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Interviews - Simon Drake

1. To start things off, I wonder how you would describe yourself as a performer: a magician, a conjurer? Or something else?
An Illusionist but I don't really mind how I am described

2. What do you feel is your biggest magical achievement?

I have been in this business for about 25 years so it's hard to say but I suppose I have had most satisfaction building my own venue devoted to my kind of magic, The House of Magic.

3. Do you still have any magical ambitions, or have you got to the point now where you have done everything you want to do magic wise?

Yes I still have ambitions but they are more realistic than when I was younger and I am much more aware of how the business works and my own limitations.

4. Everybody has a particular favourite effect that you perform, for me your guillotine effect is absolutely superb. How long did it take you to master that?

Well we rehearsed it over about 3 weeks and because the drop was so fast I cracked two ribs in the process, which made the whole thing much harder to rehearse with full energy. The piece was more a short visual story/vignette than just an illusion. A style of working that I am seeing more and more now with the younger lot out there.

5. What do you feel was your big break into the magic world?

Kate Bush's tour in 1979 was my first break really and that led to numerous TVs and other stuff. In Kate's tour I played 7 really contrasting characters all doing magic of a sort and also wrote the visuals with Kate and her brothers over the preceding year. Most of the press thought I was 7 different performers.

6. What has been, out of all the big illusions you have performed, your
favourite to present?
Not sure I have favourites but amongst them I would say 'The Impaler' that I made for 'Raising Hell' with Iron Maiden and the 'Head Off' that we perform at The House of Magic

7. With the advance of the Internet and with programs such as Secrets of magic revealed, how do you feel about magic exposure shows and sites? And how do you feel the magic fraternity, as a whole should deal with it?

I don't approve of exposures especially of generic methods as they remain in the collective consciousness and make it easier to for the general public to suss illusions. I hated The Masked idiot and his feeble justification for doing what he did. Something about forcing magicians to develop new methods and raising the standard. He did absolutely nothing positive. A lot of the magic was made up for that show and it stunk. I think we all know that Valentino was very much an 'off-the Strip' mediocre Vegas performer and needed the exposure and the money. I was all for pooling together hundreds of thousands from other pros and enthusiasts and fighting Murdoch's Fox network in the American courts. At least we may have got an injunction on it. Believe me, if the programmes had been about how a lawyer does his magic or how TV producers exploit artistes then it wouldn't have been aired, no way. Exposures are nothing new, as you all know. The great David Devant was chucked out of the circle twice for newspaper exposures only to be asked back as president later on.

8. Is there any effect that you have not been able to master?

Yes I have not been able to master 80% of magic out there because so much of it is cheesy, spangly nonsense that seems stuck in the fifties or just plain rubbish.

9. What support did you receive from your family in the very earliest days of your magic ventures? Did your family stand by you and offer to support you from the very outset or were there persuasions to find a real job? Did you take the time and effort to persuade your family that this was the career path you were determined to follow?

My family are in medicine on both sides going back generations. My father died when I was 12 and would most definitely NOT have approved of my then hobby becoming a profession. However my mother was encouraging in whatever I or my siblings wanted to do.

10. If you had to be remembered for one effect in your lifetime - which effect would it be and why?
The Silhouette Routine from Secret Cabaret, Series two. It threw the rule book away in terms of originality and included a new principle that impressed many learned magic folk at the time. Check it out; it's at the very end. Also possibly The Impaler or my floating cane, sorry but that's a hard one.

11. Usually those who make it to the top, such as yourself, have some strong roots in their presentation from those who influenced their career. This influence could be a teacher or present and past performers who the person in question looked up to as their skills and abilities grew and took shape. Who do you consider to be your biggest influences in your magic, both past and present? Who are among your favourite magicians, both past and present?

Past: De Kolta, Devant and Jarrett. Channing Pollock for presentation

Present: The Amazing Johnathan. He must be the funniest man alive and the new parts of his show are so funny although not ice-breaking in a magical sense. Teller is also really inventive and a nice chap. Steve Fearson must be the most underrated and un-praised inventor of our generation. The work that Paul Kieve put into The Theatre of Blood as advisor at the National Theatre is also really wonderful and so well done.

12. Do you have any advice for all the hobbyists out there trying to make it to the pros?

Don't get trapped into doing 'magic for magicians' you run the risk of seldom working for the public and becoming a professional amateur? Do your best to find an original twist to your work. Don't listen to 'advice' but rather listen to your gut feeling and most of all practice hard, long after 'normal' people would have given up and got bored with it.

