Magical prankster James Phelan follows in his uncle’s footsteps

James Phelan is bringing his magical prank show to The Capitol
James Phelan is bringing his magical prank show to The Capitol

If you think you recognise the odd gesture, the odd mannerism, you may well be right.

Magician James Phelan, who brings Trickster to Horsham’s Capitol on Tuesday, April 23, is the nephew of the late, great Paul Daniels and Strictly’s Debbie McGee.

James, whose mother is Debbie’s sister, remembers: “They used to look after me non-stop, and that probably explains how I got bitten magically! I speak to Debbie a couple of times a day still. I was just old enough to catch Paul’s stage show, just old enough when I was four or five when he was still on TV and in big theatres.

“And I can remember once being in the kitchen. When you are young, you don’t really have any comprehension of who people are and what things are, and I just assumed that magic was real. I used to ask him to make me invisible, and he would tell me that it was his day off. But really, I never really saw him as anyone other than my uncle. I think it took me a long time to realise that he was actually anything else, but I used to spend so long talking with him about magic and about the little shows that I would do at school.”

And the conversations continued until the end: “How I first saw that he was ill was that he was just not himself. He was not as warm as he was; he was not as present in the moment as he was. When he was in hospital, he had not long come out of panto, and he was even doing his magic in panto for me. I don’t think he had done any for anybody else, and I think it was the last time he did his magic.

“But when I was 13 or 14, I got into magic in a big way, and I would work for ages and ages on doing my little show. I would spend hours and hours and then I would talk to Paul and in about 30 seconds he would come out with the most amazing stuff after I had been trying so hard. He was so warm and helpful and funny and inspiring.”

Was it a hard decision to follow in his footsteps and become a magician too?

“In many, many ways as a young man, there was no doubt in my mind that this was what I wanted to do. Recently I have been thinking ‘Have I done the right thing?’ but it is actually the thing that I love most in the world. Any comparisons with him are secondary. I have got an encyclopaedic knowledge of magic, and if I had gone into any other field, it would have taken years and years to build up a similar kind of knowledge. With magic, I just feel that I have got the rhythm instinctively now.”

James certainly tries not to be too similar.

“I am just basically me, but sometimes on stage I hear myself sounding like him or feel myself doing mannerisms that were his. If I say ‘you will like this’ to the audience, it is almost impossible not to say ‘not a lot!’ But really I try to iron that out and just try to be me. I try also to use my own material. I keep everything away and come up with my own things. That’s the best bit, when you are really working on something and trying to come up with a solution and then you manage it and it is like you have solved a maths problem. You wouldn’t get that satisfaction if you were just doing a cut and paste from somebody else.”

Tickets cost £14.50. Call 01403 750220.