There’s excitement in the canteen at Radio Times Towers. Some 70 people from this maga- zine and beyond have gathered here this morning to have their eyes widened, brains teased and wits tested. They’ve come to meet the Magician Impossible. They’ve come to be blown away by an exclusive audience with Dynamo. What better excuse for skiving on a sunny Friday in west London?
The rail-thin, young-looking 31-year-old, known to his mam back in Bradford as Steven Frayne, cuts a curiously commanding presence. He does funny things with playing cards (makes them disappear, then reappear) and gobsmacking things with coins (is that a £2 behind your ear, or are you just pleased to see him?).
The burly Richard Campbell, Radio Times’ associate publisher, can vouch for Dynamo’s mind control: after first lofting the conjurer gaily in the air, he subsequently finds himself unable to lift the half-pint Yorkshireman from the floor.
This is what Dynamo does best: entertains a live audience with eye-catching stunts and a gentle, hypnotic manner. It’s a skill that is elegantly and simply framed in his Dynamo: Magician Impossible show for Watch TV, which is now returning for a fourth series. And it’s a skill he honed in the workingmen’s clubs of west Yorkshire and, later, on the tourist-trap streets of London. Finally, it’s one he’s perfected as the magician/entertainer beloved of many a celeb- rity party and A-lister event.
“When I go back home now to Bradford, I actually miss London – the energy of it,” he tells me after he’s dazzled everyone with his skills. The self-styled “King of Magic” continues in his enthusiastic, often jumbled speaking style: “When I came to perform here – not so much any more ’cause I can’t really walk round the streets doing as much – but when I used to come down every weekend and just practise, stop people in Leicester Square and Covent Garden, the reactions were just crazy.” Of his adopted home these past 11 years, he says: “I just love it. London is fast, but I like that.” Close by his side as we talk sits his long- standing manager and the producer of his show, Dan Albion. They met in a Leeds club in 2003 and have slowly, steadily, assiduously built what the man himself refers to as the Dynamo “brand”. They’re an ambitious pair. This is the last series of Magician Impossible even though, according to Watch, the show has been sold to more than 190 international territories and attracted 250 million viewers. However, it’s clear that Dynamo wants more.
“It feels right to stop now. There have been so many amazing TV shows that I think could have finished a bit earlier and kept the mystique. Look at Paul Daniels. I think his only mistake was that he stayed on the telly for a bit too long and overstayed his welcome, so people don’t necessarily remember his amazing magic. They talk about his chat shows and his one-liners, and I think that ruined the mystery of the magic for him. He was one of the best magicians this country has ever produced, one of the best in the world. So as much as I’d love to keep making more episodes and keep it going on forever, I want to leave people wanting more.
“I also want to create a magic show in a theatre that is a million miles away from any of the Vegas shows. I don’t want to take anything away from what they do, because it’s incredible. But I just think I have a lot of ideas of which way to take it, which will bring magic into the 21st century and beyond.”
In the swansong series Dynamo roams far and wide, roping in all manner of special guests for some trickery-pokery. He goes from his hometown of Bradford all the way to India, where he wows the slums and dazzles Bollywood star Irrfan Khan.
“The people there are so friendly and nice,” he exclaims. “And the reactions were kinda crazy, a little bit strange.”
Did they know who he was?
“Yeah, my show gets on average 25 million viewers per episode out there,” he replies with no air of bumptiousness. Even for a youth- friendly entertainer of Dynamo’s social media status (he has 2.23 million Twitter followers and more than four million Facebook likes), that’s impressive.
“That’s one of the main reasons we went out there – we were getting so many tweets and Facebook messages from the Indian followers saying, ‘Please come and visit.’ “So we thought, ‘Why not?’ And I didn’t get Delhi belly!”
A good thing – Dynamo has Crohn’s disease, and had part of his bowel removed in his teens; he’s currently managing the chronic condition of the digestive system with no drugs but the help of a new nutritionist. “But it was tricky out there,” he concedes. “The heat is intense, and we were filming in the slums. We were trying to get into the heart of India, not just the tourist places. It’s real spiritual out there, so it was a beautiful backdrop.”
Does he have some Asian heritage? “My father was Pathan. I don’t really know too much about that. I ain’t seen my father since he went to jail when I was four.”
