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People Profile – Richard Kettle – Professional Magician

I was born in Guildford, and lived in Cranleigh for 19 years. My family lived in Woodlands Close, which is up Woodlands Avenue. My mother still lives in Cranleigh, in Summerlands, so I often return to Cranleigh to visit her.

I went to Park Mead School then went onto Glebelands, which feels like a lifetime ago now. I didn’t particularly enjoy the feeling of being confined at school. I did averagely across subjects and was okay at Art. I went on to Godalming College – I was beginning to realise that further education wasn’t for me. I hated to feel trapped with yet more rules and homework! In hindsight I only went there to keep up with my friends. I got an A in Art but failed miserably at IT. I also took Psychology for a year, which was a huge mistake for me personally. But it was definitely a valuable learning curve, so it wasn’t wasted. Life took off after school as it does for many people, and the freedom adulthood brings.

My mum is a very creative person and constantly makes things even now, like sewing dresses, play mats and birthday cakes for my 3 children. She’s been an inspiration to me. She has always inspired confidence that anything’s achievable. My dad was a salesman. He’s gregarious and was always popular at the Golf Club! He taught me to play golf for which I’m thankful. Golf was my life. I fell in love with the sport and I will always love the game.

I played Golf from a young age at Cranleigh (Fernfell as it was then) and believe that interacting with adults there when I was young was very significant. I now understand that this interaction with older people of all backgrounds was a uniquely positive influence. I believe that the social intelligence that this gave me has helped me massively at what I now do for a living. I was playing a couple of times a week with people much older than me. I really enjoyed the camaraderie with my dad, brother and all of the club members!

Me aged 7 at Park Mead School

When I was at College there was a slow sand timer of panic developing in me really. It’s quite a fearful thing in this modern age not to know where you’re heading. As I mentioned, I had the golfing background and worked in the Pro-shop, but being paid £3 an hour wasn’t really going to cut it. I went through various jobs and went travelling in 2002 for a year. I went to Hawaii, Australia, Thailand, Bali, and New Zealand. I had the year of my life!

I travelled with 2 other guys who were 6 years my senior, I was 19 at the time. We had some eye-opening experiences though none were ‘near death’ ones fortunately and we made it back in one piece. That year really gave me a new outlook on life and bundles more confidence.

Notable experiences were: Staying on the northern beaches in Sydney for a few months. The guy we lived with came home one day having bought a speedboat. We took it for a spin in Sydney harbour under the famous harbour bridge and by the Opera house.

There was also the time that we made the impromptu decision to deviate from the plan of flying from Cairns (East) to Perth (West) to work. We elected instead to jump in with some new friends and road trip through fishing villages across the north and to Darwin before slowly journeying down the West coast. We camped out every night for a few weeks with red dusty beards from the roads and looking up at the stars!

Me at work

On my return to UK, I needed a job and went along to the Cranleigh Leisure Centre with my friend Davide. I was quickly persuaded to join as a lifeguard and that worked well time-wise for my finances. I had a great time; it was one of the more enjoyable jobs that I’ve done. I worked my way up to Duty Manager but after a while there was an overwhelming sense of ‘you’ve got to get out of here!’

I clearly recall looking down at the same tiles in a coma of boredom and thinking “I really need to get out of here and start a career!” Weeks and months would pass, looking at the same tiles (I also gave attention to the village swimmers I should add) still wondering what I was going to do with my life. A major plus point to this lifeguarding job was meeting my lovely wife. Despite both being dressed like Noddy, we clicked and the rest as they say is history.

My interest in magic was sparked with an early Paul Daniels Magic set. Years later, I had received a ‘how to do magic tricks’ book for Christmas from my grandparents when I was perhaps 10 or so. Of course once you learn a trick you start performing it on friends and then strangers. I always enjoyed performing the same trick in many different ways – experimenting with timing and different patter and pauses to provoke bigger and better reactions. A great reaction often leads to someone else wanting to watch and this in turn fulfilled the ‘show off’ in me.

From 2009 I had started to take my cards and a few other coin and sponge ball effects and earn small amounts from local gigs. I was under no illusion (please excuse the pun) that this was a viable career path. To begin with I did very small bookings at some local pubs and the odd family friend party or wedding. My first ever paid event was actually at the Golden Palace in Cranleigh, which paid £40 for a couple of hours, mingling with the guests, performing some table magic. Obviously it was a very daunting experience being my first show.

Playing golf gave me confidence

Over the years I’d gone through life working in multiple jobs from the leisure centre onwards and picked up tricks but never with the view that those tricks would lead me anywhere. I’d found myself in various sales roles; these were seemingly the only jobs I could get.

I settled for a few years in IT recruitment in Guildford. I was terrible at the job! Too soft for hard sales and attempting to charm people over the phone about complex technology jobs that I had no understanding of. Almost everyone I ever placed in a job subsequently got fired within 3 months of starting (so I never received any commission). By 2011 I was ready to move on.

