Dynamo talks to Grace Hammond about growing up in Bradford, his celebrity gigs and how the Magic Circle feels about him giving away secrets in his latest book.
His contacts book is awash with A-listers, supermodels and award-winning musicians, yet master magician Dynamo admits there are still times he feels starstruck.
“I did a matinee show at the O2 Arena and my manager came in and told me someone had brought their kids to the show and really wanted to meet me. So I walk into this room and Brad Pitt comes running up to me and says, ‘Dynamo, your show was amazing! The kids loved it.’
“I was slightly taken aback. I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s Brad Pitt in the flesh.’ I watched all of his movies growing up and I still watch them now. I was definitely starstruck for that one.”
Once a sickly kid from a working class Bradford council estate with a jailbird father, Dynamo (aka Steven Frayne) is now one of the most awe-inspiring illusionists in the world. He has swallowed jewellery then pulled it out of his stomach, transformed snow into diamonds, walked – seemingly unaided – down the side of the 20-storey LA Times building and, most famously, ‘walked on water’ across the River Thames.
His street magic and amazing illusions – some magicians make coins disappear; he can make himself disappear – have earned him a massive fan base, with 2.36 million followers on Twitter and four series of Dynamo: Magician Impossible under his belt. For the past two years, he’s been filling arenas on tour with his live show.
His love of magic even extends to his home in London where he has some magical furniture.
“I’ve got really cool magical chairs and TVs that appear out of nowhere – it’s exactly what you’d expect of a magician. The chairs kind of hover and levitate and stuff like that. Coming to a party at mine is definitely an experience.”
But he says he wants his personal space to remain private. “My home is my solace, and it’s where only my closest friends and family get to see the cool things I like.
“Being a kid, I dreamed about these things, and now to be able to have them in my home is amazing.”
He’s been married to Kelly – whom he met at a music festival – for five years and says they would both dearly like to have children, but for now they have a puppy called Bunty. “We would love kids, definitely in the future, when we’re ready. I’m touring quite a lot and I want to make sure that when I have children, I’m able to be around for them.”
The mild-mannered magician still entertains the masses dressed in his trademark hoodie, jeans and trainers, although his success has enabled him to levitate to designer brands, including Givenchy and Louis Vuitton.
He continues to perform for his circle of rich and famous fans and friends, and recently tweeted pictures of himself at Cara Delevingne’s 25th birthday party in Mexico, attended Brooklyn Beckham’s photographic book launch earlier this year, and posted an Instagram snap of himself and Prince Harry at a recent awards ceremony.
“I still make my living performing magic at the best parties in the world. I can’t think of a better job. I’ve performed at Clarence House. It doesn’t get more royal than that. But for me, it’s not necessarily about all the fancy places.”
Indeed, he’s also ventured to some of the poorest, most dangerous places in the world to perform his street magic, including the favelas in Rio, the streets of Harlem in New York, and townships in South Africa – and he says those jobs are much more rewarding than any celebrity bash.
“I grew up performing magic on a council estate in Bradford. Yeah, it’s amazing that I’m performing at some of the fancy parties that I do, but it was the people and reactions and interactions doing magic for people when I was growing up that got me into magic in the first place.”
His passion stems from his late great-grandfather, who would show him tricks. The young Steven – who has suffered with Crohn’s disease since his teens – would spend hours practising in his bedroom, too scared to venture out onto the estate for fear of being bullied or attacked.
“I kind of missed the whole television era of magic. Paul Daniels’ show wasn’t on TV when I was growing up. I missed all of David Copperfield’s shows, although I’ve gone back later as I’ve got older and watched them on YouTube.
“That’s why I developed my own style. I didn’t really have anyone to watch and learn from, which is why I’m slightly different from your average magician.”
Now, he has chosen to share some of his secrets in his latest beginner’s magic guide, The Book Of Secrets, which, among other things, reveals how to make water freeze instantly, make chewing gum float 360 degrees around your head, and slice a banana without touching it.
As an associate of the inner sanctum of the prestigious Magic Circle, surely it’s sacrilege to break its code of secrecy as far as tricks are concerned?
“You’re right. Giving away magic secrets has always been frowned upon, but the Magic Circle have been very supportive of what I’m doing and people have contributed ideas and bits of information to pass on to young up-and-coming magicians.
“There’s a difference between tricks and magic. Anyone can Google tricks and try to find out ways to trick people, but that’s not really the magic.
“For me, the magic is the nuance, the details, creating mysteries that are going to live in people’s minds forever.
“When I was growing up, I wasn’t confident about interacting with people. Magic gave me the confidence to do that, to go out there and speak to people with the knowledge that I had something amazing that I could show people.
“Giving that ability to people in this day and age, especially when everyone is consumed by mobile phones and looking at screens all the time, is a great thing to do.
“There’s a massive difference between giving away secrets of magic and actually teaching magic. This book sets out to teach people the foundations, to teach a trick, and make it into something magical.”
He goes to the cinema a lot to pick up ideas for illusions, although he says he’s loved movies since his first job, at a video store.
“In my spare time, I’m always watching films. I get a lot of inspiration for my magic ideas from watching movies, seeing things that are impossible and amazing.”
He wants to do more TV in the future but approaching the magic in a different way, although he won’t elaborate.
“I’m constantly looking at the nuances to everything and I do always try and improve.
“As much as I have created this book to introduce new people to become students of magic, I’m still a student of magic myself, and I’m learning every single time I perform.”
The Book Of Secrets: A Beginner’s Guide To Modern Magic, published by Blink, is out now priced £16.99.