What’s on Wayne: Remembering Paul Daniels

TV magician Paul Daniels

TV magician Paul Daniels - Credit: PA

I was one of the last people to interview Paul Daniels. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder did he know something was wrong when we met last December to talk about his role as the Emperor in Enchanted Entertainment’s Aladdin.

Paul Daniels with Elvis the Camel at the launch of Aladdin at the Regent in Ipswich last year.

Paul Daniels with Elvis the Camel at the launch of Aladdin at the Regent in Ipswich last year.

Sat outside the Regent Theatre’s upstairs bar, doubling as the cast’s rehearsal room, I asked how he was. Much better than he should be was his answer. Watching him growing up, knowing his reputation as a joker I thought nothing of it. Walking back to the office, it stuck with me.

The magician died in the early hours of today at his Berkshire home with his wife of 28 years, Debbie McGee, by his side. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in February and had chosen to spend his final days at home with his family.

Refreshingly honest and engaging throughout, he’d seemed preoccupied at times during our chat a few months ago, even a little melancholy; only sliding into performance mode whenever another cast-member was around. Earlier Andy Abraham, playing the Genie, spoke about the talent involved in that year’s show. As if by magic Daniels had appeared at the top of the stairs announcing “did somebody mention talent”.

I do recall a silent exchange between him and McGee, playing the Slave of the Ring, as she headed downstairs. It was that kind of look married people give each other that says ‘are you okay?’ It could easily have been do you want anything from the shop; hindsight can just as easily cloud your vision and we journalists do love to attach meaning to everything.

Later on she told me a beautiful story about him travelling home from Germany in secret to spend and hour-and-a-half hidden in a cabinet to surprise her during a performance of Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood in Norwich. I wish I could’ve asked him about it.

Daniels and I talked for what seemed an age, continuing long after I’d turned my recorder off. Rare in circumstances like these.

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Famously frank with interviewers, he was in a very reflective mood and much more serious than I expected. Our conversation ranged from what he thought about the current crop of modern magicians and the sad state of Saturday night telly to how proud he was of every show he’d made.

It was certainly a different Daniels to the one I’d met at the pantomime press launch earlier in the year.

Dressed in full costume - “This is what we normally wear at home... Although Debbie’s wearing mine,” he’d joked - he led the cast and Elvis the camel down the high street, disappearing into shops to surprise staff and stopping every five seconds to talk to people.

He naughtily let me in on a few tricks of the trade during our chat. The two biggest secrets? That audiences thought he was performing for them when he just enjoyed having fun and that magic is never about the trick, it’s always about the person doing it. He succeeded there.

You can read the full interview online here.

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