2011 was a big year for me. I was getting married and the recruitment firm wouldn’t allow me enough time off for my honeymoon. After 4 years, it was time to take a leap of faith.

I had an epiphany one day; setting up and running a Magic Club in schools. I proactively designed a sticker book for kids to work through and set up a website, company name, got an accountant etc. I would go into schools, perform magic during assembly and sometimes 30 out of 300 kids would want to join my club. I remember going out on my lunch breaks at the recruitment job, finding a park bench and contacting schools.

The Magic Sticker book

In many ways, I’m very grateful that I didn’t do well in that job or any other job, because I now realise that I am not cut out for an office environment. I got backed into a corner and had no choice but to be bold and become a full time Magician. I am pleased to say that I have never looked back.

I built up a number of schools wanting to trial the club and the company (www.youngmagicians.co.uk) has slowly grown to 26 schools with 3 Magician Tutor’s. It was great fun and I absolutely love to work with and hopefully inspire kids, teaching them very basic components of magic. Building confidence levels through teaching children performance skills in school clubs and holiday workshops. Between the company and my ‘Ketsymagic’ event work I started to make a decent living and lost the burden of what to do for a ‘proper’ job.

It was also around this time that joined the Magic Circle. I passed a formal interview, showcasing my skills and subsequently invited back to perform a 12-minute routine in the Theatre. There were probably about 30+ professional magicians in the audience, which of course is a very different audience. This was a very frightening experience.

The audience, being full of professional Magician’s, knew everything I was doing. Where I usually might pause for some audience comments or gasps there was nothing! Each of the tricks I had rehearsed endlessly was met with a respectful clap rather than a cheer or holla. I subsequently heard that I’d been successful in getting into the Magic Circle and was now one of only 1500 worldwide members. This gave me great confidence.

Tricks of the trade

Then I started doing event and corporate magic by just ringing round some agencies and from there, the rest I’m pleased to say, was word of mouth. My performances were well received and I continued to get positive feedback and it just grew. Working at a wedding with over 100 guests is a far better avenue to gaining business than ringing round companies and ‘cold selling’ yourself. I really wanted to avoid the hard sales.

About 1 in 3 people ask me if I’m in the Magic Circle and it’s nice to be able to back that up. The Magic Circle is a very prestigious club in Euston, where magicians perform at events and exchange ideas, swap tricks and things like that. I have been to some great lectures there. They do some public events and I strongly recommend going if you get the chance for a family friendly time out!

I had an ever-growing repertoire of tricks and there was suddenly confidence that I could make enough money with just that. Once I got going it was a joy to perform. My nerves were strong, especially back then, but I don’t recall messing anything up. At that stage of course I didn’t have any real experience in approaching people in an audience, which I now realise is the whole skill of the job. It’s about non-intrusively interacting with people. People don’t want someone to come and show off and dominate the conversation and I know for a fact that too many Magicians’ will do exactly this.

Reading body language to understand when is perhaps not a good time or picking up on signals of people that fear any attention be put on them is a major asset. Quickly winning over audiences with first impressions and (hopefully) not annoying the audience is the most important thing. Interrupting people’s conversations or meals takes quite a lot of interpersonal skill – I would guess that the 1 in 100 people that don’t like Magicians have only ever been approached by a self-indulged show-off who didn’t take the time to first ask if it was ‘a good time to see some magic?’ These soft skills are where I often receive great feedback and I am very proud of this.

“the look of surprise on their face is incredible”

Generally I begin, “Sorry to interrupt, my name is Richard and I’m here doing some magic. Is it a good time to show you something?” I always relate it to receiving the kind of telesales call when typically they dive straight in at the outset, having no idea what’s going on in that person’s life, there’s always the possibility they’re having a really bad day. When meeting huge volumes of people, its inevitable that many will be engrossed in conversation or catching up with relatives that they haven’t seen for a while. To make the assumption that everyone is ready to be amazed by magic at any time is a dangerous one.

Typically, I do magic with cards, coins, sponge balls, notes, keys, cups and balls, ropes, phones etc. I also now perform what is known as ‘Mentalism’ and mind -reading. Asking psychological profiling questions to really delve into the mind, and it freaks people out, the look of surprise on their face is incredible. It’s making you think in ways you wouldn’t normally, it’s expecting the unexpected.

Performing high quality magic and really blowing people’s minds takes a lot of practice. Each effect needs to be faultless. The thousands of hours that I have put into close up magic is compulsive. I liken it to playing golf i.e. you play because you love the sport and not necessarily to get better. I enjoy playing around with cards and coins and as a result I am now lucky enough to call this my job.

