Steven Frayne a.k.a. Dynamo does a card trick at the Mayfair Hotel in London
Waterwalker: Steven Frayne takes a stroll on the Thames leaving the world baffled as to how he managed to do his trick - but he keeps schtum about the magic behind it
In June last year he stunned Londoners when he seemed to float unsupported on the surface of the Thames - the theories were many including hidden clear plastic underneath the surface and invisible wires
Everything about 29-year-old Steven Frayne is small, gentle and unassuming.
He’s just 5ft 6in, barely 8st and softly spoken. His waist is teeny, his arms are bird-like and his hands are small, pink and currently rummaging in his enormous Louis Vuitton bag for a pot of hair-styling wax.
'I was going to put a bit in for the photos, but I can’t find it now,’ he says.
He doesn’t look the sort of man to swallow your gold necklace whole and, minutes later, pull it out of his tummy — straight through the skin.
Or to walk through glass windows and down the side of buildings. Or levitate both Lindsay Lohan and comic actor James Corden, turn Austrian snow into diamonds and Fanta into Coke, melt coins in his hands and make cardboard butterflies come alive.
Oh yes, or walk on water — he made it halfway across the Thames last summer before he was picked up by a police boat and cautioned.
But Steven Frayne is otherwise known as Dynamo, the Bradford-born street magician whose extraordinary illusions have left millions amazed, confused, shocked and occasionally scared.
Last week, he was awarded the magic world’s highest honour — Associate Membership of the secret inner sanctum of the Magic Circle — up there with Paul Daniels, David Copperfield and Derren Brown.
'With a silver star,’ the citation says. ‘Which must be good, mustn’t it?’ he grins shyly. It is indeed. Very few magicians are awarded the AIMC with a silver star. ‘
They say it’s the highest degree you can earn for examination in the Magic Circle, and I’ve not even been examined! My mum will be so proud — they just gave it to me. Can you believe it?’
Frankly, yes. Because while he might not look, or act, like a superstar, pretty much everything Dynamo, 29, has touched over recent years has turned to gold.
His first TV series Dynamo: Mission Impossible was a huge word-of-mouth hit, attracting an average 1.7 million viewers and a nomination for most popular entertainment programme at the 2012 National Television Awards — despite airing only on the satellite channel Watch.
His second series, Dynamo: Magician Impossible, started on Watch last week.
He has performed at celeb parties in Las Vegas, Rio de Janeiro, Venice, Los Angeles and Clarence House — once claiming: ‘P Diddy ain’t got nothing on Prince Charles when it comes to putting on a party.’
Famous fans — many of whom hired him to entertain at their parties and now queue up to appear in his TV series — include Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Ian McKellen, Jay-Z, Chris Martin and his wife Gwyneth Paltrow (Dynamo blagged his way backstage at a Coldplay concert and impressed Chris Martin’s mum with his card tricks), Will Smith, Jonathan Ross, Wayne Rooney, Paris Hilton . . . the list goes on.
Not forgetting his 1.5 million followers on Twitter and Facebook, and a dedicated band of fans called the Dynamites — who follow him anywhere.
A recent personal appearance at Westfield shopping centre in East London attracted so many the mall had to be closed. And when he appeared at the Whitehaven Festival in Cumbria, instead of the anticipated 300-strong crowd, over 12,000 turned up, sending Health & Safety officials into a right old lather.
None of which is surprising given his mind-boggling tricks.
Take walking on water, for instance. Last June, in front of hundreds watching from Westminster Bridge, he walked (not waded) very carefully halfway across the Thames in front of the Houses of Parliament, before being picked up by what appeared to be a police boat.
Unless he was Jesus Christ, it is highly unlikely he actually walked on water. He did not appear to be suspended by wires, so the general consensus was that he had somehow installed a large piece of clear plastic beneath the water surface and that the ‘police’ were not real officers but on his payroll.
Whatever the truth is, it was the product of a devilishly creative mind, which thankfully was not a casualty of his challenging childhood.
'It wasn’t a great upbringing,’ he admits. His single mother was just 16 when he was born, and his father was in and out of prison (‘I haven’t spoken to him since I was 18’).
Thanks to severe Crohn’s disease — a debilitating inflammatory condition that required him to follow a diet excluding everything from vegetables to sesame seeds — Steven was small, thin and an easy target for bullies.
'It was tough for my mum. I had to grow up quick to look after her, but I wasn’t ready to do that job. I was ill, little and shy. I wanted to be like other kids, but I was too different.
'To start with it was mostly verbal bullying, but then they started stealing my money and putting me in wheelie bins and throwing me down the hill.’
It was his great-grandfather Kenneth Walsh — the role model and saviour he called Grandpa — who provided the escape route.
