Edinburgh Festival 2011: Paul Daniels – Hair today, gone tomorrow

Paul Daniels – Hair today, gone tomorrow ****

Assembly George Sq, 3. 5pm

Do you ever get that feeling? The one where you think you know a person, but then they do something you don’t expect?

Paul Daniels, of all people, gave me that feeling as I watched his Fringe show.

Perhaps I shouldn’t feel particularly surprised. You see, my memories of Paul Daniels are pretty hazy: I remember he was on the TV, that he did magic tricks and that I was amazed by them. I remember lying on my stomach, elbows resting on the carpet and chin in my hands, in front of the TV, with my brother similarly positioned and my parents behind us on the sofa, watching those tricks.

Oh, and I remember the lovely Debbie McGee. All young men of a certain age remember the lovely Debbie McGee.

But I didn’t realise that his patter was brilliant, for instance; that at least half of his act is making the experience feel fun, making the audience laugh along with him as he teases the volunteers pulled up on stage, dropping in truly dreadful puns and comedy gimmicks; that he had such a natural way with people. All these elements had been lost to the fading memories of my childhood, until Paul reminded me in such good-natured fashion from the stage.

You don’t get to be on primetime, Saturday night telly for years for nowt (as Paul’s Yorkshire contemporaries might say). This man is a professional through and through; he doesn’t miss a beat on a range of tricks and sleight-of-hand manoeuvres, despite being 73 years of age.

Before I entered the venue, I had made myself a promise that I would watch his hands like a hawk throughout the performance. “He’ll be slowing down at his age,” I assured myself. “I’ll catch him out. I’ll spot the ball/coin/walnut/rabbit as he tries to palm it up his sleeve.” Well, folks, Paul did me up like a kipper: I didn’t see even one slip. I say that despite him appearing to drop a ball before starting one trick, because it became obvious later that he had made such a ‘mistake’ to establish his fallibility in our minds. We, the audience, were then waiting for him to ‘screw up again’ throughout, which of course he never did.

Before I finish, I must touch on one more thing. Paul Daniels was a TV superstar in the 80s. He performed all across the world, received awards in a number of countries, even headlined Las Vegas shows. Yet here he was, in front of an audience in Edinburgh that couldn’t have numbered more than 80 people… and his joy in performing was absolutely apparent. There wasn’t a hint of bitterness, no sorrow over the loss of past glories: he just loves to dazzle and baffle his audience, from the kids and grandparents in the front row to the cynical festival-reviewers in the back. This is a guy who, despite being of pensionable age, is still living the life he loves. If you’ve got time, make sure you get along and enjoy a slice of it.

And yes,  the lovely Debbie McGee has still ‘got it’. Breathe easy, lads.

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