Hog­warts’ spell­binder

The ma­gi­cian be­hind a Harry Pot­ter film and count­less stage shows tells An­gela Kiverstein about his new book

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

for­mu­lat­ing ideas for the book. He was not short of source ma­te­rial. “I have more than 2,000 books on the his­tory of magic, in­clud­ing one owned by a cer­tain Ho­race Goldin, the first to saw a wo­man in half. Though he spent too long su­ing other peo­ple for steal­ing his il­lu­sions, and lost all his money.”

As well as books, there are the posters — some of which are re­pro­duced on post­cards and in­cluded in the Ho­cus Pocus pack­age. The book also in­cludes well-ex­plained tricks to try at home.

“Few peo­ple see live magic th­ese days, so they find it im­pres­sive. In years gone by, au­di­ences saw a new il­lu­sion­ist ev­ery week and were harder to

PAUL KIEVE’S hands were the first part of him to be­come fa­mous, at the age of 16. Dou­bling for those of pop diva Sade, Kieve’s daz­zling dig­its per­formed card tricks on the video of You Can Do Magic. The street cred of ap­pear­ing in the video out­weighed the hu­mil­i­a­tion of hav­ing his hands shaved and nails pol­ished for the role.

Now 40, he is ready to en­chant chil­dren with sto­ries of some of the world’s great­est ma­gi­cians, prac­ti­tion­ers of, as Kieve puts it, “the world’s sec­ond old­est pro­fes­sion; it goes back to the Bi­ble and the story of Moses and Pharaoh”.

His book, Ho­cus Pocus, is set in a Hack­ney home, dec­o­rated, like Kieve’s own, with litho­graph posters of by­gone il­lu­sion­ists, whose im­pas­sioned faces stare down from ev­ery wall. What if those ma­gi­cians came alive, he thought, and per­formed their great­est il­lu­sions right be­fore him?

The story’s ori­gins go back 30 years, when Kieve’s am­bi­tions were in­spired by the gift of a magic set from his mother Mil­lie, a for­mer child ac­tress.

In school wood­work lessons, Kieve even made his own “Zig Zag Lady” box (de­signed for the il­lu­sion of slic­ing a wo­man in three), be­cause his par­ents (his fa­ther taught mod­ern Jewish his­tory, hav­ing grown up on an es­tate with the fam­i­lies of Sir Alan Sugar and Sir Arnold Wesker) would not al­low him to spend his bar­mitz­vah money on a ready-made ver­sion.

On leav­ing school, Kieve be­gan per­form­ing in cabaret, on cruise ships and at the Theatre Royal, Strat­ford East. His break came in 1991, when the theatre staged The In­vis­i­ble Man and asked Kieve to cre­ate the spe­cial ef­fects: “a ma­jor mo­ment was when the in­vis­i­ble man un­wrapped the ban­dages from his head and sat there, ap­par­ently head­less, smok­ing a cig­a­rette. The pro­duc­tion changed my life.”

Sud­denly he was in de­mand for bal­let, opera and mu­si­cals. “All the skills I’d learnt as a vis­ual il­lu­sion­ist came into use. I re­alised that if you put magic into a story it would mean a lot more to an au­di­ence. This led me on to films — and to Harry Pot­ter and the Pris­oner of Azk­a­ban.”

But isn’t Pot­ter’s magic com­put­er­gen­er­ated? Not all of it, says Kieve. Some scenes in­cor­po­rate “real live magic”, cre­ated by Kieve, who also plays a cameo role. It was while he was teach­ing magic to Daniel Rad­cliffe, and telling him anec­dotes about by­gone great ma­gi­cians, that he be­gan please… I do think there is some­thing about the act of as­ton­ish­ment, about hav­ing a sense of won­der. As chil­dren we have it — as adults we have to lose it, but we shouldn’t take the world for granted. Magic, in its small way, tries to re­mind us of the won­der.”

Among the won­ders wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered in Ho­cus Pocus, are the mind-read­ing Alexan­der and the ill­fated bul­let-catch­ing Chung Ling Soo.

Ma­gi­cians, says Kieve, were the rock stars of their day, he points out. But mi­nus the shaved hands and nail pol­ish. Ho­cus Pocus is pub­lished by Blooms­bury (£12.99)


Paul Kieve at home with a sam­ple of his col­lec­tion of magic posters and books

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