'He showed me some magic tricks that he’d used in World War II to supplement his bar money — any way you can make money in a dodgy fashion in a bar, he knew how.’
He also taught Steven a concentration technique that — don’t ask how — made his body impossible to lift so that however much they huffed and puffed, the bullies couldn’t shift his slight frame any more. (He used the same trick last year on boxer David Haye.)
'These guys weren’t the smartest cookies, and once I started doing a few things they didn’t understand, they were freaked out and spread rumours that I had demon powers.
'That stopped people picking on me, but it also isolated me. People didn’t want to be around me. But I loved magic and it made my mum smile, and that meant everything. So I spent a lot of time in my bedroom practising.’
And practising and practising. Dynamo laughs off author Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule (which states you need 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert in any field) as a laughable underestimate.
Quite how you practise predicting football results is hard to understand. Last week he won £10,000 on a £1 accumulator bet predicting the quarter, semi and final results for Euro 2012 (the money will go to the Teenage Cancer Trust).
He moved to London aged 20 but just when his career looked set to take off with his own TV show, his Crohn’s disease flared up and he nearly died from an internal abscess. Today, it’s back under control.
Despite his extraordinary fame and growing fortune (‘I can sometimes now buy things and not even look at the bill!’), he’s not the sort to have his head easily turned.
'My lifestyle is more extravagant — just coming to places like this,’ he gesticulates round the foyer of the luxury London hotel. ‘I know this is just a hotel in London, but I’m from Bradford. The best hotel we’ve got is a Holiday Inn Express.
'And I’ve got a few cool things — I rent a nice flat in London and I’ve got a customised pool table with Dynamo graphics on it. And a nice watch . . . I’ve still got my Honda Civic, but it’s kitted out with YouTube and tellies and stuff.’
He doesn’t appear spoiled, or overly impressed by his celebrity fans. ‘I never get star struck, but I sometimes get an uncontrollable adrenaline rush which takes over so I can’t remember what I’ve done.’
He’s not keen to divulge any trade secrets. When I ask for clues about how he strolled on the Thames, all he will say is: ‘I’m not the best swimmer.
My grandfather taught me how to swim by throwing me into the pool and just letting me flap about. Which I think is what made me think, “Right, I’m just going to have to learn to walk on this stuff.”
His mind never stops dreaming up new and more outrageous tricks. ‘I try to surround myself with people who have vivid imaginations and I constantly watch the latest films and music videos for inspiration.
'But mostly I try out stuff on my manager. I’m always walking round to his house at three in the morning and waking him up with ideas. He was up till five yesterday. He’s always knackered.’
Does he ever switch off?
'I like driving — I go out driving late at night. If I wasn’t a magician, I’d want to be like Jeremy Clarkson and do Top Gear. It looks like they have a right laugh. I’d love to go on the show. I asked last year but they declined me. If there’s anything you can do to get me on . . .’
Among the myriad successes of the past few years, however, was one awful blot. Grandpa Kenneth died of a brain tumour aged 84 this year after a short stay in a hospice and Dynamo went to pieces.
'I didn’t want to perform for months, I just wanted to be at home in Bradford — if you’ve ever been to Bradford, you’ll know it’s not the most exciting place — but it’s home.
'Though on the upside, he died on February 29, so we only have to commiserate every four years.’
What an extraordinary character Dynamo is. He’s the most modest, down-to-earth man you could hope to meet (particularly when talking about his beloved mum and great-grandmother Nelly Walsh), despite being constantly feted, praised and worshipped as he works his illusions.
Which is brilliant. Just watching him limber up in front of me — turning card shuffling into performance art, somehow rotating his tiny hands a full 360 degrees and bending his fingers as if they were rubber — is an experience not for the squeamish.
During our brief time together, he turned Lottery tickets into hard cash, removed a coin from my clenched fist without me noticing and performed unexplainable card tricks — despite me concentrating hard throughout.
Somehow, the card I had picked from the pack, and was holding firmly in my hand, ended up in his mouth.
Another popped up as the only card sitting face up in a separate sealed pack. As he performs, the cards became an extension of his tiny hands (card tricks are much harder if you have small hands).
Sadly, there was no walking on water nor necklace swallowing. When I asked if he fancied eating my necklace — a large crystal pendant on a leather strap — and pulling it out of his very flat tummy, he paled.
'It’s very, very painful doing that. How about another card trick instead?’ He’s so gentle and sweet that I let him off the hook and, clearly relieved, he chats on, and on.
'I may not have had the best childhood, but I’m getting to live out an amazing adulthood. I don’t feel like an outsider any more, and I make a living making people smile, bringing joy to people and making my mum and great-nan proud. It’s the best job in the world.’
Or it is when he’s not being forced to eat crystal necklaces.
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