he HQ for all things magical sits on an unassuming cobbled backstreet in Euston. “You’d never know it was there,” says sleight-of-hand maestro Jake Banfield, “except for a door with a symbol showing the signs of the zodiac.” The four-story building sits on Stephenson Way, and houses a library, a museum and a 160-seater theatre.
I rope Jake in for a chat – but before that, he bewilders me with his first-rate channelling skills. Not only does he correctly name the card I randomly pick from a deck – eight of spades – but also plucks, quite literally out of thin air, the film star I have in my head (Tom Cruise) when he asks me to think of one.
Usually dubious, I’m bemused – and mightily impressed.
How did you become part of the Magic Circle? I was eighteen when I joined. Two members proposed me, and then I had an interview with the secretary. Next I had to do an exam in front of an audience – that was pretty scary. They like new blood, but really what they want is to be amazed. There were about thirty people; three were judges – high-level and well-established in the community.
I did a ten-minute act with a card, a rope and a coin and was adjudicated on my performance and technique. I failed my driving test twice that year – but got into the Magic Circle first time.
How does it feel to be part of the elite club? It’s a seal of approval that you’re a certain level; it was a big step for me. I love the mysteriousness of it all. The library is a huge resource, it contains thousands of books from the 16th century onwards; the best tricks are hidden away, ones that have been forgotten about. I use original principles and bring them bang up to date.
And what does the art mean to you? It’s about creating moments. I do that with anything I can get my hands on, that’s my style. I get asked if magic is real. It is when I’m around, that’s my stock line. Essentially, I’ve practised a lot; and I think people subconsciously appreciate the amount of work that’s gone into it.
So, how did you get into magic? I’ve loved it since I was a kid; I used to watch Paul Daniels on TV. One year we went to a show in London, it turned out to be the World Championships; I saw some of the best on the planet perform. After that, I perfected a few card tricks and showed my mates at school – I’d learn more of the things they liked. It was something that I enjoyed but I never thought I could make a living out of.
I studied Business at uni but didn’t know what I was going to do when I graduated. After qualifying as a ski instructor I got a job with an electrical firm, and performed magic at their trade shows, as well as fulfilling my marketing role; so I started getting a steady stream of inquiries. I’ve done parties at all the big hotels in Euston, have filmed outside the British Museum and I’ve got my second children’s book coming out this year: it’s called Show Me Cool Magic.
Tell us some tools of the trade? I’m quite specific about how I enter a group. I say: “Hi, my name’s Jake, I’m a magician; I’ve been asked by so-and-so to entertain you today, can I show you a quick trick?” I’m letting them know who and what I am, and I’ve got credibility, so they feel they should watch.
Even though I know I’m about to blow their minds, the word quick indicates I’m going to be gone in a couple of minutes. An audience needs to be sceptical at the start, then when you push past their belief of what is possible they’re on side. If you win them over with an illusion and a nice personality you can have some fun. The classic rule is to leave the crowd always wanting that little bit more.