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Prepare to be amazed: Magician turns Christmas gift into a career

Magician Ivor Smith takes a card from Jeff Burns during a performance. Image: Jonathan Addie/Michal Wachucik/Abermedia.
Magician Ivor Smith takes a card from Jeff Burns during a performance. Image: Jonathan Addie/Michal Wachucik/Abermedia.

With the magic of Christmas all around us, Jacqueline Wake Young caught up with Aberdeen magician Ivor Smith and found out how a gift on December 25 helped him find his calling.

Like many children, Ivor Smith owned a magic set when he was growing up, but what he didn’t know at the time was that this passing interest would grow into a passion that would one day become a vocation and take him around the world.

It was not until his twenties that he took up magic as a hobby after his wife, Helen, noticed that he liked watching magic on TV and bought him a book of puzzles for Christmas that also taught some basic tricks.

Library books

After that he started to delve deeper into the subject, making Aberdeen Central Library his first port of call.

“I discovered they had a small collection of books that taught magic and I think I borrowed every one! I also scoured local bookshops,” says Ivor.

“Because I started learning this way, before the internet and YouTube, I have retained a love of magic books and now have a library of over 200 books and booklets.”

Ivor Smith has been a magician for 30 years and it has taken him all over the world.

Aberdeen Magical Society

In 1991 Ivor was introduced to Aberdeen Magical Society where local hobbyists, semi-professionals and full-time professional magicians meet to further the art of magic.

Ivor, who now has a 30-year career as a magician under his belt, is still a member and goes to meetings every month.

He started working semi-professionally around 1992 and then in 1999 took the plunge and went full-time, setting up a company called Fifth Dimension with fellow magicians Jeff Burns and Bill Duncan, who is now retired.

Together they took magic beyond entertainment and into the business arena as well, using it as a visual aid to inspire and train people in areas such as health and safety, teamwork, leadership and communication, as well as a way to promote companies at exhibitions.

Ivor Smith and, in the jar, Jeff Burns, of Fifth Dimension.

It brought together Ivor’s magician skills with the business knowledge he had gained in his previous career.

He says: “I worked for Aberdeen City Council, firstly in housing where I worked my way up to become an area housing manager, and then in economic development where I led a small team that promoted Aberdeen as a business destination – helping companies break into international markets and attracting people and inward investment to the city.”

Mastering skills

So, apart from actually being magic, as all the best magicians are, what other skills are needed for such a line of work?

“Patience and perseverance are key,” says Ivor, “in that many effects can take a long time to master.”

“Presentation skills are also crucial as you need to be able to present the magic in a dramatic, funny, interesting way depending on the character you’re portraying.”

Ivor Smith and Jeff Burns, of Fifth Dimension, getting ready for another trip.

“When people ask me what I do, I often reply that my job is simply having fun with people.

“It doesn’t matter whether we’re delivering a serious message around behavioural safety or entertaining at a client hospitality event, fun is a central part of what we do.

Magical mentors

Ivor, who was born in Aberdeen where he still lives, has a son called Eoin who is following in his father’s footsteps as a part-time magician.

As for Ivor’s favourite magicians, he said: “Paul Daniels would always be top of my list.

“I was lucky enough to meet him on several occasions and he was always very generous with his time and advice.”

The late Paul Daniels, Ivor’s favourite magician, on a visit to Aberdeen in 2008.

He added: “At a local level, Bill Duncan was not only a business partner but also a great friend and mentor.

“Jeff and I owe Bill a huge debt of gratitude for all that he taught us in our early days as magicians.”

Now the business they set up together has a long list of clients and an impressive retention rate, although that does present one teensy snag.

Ivor explains: “It does mean that with so many repeat clients we have to be continually innovating and creating and developing new ideas, effects and routines. That is a challenge but it’s one we enjoy!”

Seeing the world

All those nights at the library and practising those basic tricks in the early days has certainly paid off.

“I’ve been very lucky in that magic has taken me all around the world – from Singapore and Thailand, throughout the Middle East, Europe and Scandinavia, to the USA and Canada,” says Ivor.

“Highlights include performing at the Magic Circle in London, the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood where we had two week-long residencies, and headlining a show in Las Vegas.

“In our travels we’ve met many fascinating people from celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and One Direction to lesser-known but equally fascinating people like Tony Asher, who co-wrote many of the songs on the Beach Boys’ seminal album Pet Sounds with Brian Wilson.

“Of course, we’ve also met many famous magicians along the way like Paul Daniels and David Copperfield.”

Jeff Burns and Ivor Smith when they met David Copperfield.

It’s a career path that sounds, well, absolutely magical, so does Ivor have any advice for anyone who would love to one day write down the word “magician” under “occupation” on their passport?

Thankfully he does have some magic words of encouragement he can pull out of a hat, and says: “Be yourself, don’t copy others. Certainly, learn from others but to be original and stand out from the crowd, you need to be you.”

Ivor Smith and Jeff Burns when they met actor Neil Patrick Harris.