There was a particular magic trick I learnt from rewinding a David Blaine video years ago. When I started to perform it I got a decent reaction, I proceeded to practice it in front of the mirror and then performed it on more people, positioning it in a slightly different way. Then I did more practice in front of the mirror and showed it in front of other people. I believe I’ve done that trick to this date over fifty thousand times! I used to do it with paper but now with sponge balls.

Up close and personal!

Learning this one great effect had infected me with the bug and I was starting to become addicted to making people react with magic!

I’ve been keen on magic for a long time. I try and hold on to the feeling of amazement that was once there the first time I saw a jaw-dropping trick. I’m continuingly working on my craft, tweaking and trying to perfect the things I do.

I still get nervous when performing which I see as a good thing but very rarely do things go wrong. I rely on a healthy handpicked selection of my finest tricks and best magic effects. I generally just love it; I love what I do. Every now and then I come across a ‘hater’ who dislikes the spotlight that a Magician brings. People can of course be very rude but I now have enough experience to brush off these encounters and politely move on to the next group of people. There’s definitely a huge element of psychology in what I do.

There was one occasion when I had about 10 minutes left in an event, and there was a gentleman on his own, so I went over and asked if he’d like to see some magic. He picked a card, looked at it carefully and placed it back in the pack. The rest of his table had now come back (mid-trick) and now it was time to make his card appear in an amazing way. His card was now in a wallet in my left hand breast pocket. This polished routine was going to surely get a huge reaction and entertain everyone. I take out the wallet and open the envelope slowly bring out the card face down . . . The 5 of Diamonds! “That’s not my card”, shouted the man now chuckling out loud. His table were now all laughing uncontrollably at me. Let me tell you, it was his card – this joker was being opportunistic and deliberately set out to sabotage the effect. Of course, the other 6 people hadn’t seen him take the 5 of Diamonds and they all hung off his word. This was definitely his card! I could now walk away sheepishly or elect to show another of the group a top-drawer trick. I borrowed a ring, vanished it and finally took out my car keys… The ring was securely fastened on my keys and jaw’s hit the floor.

How did he do that?

I completely understand if people don’t enjoy magic, I respect that and will always move on if this is the case. It hurt in the early days to be rejected (publically) but now it’s water off a ducks back.

I think that backing up the sleight-of-hand with people skills and genuine interest in your audience is integral. It’s also the conversation, because real conversation and interest in people is the best misdirection and distraction. All I will say is that I don’t think it’s as hard as everyone says it is. I think the soft skills required to non-intrusively approach an audience and not annoy or patronise them is the key. By combining it all together it makes for an enjoyable experience for everyone.

I continue to go into schools because learning tricks is such a great confidence builder for kids and it’s fun! It’s so rewarding to see a very shy 7 year old develop a louder voice and put his or her personality behind a card or sponge ball trick. Parents and teachers will come in and tell me what an impact magic has had on their child’s confidence which is amazing. Every child has their own style of performance. It’s is a great way to develop confidence in speaking to people. If, for example, children are at a family party where they would normally be sat stationary in a seat, performing a trick to guests gives them the freedom to approach a table and use what I call ‘set pieces’ of a performance to speak to people and interact with them and have fun.

I am lucky enough with this work to have a great balance. The unsociable hours I can often work are offset by the time I get at home with my wife and 3 children (3 years and 16 month twins). My wife works so incredibly hard and its nice to add some value at home. I appreciate what a unique position this puts me in.

Richard with Amanda Holden

I hope to continue to make an impact and the magic tends to lead into more and more avenues. I seem to be busy working at more weddings and parties. Thankfully the balance of work/life is pretty good at the moment. I think if I did too much event entertainment, I could start to lose the passion for it, with travelling and being away. I’ve been lucky enough to perform magic at some really cool events with some fantastic experiences. I’ve also been lucky enough to work at some wonderful venues and interesting events. I meet so many great people doing this job and that’s the best part for sure!

It’s a magic job!

When tricks go wrong!
I was lucky enough to have an event come up where Joanna Lumley was going to be present at the Ivy in London. I thought long and hard about which particular magic effect to perform on her. I spent the 40 minute train ride to town rehearsing a trick using some cards and a sharpie pen. When it came to meeting Joanna, I had realised that in a freakish twist of events, someone had asked to use my pen and not given it back! I fell back on a few other favourites and she was kind enough to write me a lovely testimonial for my website.

Fact
“Performing is a really weird thing, even though I only work typically for a couple of hours, I get back home and I’m absolutely shattered. It seems to use far more of my battery power than normal. Strangely though, I have dreaded going to some work over the last year or two as I’ve felt near exhausted (thanks to my beautiful but sleep-resistant twins) I then take on a hit of adrenaline when I’m working. It’s the buzz. It charges me up and allows more than enough energy to approach and hopefully dazzle audiences!”

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