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Top entertainer at Waterstones in city centre
The last time I saw such an excited, tense, ratcheted-up crowd in the middle of Bradford was when One Direction, complete with local band-member Zayn Malik, turned up at the HMV store to meet fans on a cold December afternoon two years ago. The queue that snakes around Waterstones might be a tad less hysterical – this is a bookshop, after all – but the sense of anticipation is just as palpable.
They’re here to see Dynamo, another Bradford lad, and street magician extraordinaire. Magic, it seems, is definitely the new rock and roll.
There are even a couple of bouncers trying to keep under control an excitable bunch of teenagers who are clogging the main entrance, waiting for Dynamo to turn up to sign copies of his book, Nothing Is Impossible. Then a shout goes up from those who are still queuing outside the shop, and here he comes: a slight, rather unassuming young man flanked by his PR people and minders.
Dynamo has come home.
There’s a volley of flash-bulbs as he poses for photographs beside a life-sized cardboard cut-out of himself and then he’s hugging a small group of people waiting patiently beside a table full of copies of 50 Shades of Grey, which just minutes earlier had been causing much interest for a handful of police officers lurking nearby. This, it will turn out, is Dynamo’s family. When you’re related to a one of the current hot properties, it seems, you have to wait your turn like everyone else.
Dynamo – real name Steven Frayne (“Steven, or Ste,” he tells me. “Not Steve”) – is a couple of months off turning 30, and his stellar career has taken him to live in London. Minutes after arriving at Waterstones he’s whisked off to a private room, into which I’m ushered not long afterwards, along with his mum, Nicky Goodwin, his Nan Nelly and a group of siblings, cousins and aunts.
We’re in what’s little more than a store-room, a huge spread of sandwiches and fruit laid out on a small table. Steven nibbles on a tuna sandwich; mealtimes have to be carefully managed due to his Crohn’s Disease, a bowel condition that caused him serious health problems a decade ago.
The first thing to say about Steven is that he doesn’t seem the remotest bit “starry”. He’s polite and modest. I ask him what it’s like to be so famous.
“Am I famous?” he says, but his eyes twinkle somewhat. He knows he’s famous. The crowd upstairs is testimony to that, and the list of celebrities he’s met or been booked by reads like the contacts book at Variety magazine: Will Smith, Richard Branson, Holly Valance, Rihanna, Lewis Hamilton, Snoop Dogg, Kings of Leon...
“Yeah, it is quite mad, really,” he eventually concedes. “I go to some celebrity events and these people I regard as superstars... they’re coming over wanting to speak to me. That always feels weird.”
His book Nothing Is Impossible (Ebury Press, £16.99) might as well be called Local Boy Done Good. They should probably put this book on the national curriculum as a guide to how hard work, ambition and dogged determination can achieve spectacular results.
It begins with his much-vaunted stunt for the first series of his Watch channel TV show, Magician Impossible, when he walked across the Thames. If people hadn’t heard of Dynamo before, they knew his name after that. Steven is not just a member of the Magic Circle, which forbids any member to tell how a trick is done, but he’s a member of the Inner Magic Circle, which is like the Illuminati of magicians. Still, I have a question for Dynamo from my son. Well, two questions really: “Can you tell us how you do your tricks? If not, do you tell your mum how you did it?”
He won’t tell me, of course, and mum Nicky, standing behind him, shakes her head. “He doesn’t tell me either.”
“The only person who knows is my Nan,” says Steven. Nan – Nelly – is sitting nearby and waves. “But she knew my Gramps’ tricks anyway.”
Gramps was Kenneth Walsh, actually Steven’s great-grandfather, and the man who is credited with “creating” Dynamo. Steven Frayne grew up on the Delph Hill estate in Bradford, and was regularly bullied. It was Gramps who showed him a thing or two – how to distract attention with magic. The first magic he did for Steven was making sets of green matches and red matches swap places in two matchboxes. The second was how to make it impossible for anyone to move him. That impressed the bullies, and he was pretty much left alone after that.
The last time Steven was in Bradford was for Gramps’ funeral. Mr Walsh died on February 29 this year, aged 84. The sign-off to Dynamo’s book is dedicated to him: “Gramps, I love you and I always will. Thank you for showing me there is magic in the world. Now that I’ve found it, I’ll keep hold of it, always, and make sure that our magic lives on.”
Gramps was the father figure for Dynamo, whose actual dad spend much of Steven’s childhood in and out of prison, and isn’t in his life now. By Steven’s own admission in the book, he wasn’t “the brain of Britain” at school. But if not academically inclined, his brain certainly had something going for it – a certain quickness about it, an ability to work things out and remember how they were done. Also, a desire to succeed.
He took a very punk-rock, DIY approach to this success. By his mid-teens he was sneaking into clubs and performing magic for tips, then getting proper bookings. He took a job as a croupier at Gala Bingo in Bradford to save up enough to go to New York and attend a magic conference. With his friend and manager Dan he would blag his way into gigs and clubs up and down the country, performing guerrilla magic for celebrities while Dan filmed them until they got thrown out. Eventually they made a DVD of all the celeb meetings peppered with Dynamo performing magic in the streets, and he began to get some serious attention.
Now he’s just had his second series of Magician Impossible screened on Watch, and is filming a third. He could make the jump to one of the main terrestrial channels, but that punk-rock attitude persists.
“Watch have been brilliant and give me full artistic control,” he says. “If I was on one of the main channels I’d have people telling me what to do, wanting to change the show, and it would probably be lost in the schedules.”
That’s more modesty – it probably wouldn’t. But he’s always been in control of his own destiny, and doesn’t see why he should stop now he’s at the top of his game.
Or is he? “This still feels like a beginning,” he says. “I still feel as though I’m constantly learning. I always think it’s important to keep doing better. If I’m still around in 50 years and people are talking about Dynamo the magician, then I’ll think I’ve made it.” He pauses reflectively. “Then you can probably tell me I’m famous.”
It’s time to go and meet his adoring public, and Steven has hugs for his family before he settles into his Dynamo persona.
I ask mum Nicky what it’s like to be Dynamo’s mum. “I went with him to a party and JLS were coming up, wanting to meet him,” she says, watching him fondly as he ascends the stairs to start his book signing. “It’s funny, but he just feels like my kid, really.”
There’s some low-level screaming as Dynamo takes his spot, the queue surging forward to get their copies of his book signed.
“Dynamo, we love you!” someone shouts.
He raises his hand and gives what looks for all the world like a shy smile, then says politely: “Thank you.”