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