The Incredible Mr. Goodwin: Houdini would never have got through health and safety!

Daredevil Jonathan Goodwin on superheros, dutch courage and not being an adrenaline junkie...


You are called, among other things, a knife thrower, freediver, escape artist and family man on your webiste. What would you describe yourself as?


“I started off as an escape artist so I’d definitely call myself that.  But trying to come up with a word that sums up everything that is in the series is very difficult. The closest I get is a daredevil. But you can call me whatever you like!”

What first drew you to escapology?

“My dad gifted me a book about Harry Houdini when I was seven and I just become obsessed. I was fascinated by it, I guess like any seven year old who loves the character of a super hero – but what particularly appealed to me was that he was real and he didn’t wear his underpants outside of his trousers!”

So how did it begin?

“It started off very simply. Very soon after I was given that book we went on a canal barge holiday and I remember giving my dad a big length of rope and challenging him to tie me up – and that became a game that we played. It was like a puzzle to me as a child.

I used to practise all the skills I thought you needed to be a daredevil. I would practise holding my breath in the bath or take locks apart and see how they worked.”

Are you a fan of action films and extravagent film stunts?

“I’m a very big Bond fan. But my biggest idols in that world are Buster Keaton and Douglas Fairbanks. They were doing extraordinary things long before health and safety was even a term. Those two guys invented Parkour ninety ears before it was supposedly invented.”

Talking of health and safety…

“It’s a bit of a pain in the arse if I’m honest. Harry Houdini would never have got through health and safety!

What it quite often fails to take into account is someone’s skill. Saying ‘don’t worry, I’m just really good at it’ isn’t enough! Every single stunt that we did in the series had to go through a huge amount of processes in order for us to be able to do it.”

Have there been any moments where you thought you really wouldn’t get out?

“Yeah, and it’s happened as well! In this series we did an escape from a canal lock. It was one of my favourite things that we did in the series despite the fact that it didn’t go to plan… It’s more scary actually for people who are watching it – if you black out underwater you don’t really know about it! But I’ve seen the footage and it’s pretty grim! I knew that one was going bad pretty quickly.”

So what makes it worth it?

“All of this is very much a performance. I’m not naturally an adrenaline junkie. I don’t get a big high after I do this stuff, I tend to chill out. So the reason that I do this stuff is to create a show. It’s about reopening the world of daredevil showmen that doesn’t really exist anymore, because I love it, I think it’s amazing and I want to show it to as many people as I possibly can.”

Are you scared of anything?

“There are definitely things that I’m not as comfortable with as others… I’m very comfortable underwater but I don’t like heights. One of the scariest things that I did in the series was a finger hang off the side of a building. The only way that I could come to terms with doing that was that I never looked down once.”

Is there anything that you are yet to master?

“Hundreds and hundreds of things. The other day I was putting up a shelf and hammering nails into a wall and thought ‘would it be possible to give a member of the audience a six inch nail while I go ten feet away, throw a hammer and hit the nail into the wall.’ I’ve never seen anyone do that before… I actually don’t think it’d be that hard.”

How do you go about getting a volunteer to practise with?

“I set it up myself in the garage and do it until I’m happy that it’s safe… ish. And then I call my wife!”

Do you ever need a bit of dutch courage?

“There’s so much prep that goes into it. By the time your going to do it, you know so much about all of the intricacies of it that you just want to get on with it. You have to be meticiulous almost to the point of it being boring. And the more you know about a subject the less scary it is.”

Why do think people enjoy watching you perform? 

“Houdini said people will come to see you die and I don’t think people have changed that much in 100 years. Entertainment has changed a lot but life or death is something that will make people sit up and listen.”

Are you a fan of superhero films?

“I used to be a big fan of superhero films. There are a couple of modern ones that I really like, like Hellboy because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. But I think there are a few too many of them now. It’s basically the same plot but with different coloured tights.”

If you could have one superpower…?

“I’m a big fan of schauden freude… I would like the ability to make people fall over without touching them! You know how occasionally you’ll see some idiot riding a bike without holding onto the handlebars? Sometimes you just want to see them stack it!”


The Incredible Mr. Goodwin starts 7 March at 9:00pm on Watch