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The boy with the magic touch
7:00am Saturday 29th December 2012 in NewsXtra
His fans include Will Smith, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Martin and even the Prince of Wales, who've all been mesmerised by his mind-boggling sleight of hand and illusions. Steven Frayne, better known as street magician Dynamo - whose autobiography Nothing Is Impossible is available now - tells Hannah Stephenson how magic helped him escape the notorious Bradford council estate he grew up on, the bullies he encountered and his jailbird father.
By Hannah Stephenson
When Steven Frayne stops people in the street, there is little to suggest the encounter will leave them gaping in disbelief and utterly blown away.
Often dressed in jeans, trainers and a hooded jacket, in the nicest possible sense Frayne looks totally unremarkable - you could easily assume he's just about to ask you the time.
But you only need to watch a few minutes of his TV show, Dynamo: Magician Impossible, to realise that he is, indeed, staggeringly remarkable.
Dynamo (as Frayne is better known) has swallowed jewellery then pulled it out of his stomach, transformed snow into diamonds, walked - seemingly unaided - down the side of the 20-storey LA Times building and, most famously, taken a stroll on water across the River Thames. How he pulled it off is a mystery.
His street magic acts have included turning a total strangers un-opened bottle of cola into fizzy orange and fusing metal coins together between his fingertips.
Earlier this year he was awarded the magic world's highest accolade - associate membership of the secret inner sanctum of the Magic Circle. The gentle, softly-spoken 30-year-old confesses he doesn't really know what that means, but he's honoured all the same.
Nowadays, he can command five-figure sums to perform at celebrity parties, yet Dynamo himself remains as "unshowbiz" as it's possible to be, both on screen and off.
But his sleight of hand and amazing illusions - some magicians make coins disappear, he can make himself disappear - have earned him a massive fan base, with 1.2 million followers on Twitter, and the first series of Dynamo: Magician Impossible attracted two million viewers on Watch, the highest viewing figures in the channel's history.
His passion for magic stems from childhood, when he'd spend hours practising in his bedroom, too scared to venture out onto the estate for fear of being bullied or attacked.
Dynamo was slight - even now, he's barely 5ft 8in, weighing around eight stone - a side-effect of the debilitating Crohn's, an inflammatory bowel disease he's battled since he was 13, which made him a target for playground bullies who'd throw him into stinking dustbins and roll him down the hill.
Complications from the disease nearly killed him when he was 18, and he had an abscess removed from his bowel, but it's now under control.
In many ways, it was magic that saved him. "I was quite geeky and magic was an obsession. It was something that didn't require anything or anybody else for me to work on. It used to occupy myself and take my mind off the bullying," he explains in his autobiography.
Ask him about author Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule (which states you need 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert in any field) and he says that he took that long just perfecting his trademark card shuffle, let alone anything else.
"I'm still learning. I can always pick something apart in my material. There's no such thing as perfection," he says. "I come into the office sometimes seven days a week and I might be in here 16 hours, rehearsing and coming up with new ideas."
He began performing street magic as young teenager, dressed in a hoodie and trainers (today his garb of choice is Louis Vuitton and Givenchy).
Word spread and he found himself being asked to perform at birthday parties around the estate, later blagging his way into nightclubs in Bradford, Sheffield and, eventually, all over the north of England.
His magic endeared him to bouncers, and anyone else who might otherwise have refused him entry to the haunts frequented by the rich and famous, who were equally amazed at his talents. With the help of a loan from The Prince's Trust, he carved himself a career.
Over the years, Dynamo has levitated Lindsay Lohan, turned paper butterflies into real ones for Natalie Imbruglia, and wowed the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Will Smith, Snoop Dog and Kim Kardashian.
Chris Martin and his wife Gwyneth Paltrow became fans after Dynamo blagged his way backstage at a Coldplay concert and impressed Martin's mum with card tricks.
Yet, unlike other Houdinis of their time - David Copperfield, Paul Daniels and Derren Brown - Dynamo is not a natural showman.
"I'm just a kid from Bradford, making my living doing what I love the most," he says simply.
He was raised by his mother, a hairdresser, who was 17 when she had him. His dad spent long periods in prison for various crimes. Since he's come out, Dynamo has only seen him once.
"I don't have any animosity towards him. There are no bad vibes, I just don't really consider myself to have a father. My grandfather was the closest to my male role model."
He's referring to his great grandfather, Kenneth Walsh, who he lovingly refers to as Gramps and who taught the young Dynamo magic, including a technique which literally takes away someone's strength. That soon got rid of the bullies...
"It gave me the belief that I could overcome the things that were happening to me," Dynamo recalls.
His success has inevitably made him famous, but he struggles with celebrity. "I've lost a lot of my privacy," he says. "It can get a bit overbearing at times because I never really wanted to be famous. I just wanted to do magic. Fame and stuff comes with it, but I'm quite shy and reserved."
He lives in London with his girlfriend and has an Alsatian - which is soft as putty but looks menacing and puts people off approaching him, he says.
"When I'm driving my car, people wind their windows down and shout, 'Do some magic!' But I'm, like, driving."
His girlfriend, whom he met at a music festival, prefers to keep out of the limelight. Dynamo does, however, practise his magic on her.
"She's the hardest person for me to impress," he reveals. "Maybe she's the only person I get nervous performing for. I genuinely care about her opinion because she's the one I love.
"She's very supportive because my work takes over my life for a lot of the time, so she has to share me with the magic."
He's currently filming the third series of Dynamo: Magician Impossible for Watch and is aware that TV eats up much of his material. With the first series he could draw on 12 years' worth, but with the second and the forthcoming series, he had just six months to create new illusions.
Throughout his shows, he's never been afraid to venture into rougher areas, whether it's the favelas in Rio or the streets of Harlem in New York. In the next series, he ventures into townships in South Africa.
"I'm from the wrong side of the tracks and have always wanted to be a working class hero for my generation.
"I want to demonstrate that even though people live in completely different worlds, magic can still elicit the same response."
The new series of four one-hour shows is scheduled for April, while the DVD of series one and two is out now.
Dynamo doesn't return to Bradford much, although he remains close to his mother and grandmother. Gramps Kenneth died this year, and for a while his prodigy hid away.
"I miss him every single day. I had to disappear for a little while, to make time for my family and re-evaluate my life," Dynamo reflects.
"Over time, the magic turned from being the reminder of my grandpa to being the thing which will leave his legacy. Now it's not about me, it's about keeping his legacy alive."
There's talk of a fourth TV series and a stage show. For now, he has separated his Dynamo persona from his real one - Steven.
"Dynamo hangs out in the coolest clubs and bars all over the world, but Steven likes to stay in with his mates and watch a movie."
:: Nothing Is Impossible: The Real-life Adventures Of A Street Magician by Dynamo, is published by Ebury, priced £16.99. Available now
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