Dynamo hardly ever talks about his father; I don’t think he’s even publicly discussed his ethnicity before. Still, does he feel any connection to the subcontinent because of that parentage?
“Um…” For the first and only time in our interview, quietly dynamic Dynamo pauses. “I guess…” he says hesitantly, “the people there feel connected to me. They can definitely. I mean,to look at me you can tell I’ve got a mix in me anyway. And I do seem to get that kind of connection with other people from that ethnic background. So there is definitely something there. But like I say, I don’t…”
He stops. Discussing his dad is understanda- bly not something he’s comfortable with. “My mum’s English and I’ve been raised in a Christian family, so that’s all I’ve ever known. But being out there, and the more I get to travel the world and explore these things, it really opens up your mind. So I’m kinda exploring and finding out more about myself, I guess.”
Dynamo’s upbringing was full of maternal love – and the love of his grandparents – but it was tough. He grew up on a tough housing estate. The sickly, skinny child of a single mum, he was a target for bullies. It was the man he called his grandfather (actually his great-grandfather) who saved his bacon. He taught young Steven the magic tricks he’d learnt in the Royal Navy in the Second World War.
“He used to perform stuff for me but he’d never tell me how he did it– obviously that’s the sign of a good magician. It took a long time to get it out of him. And at the time they were just things to scare bullies off.”
He demonstrates by seemingly bending back his pinkie in an unnatural and frankly nauseating way. “If the kids threatened to break my bones I’d say, ‘You can’t break my bones, I’m invincible,’ then do that. So that’d scare them and freak ’em out a little bit.
“So I’m kind of thanking the bullies in a way. The best form of revenge is success, isn’t it? Sometimes I get tweets off people who claim to have been my friends at school. But they weren’t – they were the ones pushing me down the steps and doing stupid stuff to me. But it’s gonna happen, innit? With success, it’s not you that’s changed, it’s people around you that have changed.”
He remains proud of, and happy about, his childhood. He wouldn’t change any of it, “with- out it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If I hadn’t been stuck in wheelie bins and shoved down hills, I would never have got into magic. I would never have asked my grandpa for help and he would never have shown me what he did. So I can’t moan about it. In this game, you don’t complain and you don’t explain.”
And anyway, these days for grounded but savvy Dynamo, the game has changed, and so have the players. In the new series he hangs with Coldplay in their north London studio and tests their fabled band-of-equals kinship.
“The synchronicity they have, it’s testament to the music they create – you can tell they’re all in sync,” he says, referring to the connection between the four musicians. “So I wanted to play with that element, and try to create something different that showed the band’s harmony.”
Were they game?
“Yeah, they were. They were a little bit scared at first. Chris [Martin, singer] gets a little bit freaked out. But in a kind of childlike way – he gets excited about it. I think it’s gonna be nice for people to see the band behind all the smoke and mirrors of what you think the guys are like.”
There’s also a section featuring One Direction. Dynamo was flown out to Los Angeles for 1D Day, “when they literally took over YouTube at their headquarters. They did this huge streaming event that went out to all of their fans online.
It was pretty immense,” he says appreciatively, in his still-strong Bradford accent, “and to be part of it was awesome. I did a crazy prediction that involved all of their fans writing messages in, culminating in this big finale.”
He’s known the boy band since their early days as X Factor also-ran pups. Dynamo lives in the sprawling north London apartment block – a former mental hospital – in which Simon Callow’s company Syco bunkers many of its talent-show hopefuls. He and One Direction were neighbours for a while, “but they’ve all branched out now. Flown the nest!” Now he has just the odd Premier League footballer to say hello to, as well as his wife (he won’t say anything about her; she prefers it that way) and their “amazing dog”, a German Shepherd called Bessie. “She’s beautiful. She’s like our daughter,” he smiles.
Now when he goes back to Bradford, whether to film for his show or to see his beloved family, he’s a homecoming hero. “I get mobbed in Bradford, but I also feel safer there than probably anywhere else in the world. And Bradford’s not a particularly safe place. But I feel like everyone in that town’s got my back.
“Stuff like that, it’s hard not to let it go to your head a little bit,” he admits. “But I don’t mind using it and getting a free curry every now and then.”