Britain's Got talent star Jamie Raven fears the art of live magic could disappear thanks to the likes of Facebook and YouTube
Magician Jamie Raven is bringing his show to Lowestoft and Ipswich this week but is he part of a dying breed of live performers in a world of internet illusionists?
Raven, the highest placed human in Britain’s Got Talent in 2015, has nothing against the web’s young magicians. He just wants them to come out from behind the cameras.
“It’s a little bit of a hot potato... I’m trying to start a little crusade. I’m not for a second suggesting magic on YouTube, Facebook is in any way detrimental to the art. What I’m suggesting may be a problem is if people only learn how to perform for a camera with no live audience interaction the art of live magic will suffer.”
Anything that gets people more interested in magic is cool. The entertainer, at the Ipswich Regent November 7, worries young performers starting out fall into the trap of thinking magic’s all about recording the same trick over and over until you get the perfect take.
“What I’m trying to do is get more people into performing live in front of audiences. It’s horrible, it’s terrifying and it’s much easier to sit in your bedroom and film from behind a camera all day. Magic is best appreciated live, the reactions you get when you do a trick, a show, it’s amazing.
“You have that element of surprise. Yes you get it on the video people (watching) will always think ‘maybe it’s a camera trick, a set up’ even when most of the time it’s not. When you perform right in front of somebody, there’s nothing to hide, it’s just you and them. That’s what I fell in love with. If you can’t replicate the trick live don’t put it on screen.”
Touring as much as he can, he says aspiring entertainers will never become the magicians they could be if they only ever perform to a camera.
“It doesn’t talk back, it won’t tell you when it can see something. You have to know what the pressure of dealing with live audiences is like, when you’re doing a trick live you only get one take, one chance. If we can get more people doing it live, it builds everyone’s confidence and more people will get to enjoy it.”
When I call, Raven is sat in a van full of props on his way to a building close to every magician’s heart - The Magic Circle in London. He’s hosting a series of intimate shows at the building, long-shrouded in mystery and a worldwide beacon for the art of magic since its creation in 1905.
“I’m very lucky, it’s an incredible honour. The building’s open very rarely to the public,” he says, breaking off to give the driver directions and, later, to try to avoid a parking ticket. “To be given the opportunity to do a show there, where we can invite the public in and take some of them on a tour round the museum and down into the library... I can’t wait.”
It’s a bit of a treat for audiences too.
“I’m a bit bias but I like to think so,” he laughs.
Raven, who has been a professional magician 13 years, got into the art when he 10 or 11. He’d seen clowns and magicians at parties growing up and was just happy to enjoy them for what they were. That changed during a family holiday to visit friends in India.
“We were in a restaurant and this magician came over and entertained us while we waited for our food. He took me, my brother and the other kids and taught us some of the tricks he’d done. It was amazing. I’d love to meet him again one day because he doesn’t know if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be doing this now.”
A hobby at first, when he finished university in Bath he started working for a few events agents.
“I’ve never had a proper job,” he laughs. “I just turn up to other people’s parties and have a laugh. It’s good fun.”
His ambition was always to take his act to a wider audience. Britain’s Got Talent finally gave him that chance. His videos from the show have now been seen by more than 100million times, making him one of the most viewed magicians in the world.
“Whatever you think of the show, if you do what I do it’s the best chance you have of raising your profile very quickly and it happened to me,” adds Raven, who narrowly lost out to Jules O’Dwyer and her dog Matisse.
“It’s as equally terrifying as it is rewarding. I’d been doing magic for a career for 10 years, if I do well it’ll be brilliant and doors will open that weren’t open to me before. If I do badly, unfortunately my career then suffers because people who haven’t seen me before, that’ll be their only experience of watching me. The positives outweighed the negatives in my view. I thought I’ll go on, do it, I’m smiling, if they like it they like it.”
Until that point, magicians hadn’t done too well on the ITV1 show.
“I did my audition and at the end of it I remember Simon Cowell said I made him believe in magic and I was like ‘oh wow’. From that point on they’ve taken magic more seriously which is good... To be the person who did that was such an honour. I did my audition in February 2016 and no-one knew who I was.
“At the end of November I was headlining a show called The Illusionists at the Shaftsbury Theatre which went on to break the box office record at the theatre, becoming one of the most successful magic shows in the history of the West End.”
His latest tour - which has also stopped by Abu Dhabi, Portugal, Jersey - sees Raven try to tick every single box in the magic world. There’ll be some of the up close and personal tricks he became known for doing on Britain’s Got Talent and some bigger illusions.
“Most of what I do involves audience participation which I love massively because it gives so much scope for entertainment... I’ll be levitating one of the younger members of the audience to close the first half which is my personal favourite.”