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Magic Marty: A Sense of Spell

Published by AAH 1st October 2020

As Magic Marty, Billingshurst magician Martin Sanderson has conjured up many memorable birthday parties. But he is also known for his corporate magic, with celebrities among those to have been bewildered by his visual tricks and sharp comedy. In recent years, Martin has suffered with illness. Yet far from holding him back, he’s achieved a remarkable athletic milestone.

Martin tells his story in his own words...

My uncle, Harry Bowes, was a ventriloquist in Hartlepool, where I grew up. He had scary wooden puppets and performed at working men's clubs on the variety circuit. He would also perform for me and my cousins, although I was the only one who took much interest.

He incorporated magic into his act and when he first made a coin appear behind my ear, I was amazed. I thought, “I’ll be rich!” My uncle saw I was keen and taught me basic tricks. I would learn them during the week and if it was perfect, he’d then show me another. Gradually, I developed a routine.

Magic was like a drug to me. I was addicted and spent hours thinking about it. When I was 12, a careers advisor at school asked me what I wanted to be and when I told her, she called me a “stupid boy” and sent me out the room! I didn't understand, as I knew I’d be a magician! 

After a year of practice, my uncle suggested that I try performing to an audience, as working with people and reading their reactions was important. So, I did a magic show for children who were not much younger than I was. I rushed through my tricks as I was too excited. But I was handed five pounds and couldn't believe it. I was being paid to do something I loved! 

We didn't have a telephone at home, so I walked for miles to clubs and care homes across Hartlepool, introducing myself as Magic Marty. I offered to do free shows to build experience and make a name for myself. I even wore silver sequins and a bow-tie. In one care home, people were dozing off during my act, but I got through it! 

I repeated old-fashioned gags that really weren’t suitable for a child. I was inspired by variety acts and jokes were full of innuendo. One trick involved three pieces of rope of different lengths, eventually tying together. I said to a room of pensioners, “This is the little rope, this is the medium and this big one’s from my Indian friend, Chief What-a-Whopper.” I didn’t always know what the jokes meant.

I spent my newspaper round money on magic tricks, which arrived through the door via postal order. I would practice and embed the good ones in my act. When I should have been revising for exams, I would be laying out cards on a velvet mat. By my last year at school, I was practicing for hours every day, learning the history of magic as well as developing sleight of hand skills. 

Today, magicians can learn tricks online. Within months, they launch a website and promote themselves as magicians. But they haven't done the groundwork needed to understand the traditions and psychology of magic, or learn about audience management. You can’t be rude or embarrass someone excessively, as your target could be anyone – perhaps a company boss surrounded by his employees. People buy people, and if they like you, you’ll be successful. I often talk for several minutes, leaning on comedy or self-deprecating humour to establish myself in a group, before hitting them with a trick. If you act high and mighty or fake an aura of mystique, it will unravel. Be humble. 

After leaving school, I stacked shelves at a supermarket and found weekend work at Ned Kelly's themed-restaurant. I was paid £2 per-hour to do magic. It wasn’t about the money; I just loved performing. I met someone who owned bars in Majorca who told me that his customers had to wait a long time before being served food and drink. I said, “What you need is a magician!” Days later,, I was flying from Newcastle to Palma Nova.

After returning home, I saw an advert in The Stage about auditions for the 1992 summer season in Jersey. That led to me working in the Channel Islands as part of a cabaret show headlined by Stuart Gillies, who had a hit in 1973 with ‘Amanda’. There were dancers too and one was very beautiful. We started dating and have been married since 1996.

Sue became part of my magic show. We included elements of illusion, so I would chop off her head, levitate her or even miraculously produce her from a cage of fire! We compiled a show reel which landed us both a job with CTC Cruises. We sailed to the Norwegian Fjords, Italy and Spain, and later passed through the Suez Canal to Australia and Pacific islands. No sooner had we returned when we were heading off on another six-month cruise.

