Now you see it—now you don’t. From taxi driver to bank manager, Chris Howat has proved he can turn his hand to most things. He talked to Fergus Byrne about his magic life.
In a recent video, local magician Chris Howat held up a copy of the Marshwood Vale Magazine and pointed to an article about a dairy farm and its recent installation of a vending machine. He then proceeded to pour milk from that dairy into the magazine, magically making it disappear without falling through in a mess across his kitchen table. Pointing out that the milk was too good to throw away, Chris then poured it from the magazine back into a glass and drank it.
Was it magic? Was it an illusion? Was it sleight of hand or some kind of Photoshop trickery? Those were some of the questions that readers asked me afterwards. When I rang Chris to tell him everybody wanted to know how it was done, he simply said ‘Welcome to my world’.
One of the most common questions any magician hears is ‘How did you do that?’ and that very question is the reason they perform. Whether you are David Copperfield, earning millions at your trade, or Chris Howat who is relatively new to the art, it is that moment of surprise that every performer relishes. ‘When you perform a trick for someone and their jaw just drops to the ground and you could literally lift it up with your finger’ says Chris. ‘That’s the reaction I want to get—so stunned they can’t say anything. I’ve had that happen from ten-year-olds up to 80-year-olds.’
From the Shamen of old to the world of Harry Potter, or even simple card tricks on the kitchens table, that’s the joy of magic: no matter how old you are it takes you back to your childhood—to the days of wonder and amazement.
Chris has now been performing seriously for two years after his first gig at a charity event at Freshwater Holiday Park outside Bridport. On that occasion his performance required him to go from table to table, introduce himself and try to entertain people with magic tricks. He described at as ‘nerve wracking’ and ‘scary as hell’ but with a background in customer service and sales he had no problem with the level of confidence needed to try to engage with strangers. The real surprise, and pleasant bonus for him, was the level of enjoyment his audience experienced. He went home that night so giddy from the success of the event that his wife was convinced he was drunk. He was stone cold sober—but that was the evening that he got hooked.
Since then he has honed his skill and with increased confidence added more and more tricks. But magic isn’t just about planting confusion and wonder into the minds of the audience. It is as much about performance as it is about practising tricks. ‘I think that performance is the most important thing’ says Chris. ‘Yes it takes hours and hours of practise. Even the top magicians have to practise. And with that practise the tricks then come quite easily. But the performance, that’s where you need to know you are getting people interested and that’s how you progress. Because you’re trying to make an emotional connection with your audience, you’re trying to be remembered for an emotional moment of magic rather than some kind of egotistical performance of a trick.’
During lockdown, with all of his gigs cancelled he started doing a trick a day to put out on his social media platforms. Performing to a small camera was odd but at least he could see the trick is working.
However, not every show goes perfectly to plan. He talked about one occasion when he was performing at a care home in West Bay. ‘I had a new stage show effect I had trialled at a local open mic night in Weymouth and knew it was a fantastic effect which would entertain and wow people’ he said. ‘So the spectator chooses a fruit and I try to guess it and I can’t, I then pull out a tin of fruit cocktail and open the tin and pull out the fruit they thought of.’ Everything was going fine until he tugged at the ring pull on the can and it broke. ‘Luckily they had a can opener so I opened the can and for some reason I decided to only open it three quarters of the way, and then bend the lid with my finger’ he said. ‘As I bent the lid I cut my finger quite deeply. The fruit and the tin got covered in blood and I had to go wash my hand and use three plasters to stop the bleeding.’ This not only made a mess of the trick, the fruit and the show, but as a result he couldn’t bend his finger, thus restricting his ability to shuffle cards, move elastic bands or do most of the tricks he would normally do. In retrospect it is probably quite funny, but at the time he tried a few different tricks and ideas with limited success and ended up leaving to go back another day to finish the performance.
When we spoke, Chris had been furloughed from his day job since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which means he has also been unable to enjoy the regular gigs that he has been building up since he first got the passion for magic. This year he had built up a healthy schedule that included birthday parties, weddings, special celebrations and of course summer fetes.
However Chris has used the time to progress. ‘COVID has been a blessing and a curse’ he says. ‘While I’ve been furloughed it’s given me time to work on new magic and I’ve had time to script and complete a whole 90-minute stage show. That’s with effects and staging as well.’ He is now in the process of re-scripting that to make sure it has all the key emotions and elements he needs for the whole performance. ‘So the plan is that next year, when we can, I can run two or three test shows and then get the show out, which will obviously bring in more work.’
One of the things that Chris often deals with is people doing a double-take when they see him—and that’s not just because of his magic. Although they might recognise him from Instagram and Facebook, his face will be familiar to many locally. He and his father ran a taxi firm in Bridport for many years before he left to work in Lloyds TSB where he became deputy manager of the Bridport branch and then manager of the Dorchester branch. With that background, it’s inevitable that people will wonder if he can magic up some cash. Because let’s face it, any of us can make it disappear.
To learn more about his work or get in touch visit Chris’s website at https://chmagic.co.uk.