Hey presto! Mysterious things are going on in the world of magic. It’s been more than 25 years since the Magic Circle admitted women, and after years of sexism, often as the bikini-clad ‘glamorous assistant’ who’s sawn in half, women are making their names as professional magicians.
Fewer than 100 of the Magic Circle’s 1,500 members are female. But have they made old traditions vanish into thin air?
SAMANTHA BRICK spoke to five wand-erful women!
Louise Andree Douglas, 33, is engaged and lives in Stratford, East London. She became a professional magician in 2012 when she joined a female magic group called Chicks’n’Tricks
Men ask me to make their wives disappear
Louise Andrée Douglas, 33, is engaged and lives in Stratford, East London.
There’s two things men often ask me: can I make their wife disappear, or am I a real-life witch.
I’m used to it. There is a fair bit of sexism from some clients, too — I’ve often been asked to wear a specific outfit when I’m hired for an event. Would they ask a male magician to do that? I don’t think so!
There’s also some of it in the industry. One objection male Magic Circle members made about female members was that we wouldn’t be able to stop gossiping. Nonsense! We never tell each other our tricks.
The stage equipment is designed for the male form and build, too — if I’m putting a blade through a box, it’s usually the same height as me, so I’ve had to adapt how I perform.
I started learning close-up magic seven years ago. My professional background is as a dancer, and through that I was hired to help out a magician.
At 5ft 3in and petite, just like Debbie McGee, I was the ideal magician’s assistant. I loved it and became fascinated by magic myself.
I turned professional, and in 2012 I became part of Chicks’n’Tricks — we’re like the Spice Girls of the magic world!
Initially, audiences would take one look at me and assume I was a novelty act. Even today, when I tell people that I’m a magician, nine out of ten assume I’m the assistant.
Katherine Mills, 35, lives in Ladbroke Grove, west London. She has been a full-time magician for 13 years and loves seeing what magic does to people
I explain what I do and people say: ‘Prove it!’
Katherine Mills, 35, lives in Ladbroke Grove, West London.
I describe myself as a magician but also as a ‘mentalist’ — someone who performs magic with a psychological twist.
It started at 14 when my brother bought me a David Blaine Street Magic video. I’d slow down the performance and watch it over and over trying to figure out how he did each trick.
I studied psychology at Loughborough University, and when I graduated I started working in events — that was when I decided I wanted to be a magician. A few friends thought I was crazy, but I’ve done it full-time for 13 years now. I love seeing what magic does to people. You create a moment in time where they feel intense emotions of excitement and wonder.
Their positivity is infectious and rubs off on me. There aren’t many jobs where you leave in a better mood than when you arrived!
At first, when people discovered what I did, a common reaction was, ‘Prove it!’. So I’d use whatever was around. I’d make their cigarette vanish or take a banknote and change it into something else. Or play with their mind and tell them what they were thinking about.
I spend hours and hours honing my craft. One of my favourite tricks is taking someone’s watch and making it turn up in a sealed envelope.
Going into magic has been amazing. It really isn’t like going to work.
Romany Romany, 50, is married and lives in Brighton. She recently published a book called Spun into Gold: The Secret Life of a Female Magician
My motto is ‘be so good they can’t ignore you’
Romany Romany, 50, is married and lives in Brighton. She recently published Spun Into Gold: The Secret Life Of A Female Magician.
All show promoters will hire a token woman. They assume because there is one female magic act booked among numerous male magicians, then job done, they’ve ticked the equality box. That’s why it’s so competitive among female magicians — we’re all fighting for that one post.
The reality is, the decision-makers who sign the cheques will hire the youngest and prettiest to perform. Her actual ability to do magic will come second. On the magician circuit for women, it’s not about how good you are but how pretty. It’s cut-throat!
My motto in tackling ageism and sexism in this industry is: ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you!’
Growing up, I always dreamt of being a showgirl. I wanted to be one of those glamorous dancers in feathers at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. But I put on weight as a teenager and at 12st, stage schools wouldn’t accept me.
After graduating from Manchester University, where I studied English and Italian, I started working for British Telecom on its graduate management scheme. Deep down I knew I wasn’t following my dreams and one day I thought, ‘Right! I’m going to do everything I can to be a performer!’