We've been fortunate to see the world before settling down.I managed to land a residency at Tramp in Mayfair. I was booked for a children’s party hosted by the club manager. It went well and I mooted the idea of having a close-up magician at his nightclub. He invited me along for a try-out and I ended up there for five years. It wasn’t easy, as I was working until 3am, mingling with millionaires and celebrities. Some of them insist on knowing how a trick is done, but as a member of the Magic Circle, I can’t reveal my secrets!

Drake, the rapper, has visited Tramp and I’ve performed for him five times. We got on well. People gravitate around him, but he appreciates magic and I’ve performed for him one-to-one for an hour. He’s a good guy and sent me and my family VIP tickets to his London concert.

Sometimes, a routine takes several minutes, but the clientele at Tramp normally require something snappy. You might only have their attention for 30 seconds. So, I tend to start with a flash of fire, combining this trick with another where a cross appears on the palm of your hand. It amazes people, as it’s visual. The trick has got more reaction than anything I’ve perfected after 20 years of sleight of hand practice! 

At an event at St James' Palace, I was given permission to perform at a table including Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall. Prince Charles was in conversation and I decided it would be rude to interrupt, as the other guests were everyday workers engaged in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to talk to the future King. So, I did the routine away from him, but he gave me a nod of approval, as he is also a member of the Magic Circle. The following day, I was at a children’s party, fighting for my life! 

Not many magicians can transition from corporate to children's work. Some use the same child-friendly tone in the corporate world and it doesn’t work. You hear terrible stories about magicians at birthday parties too. They’re always portrayed badly – usually as depressed alcoholics - on television! Working with children isn't easy and at first I doubted I could create an entertaining two-hour show. But you divide the time with bubbles, games, comedy and even plate-spinning. Occasionally, a party doesn’t go that well and remind you that you should never be complacent. You learn from those days!

Some in the industry look down at children's magicians. But corporate work has its ups and downs, as we’ve seen this year. Children's parties are more consistent and pay the bills. I’ve seen very good corporate magicians quit to take on regular jobs instead. 

You can become an Associate member of the Magic Circle by essentially paying a fee and demonstrating a basic understanding of magic. Whilst attaining a higher level in the Circle, I entered a competition and was named Close-Up Magician of the Year. That put me on the map for London agents and attracted high-profile companies. About seven years later, I made a DVD to help magicians break into the corporate scene. It was a huge surprise and honour when the Magic Circle made me a Gold Star member of the Inner Circle, the highest accolade possible, for helping to further the art of magic.

For years, I’ve had problems with stomach pain and digestion, but put it down to strange working hours and the adrenaline of the job. The pain worsened and was sometimes so bad that it felt like my insides were being twisted in a vice. After consulting my doctor and undergoing a series of tests, I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. I had a colectomy and my insides were in such a state that the surgeon didn't know how I’d survived for so long. But even at that time, I had become hugely passionate about running. I had already run 64 marathons, as well as 100 and 60-mile endurance races. 

My first marathon was London in 2008 and the following year at the Brighton Marathon, I spotted someone running with a shirt with ‘100 Club’ written on it. I searched online and found out about the 100 Club, as well as about the many other marathons and ultramarathons held across the country. My first ‘ultra’ was a 96-mile run from Oxford to London, held over three days. I didn't know about waterproofing and additional layers and ended up in a sleeping bag with mild hypothermia! 

I finished my 100th marathon in September. Normally, there is a big presentation upon reaching the milestone, but because of Covid-19, that’s not been possible. So, I had gingerbread man mementos made and crossed the line with a giant inflatable magic wand. One day, I would love to do the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara. I know I have the mental toughness, but might suffer in the heat. 

In terms of magic, I'm always exploring new ideas. I have a fresh routine involving a floating table to offer an incredible sensory experience. The prop has been made in Las Vegas by a designer who has worked with David Copperfield, so it’s expensive. But the visual impact is impressive. As well as corporate magic, I will always enjoy children’s shows, as they help me stay young. I’m 49, but I feel 30!



PHOTOS: Toby Phillips Photography


Martin Sanderson 'Magic Marty' (Photo: Toby Phillips Photography)