13. Do you like to scare your audiences?

Sometimes yes but I would rather think of it as peddling adrenaline and endorphins to an expectant crowd. So it's not just being scary but rather a whole gammit
from fear to laughter to enchantment and awe.
14 What's the strangest or funniest reaction you've ever had from an audience?

A drunk middle aged woman once laid down on the front of the stage and implored in a loud voice that I immediately make love to her, although she didn't quite use that expression. I kept trying to signal to security but they said afterwards that they thought it was part of the act. It wasn't. We had quite a few people faint and throw up whilst on tour as well. All good for the box office but messy for the cleaner.

15. I have recently started getting the convention bug and attended my first Blackpool convention earlier in the year. The Blackpool convention attracts a lot of big names in magic, both as a convention lecturer and as attendees. Have you ever been as either, and if so, did you enjoy it?

I have been to only about 4 conventions in my life. I found it a little tedious hearing "When's the next Secret Cabaret?" a thousand times in a weekend.

16. What was it like to appear on the royal variety show?

Ghastly showbiz meat market - never again!

17. You taught Oliver Reed slight of hand for the film "Castaway" was he a good pupil?

He was a marvellous man. Much kinder than one would have expected. Nic Roeg (the director) and I had two, four hour meetings and the script went from having 5 magic effects in it to about 20. Suffice to say that Ollie wasn't a good pupil and there are only about 6 or 7 short and hammily done tricks in the final film! He was more interested in making white wine disappear at the time and engaging me in stunt-fighting. Plenty of bark but he didn't bite. There isn't room to go into it here but there are dozens of hysterically funny stories about my involvement with coaching Oliver. I miss him hugely.

More recently I have done more "magic advising" and right now I am working very hard on a west end show which is a pastiche of the big Las Vegas magic shows. The story is about a pair of illusionists have lost their wild animal license and are only allowed one duck. There are about 18 illusions in the show and quiet a few of them are original. I have had about 9 prop builders and effects folk working on it, most of the bigger magic effects have been built by Paul Cooke, who has done a good job and is a lot of fun to work with. The show is being directed by Kenneth Branagh and called, "Ducktastic" and opens at the Albery Theatre in London's west end in October 2005. It's very, very funny although been frustrating as actors don't seem to want to rehearse the magic as painstakingly as magicians know they have to but we are getting there.

18. Could you tell us a little about 'Simon Drake's House of Magic'?

Yes it's a permanently themed 4000 sq ft Victorian venue totally dedicated to my take on magic and illusion. I built a Haunted Cellar with many optical effects and forgotten illusions as well as a few new ideas. The Whispering Chair which started as a cold reading thing but now utilises a real clairvoyant, where each audience member get their fortunes told in 3 minutes. My show is just under an hour and we specialise in light hearted amputations and decapitations of celebs and senior executives, as well as my floating candle, cane and knife thru arm as well as a lot of other things and original illusions. It's a full evening from 7.00pm to 1.00am with great food and a reasonably priced bar, 3 close-up magicians and dancing.

19. Have you ever injured yourself doing any of your effects

Yes quite a few times in the old days but I am a lot more careful now. I set fire to my right arm in 1985 at the start of an hour show and carried on with no skin on about 3 square inches of my forearm (it hurt more the next day!). I fell thru a hole in the catwalks at Hammersmith Odeon (now the Apollo) opening for Peter Gabriel, with Elton John and Phil Collins as guests in 1980 and landed 8 feet later on a scaffold bar on the base of my spine (again it didn't hurt much till the next day and my badly bruised pelvis took about 6 weeks to get better) I was very lucky as it missed landing on my coxis by about 10mm which would have meant certain paralysis. It happened during a strobe lighting effect and the 3500 audience gave me a standing ovation as I vanished between flashes, so the effect was that I disappeared completely down-stage-centre with no boxes or drapes on that huge stage!

20. And finally are there any plans to resurrect the Secret Cabaret?

No sorry. We did 12 shows and I called a stop to it before the format got flogged to death, although Channel 4 were desperate for more at the time. I felt it was better to go out on a high point. I may do a fresh series of something similar one day but I am busy with other projects at the moment.

That's all for now folks. Thanks for your interest in my work.

Simon Drake
Simon Drake's House of Magic 05/09/2005




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