I learnt juggling, stilt-walking, salsa dancing and went to magic evening classes in London, where I fell in love with it. I started out as an assistant, travelling around Europe doing a street show. My signature illusion was getting tied up in a bag in a locked trunk before jumping out, shouting ‘Ta-da!’
It’s irksome that there aren’t enough female magicians on TV.
With that in mind, I’ve now been performing magic for 25 years and I’m the only woman to have won the Magic Circle Stage Magician of the Year. I was also voted for by 1,000 professional magicians and awarded a place in the highest level of the Magic Circle.
It’s rare to meet a female magician who has children. The lifestyle on the road just isn’t compatible with raising a family. But I have a one-woman show touring Britain next year. How many 50-year-old women can say that?
Kerry Scorah, 46, is married and lives in Newent, Gloucestershire. She became a full-time magician in 2005 and has even performed magic in a TV show called Undercover Magic
All the suits are made for men
Kerry Scorah, 46, is married and lives in Newent, Gloucestershire.
I grew up watching Saturday night entertainment shows featuring Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee. I loved everything about their performances.
I was entranced by the illusions he created. I also loved Debbie’s costumes and make-up, and to my mind the assistant was as vital a part of the show. But it didn’t cross my mind in the Seventies and Eighties that a career as a magician was an option for women.
I’m originally from Hull and in 2000 I began working with a local magician when he needed an assistant to perform the ‘Dagger Chest illusion’. This is where a box is fitted on the head of the assistant. Daggers are then pushed through the doors. They are then opened at the front to show all the daggers — but the head has vanished. It was then I got bitten by the magic bug. I joined Hull Magicians’ Circle and started to learn tricks.
I let go of my former career working for Estee Lauder bit by bit. On the make-up counter I was always asked to perform magic by my colleagues. On training days we would often open with a magic trick.
I finally went full-time in 2005 and taking the leap has paid off. Since then I’ve even had the opportunity to perform on TV in a show called Undercover Magic.
The wedding season is about to start, when my schedule goes crazy. I’m lucky in that I’m often hired two years in advance!
What’s difficult are the outfits. Men have it easier because their suits have so many pockets and hiding places. Unless you have an outfit specially made, it’s a nightmare finding a female magician suit with lots of inside pockets. Trousers generally don’t have enough pockets and jackets are too bulky around the chest area. I’ve had to adapt my act instead.
There are times I have to pinch myself when I’m boarding a flight to an upmarket destination. I have performed in Davos, Switzerland, at the G8 summit, and I’ve also been booked for shows in Las Vegas, Dubai and the Magic Castle in Hollywood.
I was recently watching a TV programme about a magician with a family member, when he asked: ‘What time’s he on?’ I pulled him up on it and said, ‘Don’t assume it will be a man!’
I really want to get the message out to little girls, ‘you can do this too!’ It’s a fantastic career.
Catherine Marks is in her mid-40s, married and lives in Burnham, Somerset. She has been a magical entertainer and children’s magician since she was 16
I’m often mistaken for a singer
Catherine Marks is in her mid-40s, married and lives in Burnham, Somerset.
My family always knew I’d go into showbusiness. I was that toddler who loved singing and performing.
I’ve been a magical entertainer and children’s magician since I was 16. I got into it while working at Thorpe Park. I was helping a magician and was mesmerised by what he did.
I used my first wage packet to buy some tricks. I’ll never forget my first visit to the magic shop. I left with two bags of magic paraphernalia.
I’ve worked in Lapland, entertaining children after they see Father Christmas. On cruises, I’m often mistaken for a singer. Only when the lights go up on stage do the audience realise I’m doing magic — that feels good.
It hasn’t been hard to secure work. When I started there were few female magic acts. I was a novelty and always booked up.
For my favourite trick, I ask a member of the audience to verify three uneven lengths of cord, then ‘magic’ them to the same length. I’ve even performed it at royal events — I was an official entertainer at The Queen’s Golden Jubilee. You have to be self-reliant. Lugging heavy trunks full of props and equipment around is an unglamorous yet necessary part of the job. The way I see it, we’ve fought for equality in this job, so of course I’ll carry my own bag.
I even met my husband on the job. After I’d performed, he helped me pack away my tricks. He was so careful, I knew he was a keeper! I consider myself lucky because there is no downside.
There aren’t many jobs where you watch people’s faces light up with wonder — but being a magician is one of them.