediately started thinking about all the magic I can do with a mobile phone. I try to push the boundaries of magic, to make things that a modern audience would not only understand but would care about.
In this day and age, a lot of us would be lost without our phones – our world would turn upside down. One of my most popular pieces of magic is putting a phone inside a bottle, that went viral. If I was a musician, that would be my number one hit. I started looking at my magic in that way when I put the show together, thinking OK, if I was rock star, what are my top 10 hits? And then I made them better.
What’s your favourite trick that you’ve ever done?
You know the rapper Tinie Tempah? We’ve known each other for ages, we were both kind of getting notoriety around the same sort of time in the industry. I did this bit in my TV show where I took his album cover – he’s famously known for wearing shades – and I pushed the glasses up.
He ended up with a picture on the album cover that has never existed. That one’s my favourite because of his reaction. He’d seen me do a lot of magic, but I’ve never seen him react this way. It was like it was the first time I’ve shown him something. That’s one of my favourites, just a very small piece of magic but the reaction was so good.
Why do you reckon there are no famous women magicians?
When you think back to medieval times and you hear about witches and wizards, there’s always the male grandmaster type of leader who would give advice to the people. Then there’s the witches – the female equivalent of the wizard – who were seen as evil and were burned at the stake. I think those connotations have been passed down for generations, and that’s made it seem like something negative for a woman to do, putting spells on people for negative reasons.
So yeah, I think women have not been involved historically because they’ve been rightly afraid of being burned alive. I really hope I get to see a show from a successful mainstream woman magician in the future. When I go to book signings, the majority of people there are young girls. The interpretation of magic by women is a revolution in itself, because they carry different things. I had a girl do magic on me with a lipstick, which is something I couldn’t do – just because it doesn’t really suit me.
Who would be your Fight for Life opponent?
I’m going to have to say… Harry Potter.
Like, Daniel Radcliffe?
Nah. I’m friends with Daniel Radcliffe, I don’t want to fight him. As long as Hermione doesn’t get involved I think I could take [Harry Potter]. I’m from Bradford. We’ve got a bit of a reputation. I’d knock him out.
You have to carry a lot of secrets around, is that exhausting?
The burden on my shoulders is overwhelming. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit of a weird guy in the sense that my mind works differently from most people. Not necessarily in a good way all the time, but if I tried to explain my ideas to you it would be like a different language. It wouldn’t make any sense. So it probably wouldn’t even matter if I told you.
What has being a magician taught you about people?
At the start of my career, magic was something that alienated me but it did get me out of a lot of tricky situations. Over the years, I’ve learned how to use magic to bring people together. I was quite lonely, came from a broken home and never had many friends, but because I’ve got magic now I can go anywhere in the world and feel like I’ve got a family in my fans who come out to watch my shows. No matter where I am in the world, I can do a tweet and people turn up.
Everybody just wants to feel that sense of wonder, you know? It’s harking back to that feeling of wanting to feel young again, because when we are children we don’t know how the world works and we haven’t been hit with that scepticism and responsibilities you get later. Magic shows that we all love the sense of wonder and that we are really all the same. It shows us that we’re all just human, it takes away people’s egos. And life’s better when there are no big egos to spoil it.
Dynamo performs at Spark Arena, Auckland this week: July 26, 28 and 29.
Join The Spinoff Members for as little as $1 to help us hire more journalists and do more investigations. Or get a free Toby Morris-designed tea towel when you contribute $80 or more over a year.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.