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Nick Mohammed: ‘Paul Daniels was inspiring and a brilliant host’

Interview by Ammar Kalia

It may not be cool but The Paul Daniels Magic Show was probably the show that was most influential for me – both as a kid and now.

It was a classic magic variety show, proper Saturday-night family viewing, which I came to when I was around eight years old and it was in its prime, attracting millions of viewers. It introduced me to the world of close-up magic and illusion. I was hooked – I got a magic set and would always ask for a new magic book or set of tricks for Christmas.

It was an incredible variety show, full of international guests and different acts, from ventriloquism to juggling, the kind of which you just don’t see any more on television. Now it’s more about celebrity, whereas this was all about the performance and the actual content. It was inspiring and Paul Daniels was a brilliant host.

I was 11 or 12 when my dad managed to track down Paul Daniels’ agent. He phoned him up and said: “My son’s a magician and would love to go professional and he loves Paul Daniels’ show.” He offered me some great advice and got us tickets to a charity show that Paul Daniels was doing. I got to meet him afterwards: he was really interested in my development as a young magician and he put me in contact with a magician and friend of his called Harry Nichols, who was based in Leeds, where I lived.

Paul Daniels performs on Blackpool Bonanza in 1978.
Paul Daniels performs on Blackpool Bonanza in 1978. Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

From the age of 14, I started having an hour-long session with Harry once every two weeks, where he would teach me the working men’s club stock of performances. It was all stuff that is probably a bit non-PC now, but it was attention-grabbing and it was always quite funny. I learned a lot from Harry. Then I joined the junior section of the Northern Magic Circle and that was a huge eye-opener, which gave me an outlet for performing. It was a real catalyst for growing my confidence. Once I turned 16, I then started working as a close-up musician at hotels and restaurants, using it to pay my way through university.

Often as a close-up magician, you’re employed to entertain, but you have to be in the background as it’s more about the magic than you as an individual performer. I always mixed comedy and magic though – and the comedy gradually took over.

Related: Nick Mohammed: ‘I secretly write down my wife’s jokes’

I ultimately think that comedy is more difficult than magic. There are fewer places to hide in comedy, as the trick is the main component of the magic show, whereas in comedy you need to bring a persona and entertain as well as delivering the jokes. It’s easier to be a lazy close-up magician than a lazy comedian. But maybe I’m just talking about myself!

I’m still always reading magic books. I’ve got a pile in my bedroom about 10 high, and I’d love to do a straight magic show again or some kind of storytelling show that involves magic – anything to give the viewer that feeling I had when I was a kid where I was completely in awe of a particular method or effect. I’d love to get back into it.

Intelligence season two is on Sky One and Now on 8 June