Life’s an illusion

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Guy Barrett ran away from the circus – rather than to it.

His father Norman may be Britain’s best known circus ringmaster – many of those years spent under the biggest top of all, Blackpool Tower Circus – but an animal allergy meant Guy couldn’t learn the ropes.

Having been given a box of tricks at the age of seven, Guy was bitten by the entertainment bug.

“I saw a video of Siegfried and Roy when I was 10, and that was that. I just wanted to perform illusions, the bigger the better. I’ve always tried to put original illusions into my act, too.”

Today he’s takes on 144 of the world’s greatest conjurers in contest for the Grand Prix Stage Magic World Champion and Grand Prix Close-up World Champion.

The World Championships of Magic are presented by the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques (FISM).

It’s not just for a first for Blackpool, but for Great Britain.

When it comes to producing rabbits from hats, this is about as big as they get in the magic world – and it’s all down to some skilful seaside sleight of hand by Derek Lever, president of Blackpool Magicians Club.

Around 2,500 magicians from 85 countries are in town for what’s called the Olympics of the magic world.

The first were held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1948. The last were in Beijing, China three years ago.

This week, for the first time, in the history of FISM, the championships, on a three year cycle, are in Britain – and Blackpool is determined to put on the best possible show in the hope of tempting them back.

Many of the visiting magicians have already fallen under the spell of the resort.

“It’s charmingly rustic,” says one visitor from Japan.

The 25th WCM showcases 145 competitors, shows, 135 dealers and lectures. The week long event is hosted by Blackpool Magicians’ Club, which has presented the International Magicians’ Convention for 60 years.

Club president Derek says: “Blackpool may not have the glamour of Stockholm or Lisbon or Beijing, but it has the largest theatre in Europe, the Opera House – and the Tower. This is the most prestigious event in the magic world. On Saturday the international jury votes on who becomes the FISM Grand Prix champion of Stage Magic and champion of Close-Up Magic, titles, which ensure a bright and lucrative future. Blackpool’s the real winner, as the delegates are likely to spend several million pounds. And when the championships end on Saturday, we will begin work on next year’s Magicians’ Convention.”

Already one of Blackpool’s top magicians, Guy also specialises in creating and supplying illusions for other magicians.

He steps on to stage this afternoon, in the third day’s session of the competition, one of just four magicians selected to represent England in the stage magic championships.

Guy admits: “I have the home advantage, I hope. I’ve been on that stage before, the Opera House, and many won’t have been. Most are amazed when they see it for the first time. I don’t get daunted now. I find it easy to walk out there – especially for such a responsive audience. All are there to watch magic.”

His 10-minute spot features a new illusion in which split-second timing is all important. “It’s definitely under wraps until I perform it,” says Guy, “It’s not for sale. Certainly not yet. I want to see how well it’s received.”

Guy, who lives in Blackpool, is back on stage for a summer season in Southport after the championships. Clive Webb and Danny Adams of Knott End, who appeared in the opening ceremonials, help compere tonight’s Comedy Capers Gala Show and Friday’s international gala show, which features Paul Zerdin, Paolo Guia and other big name magicians.

“It’s an immensely big deal for Britain, for Blackpool and for those of us involved,” says Guy. “It’s held every three years in a different country, so it’s our Olympics. Blackpool is already on the map for magic, thanks to the biggest annual magic convention, but this takes it even further.

“The competition is the main thing, but the gala show is incredible, all the magicians at the top of their game. There’s a younger profile too. All the magic programmes on telly, the likes of Penn and Teller and others, help.

“I want to better myself, put something new in, and impress the judges. I have an illusion-building business and this is a showcase for that too. I use technology.

“Magicians have innovated since the late 1800s, using the objects of the day in their acts, but it will also be nice to see classical acts using classical methods and styles.

“Magic has made a real comeback in the last five years – and Blackpool is right at the heart of it. We all speak the same language.”