Magicians are earning rave reviews from businesses planning the perfect corporate event. John Hill meets a few who've wowed the crowds in the Wharf.
I MET two people in hotel bars recently. The first one stole my ring, and the second bent a fork and made my five pound note disappear.
Most of the time, that's a sign that you're drinking with the wrong crowd. But these guys are in demand with multi-billon pound companies from Canary Wharf to Dubai.
David Bonsall and Jamie Raven are professional magicians. While most of their fellow craftsmen might see this kind of gig as a hobby, they're pulling in enough bookings to pay the bills. And an increasing number of them are coming from businesses looking for the ideal entertainment for clients or parties. So thankfully they can afford to give back the jewellery when they make it vanish.
David became an full-time magician five years ago after a spell in the Royal Marines. The south coast performer was once an Olympic hopeful for Scotland in the decathlon, but injury lured him towards the art of illusion.
He said: "I started magic at 10, and was performing part time at the age of 17. I had a back injury and the only thing I really knew was magic, so I thought I'd give it a go.
"It's definitely a business. It's not just a hobby you can make money out of. You really have to market yourself. Most professional magicians spend about 90 per cent of our time finding the work, and communicating on the phone and the computer. You need the discipline to get up at 8am and spend all day working, because it's easy to turn on the TV or go out with friends.
"It's almost like the magic is a part-time thing, because you spend so much time getting the work in."
David met me at the Marriott's Manhattan bar in West India Quay on the way to a booking in Surrey, but he's wowed crowds at Wharf-based bank Barclays, Canada Place mall and The O2 arena. He's noticed a steady rise in corporate bookings in recent years.
He said: "It's a different environment. I find people at corporate gigs are much more relaxed, and don't spend their entire time trying to catch you out.
"Five or six years ago corporate events made up about five to 10 per cent of work. Now it's about 60 per cent.
"People are realising the potential of magic as an ice-breaking tool, getting the guests in the right frame of mind and impressing the clients.
"I'm very much a mix and mingle magician. You've got to be a people person for that. I spend a lot of time reading books on body language and the art of conversation. Some people can be very intimidating, and when you interrupt a group of people networking you've got to be their best friend within about two minutes."
David is close friends with London-based magician Jamie Raven, who met me the following day and promptly helped me bend a fork with the power of my mind and some light rubbing.
Jamie kicked off his magic career soon after finishing an economics degree at age 20, and was able to give up his day job within six months. He puts his success down to his focus on making new contacts at each event.
He said: "I meet magicians all the time, and I always ask them why they never bother giving out their business cards. What's the point in having 5,000 business cards sitting in a drawer. When it comes to parties, 80 per cent of my work comes from people I've met at jobs I've done in the past."
Companies such as Jones Lang LaSalle and Credit Suisse have hired Jamie for functions, and he's even performed for business guests on moving stages in London.
He said: "I did one gig on top of a rented double-decker bus travelling from Canary Wharf to London Bridge. It was tricky because they were all sitting down and I was standing up, and it was a little difficult to balance. I ended up leaning against one of the seats.
"For a lot of corporate functions, the company has invited clients from all over the place and there are sometimes 50 people in a room who have never seen each other before. You're going to break the ice and give them something to talk about.
"You can also anchor a message to it or sell something through it. When I work trade shows, I stop people walking past and get them interested, and then pass them on to the person selling the product at the stall.
"The beauty of doing magic is that you can cater it for anything. Magic is very much like advertising. There's a lot more psychology going on than you'd think at first."
The average magician will always have his cards handy, but many now prefer to create a trick using everyday objects, such as a guest's watch or even a piece of fruit.
Jamie said: "If you can walk into a bar completely naked and pick up anything and do a trick with it, that's the magician's holy grail.
"Some people have a jaded perception of a magician with a deck of cards, but I can show them something much more baffling.
"At some point I'll produce a kiwi fruit and give it to someone. Then I'll borrow a banknote from someone and magically change it into an IOU note.
"At the end of the night the first person will use a knife to cut the kiwi fruit open and the money will be soaking inside it. People always remember the kiwi fruit."
Many magicians also bolster their act with gags, acting as compere and conjurer for events and dinners. Sunderland-based Don Moses has appeared at the Four Seasons and the Hilton hotels in Canary Wharf, and even dragged a North East footballing hero on stage recently.
He said: “I stole a watch from Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn the other week and the crowd went crazy. I was really nervous because he's such a nice guy, but he was fine with it.
“However, a colleague of mine once took a watch and forgot to give it back. He only discovered it when he stopped at a garage on his way home. It added an extra three hours on to his travelling time that night, as he had to go back and return it to him."
Don was teaching chemistry and biology to A-level students when he first started doing open spots at clubs eight years ago.
He said: "I used to do magic for the kids and it was a great way of breaking the ice. When I started performing open spots, I always used magic to lean on because I didn't know if the comedy was good enough.
"I got a few bookings with an agency that did corporate gigs all over the country, and kept forcing myself into extra work.
"I'm based in the North East but I come down to London quite regularly. 70 per cent of my bookings are corporates. The rest are comedy clubs and close up magic at weddings.
“I always do my homework on the company. I find out what the in-jokes are in the business, and I tend to do some close-up magic beforehand to see who’s a good guest to bring up.
"If you've done the close up magic, you know people's names and you can call on the whole room. I do tend to draw on some of my skills as a teacher to keep hold of the room as well.
"I usually do about five to eight minutes of comedy and then go straight into the magic. I may go in sooner if I feel no one's going for the comedy."
Don's work has taken him to business functions across the country - and he's brought quite a few stories back to his native North East.
He said: "If I was based in London I'd get a lot more bookings. But I'm doing about 120 a year, which won't make me a millionaire, but it gets me back to see my wife, and there are a lot of laughs along the way."