FEATURE: Steve’s hoping to conjure up a new career in art - it’s on the cards...
Thorndon man Steve Burns was not your average hotel worker.
One moment he would be carrying your bags and the next he would have traffic stopped, appearing to be sitting in a floating suitcase with decks of cards in his hands.
By day, guests and their luggage would be his priority. But by night, he would have hundreds of people across the country bamboozled with a magical masterclass of mystery.
The 56-year old, who works in security in Occold, had a long and successful career as a magician. His tricks ranged from table magic to removing people’s heads, and he performed for the likes of Sir Paul McCartney and appeared on Sky TV.
He even made it to two auditions for Britain’s Got Talent in 2009.
But now he hopes to use some of the innovation that made him a hit in his previous career to become famous in another field — art.
I want to start making stuff which has never been done before
He was born in London and grew up in West Norwood, moving to Brixton when he was eight.
As a 21-year-old, he began a 22-year career in the hotel trade, working as a luggage porter, night porter, baggage master and doorman in the capital, at the former Mount Pleasant Hotel, Kenilworth Hotel and the Chelsea Hotel.
His interest in magic and art began at an early age from magazines.
As a six-year-old, he saw a matchbox trick published where, with a shake and a blow, you could make the matches inside disappear.
And, when he was eight, he made a robot out of cardboard and paper the same height as him, inspired by something he had spotted in a magazine.
His first foray into performing magic came after his sister joined a youth club at Trinity Congregational Chapel in Brixton, and became involved by helping them out.
“I had a couple of tricks with me that I used to do,” he explained. “So if we were having a dinner party in the evening, someone used to play the piano, someone used to sing because they had a great voice, everybody used their talents and we were encouraged to do that a lot.”
It was in Brixton where Mr Burns gained an A-level in art at the local college.
“I thought ‘what can I do?’ I didn’t know enough about art, like I do now, otherwise maybe I could have chosen art instead of my magic.
“But I didn’t think I was going to have a career in magic at that point. I was just doing a few tricks at the end of a party, with 12, 15 of us there after dinner.
“I thought ‘I quite like the attention of this’. You have people calling you clever and stuff, and that felt nice, so I bought some more tricks and thought I would make more of a show next time.”
And after performing a magic show to help someone out for free which “went down well,” he realised it could be a potential earner.
“From there I actually built up a couple of children’s magic shows and used to start charging, very part time, one a month, and it built up.”
He had something up his sleeve in a bid to get his first break in the world of professional magic.
“I was a bit cheeky,” he said. “I turned up to the Valbonne in London with all my stuff on a Saturday night and I said ‘I’ve come for my audition.
“The doorman said ‘hold on a minute, I’ll speak to the manager of the club’ and he said the entertainments manager was not there.
“I said ‘well, I’ve been asked to come along to do a ten minute spot’ and he sighed and went back and spoke to the manager, and asked me back the following week.”
His manufactured audition was a success, and was performing every Saturday in the club, as well as performing table magic to those eating in the restaurant.
“I did have a passion for magic.
“You’re just an ordinary guy working at a hotel, and when you are doing magic you get all of the attention, you are someone special, everyone looks up to you.
“I do sometimes miss it. I miss the good days where everything goes well.
“You feel a little bit like a star.”
Steve was offered a contract to be a resident magician at a five-star hotel in Jersey, just one month after taking up the job as his full-time profession.
But he turned it down with his agent, and sold all of his gear — he had just met the love of his life, Janie.
“I thought ‘if I want to take it up later, I can always do that’ and I still think I will still take it up it again one day,” he said.
They moved to Thorndon about 18 months ago, are happily married, and have two sons — Alex, 13, and Harry, four.
In the room we are speaking in, a life-size model of Steve in paper mache looms over us, with the illusion that is it floating.
In his younger days, he said he was a fan of David Hockney, with much of his A-level work inspired by him.
He admits he is his own biggest critic — but is confident he can make a living from art, “getting serious” and dedicating more and more hours for the past five or so weeks.
Steve recently had some paintings exhibited in The Bank in Eye, and is working hard on some innovative designs ahead of the next exhibition there on November 10.
He said they will combine his love of art, magic and physics. A current work is ‘Balloon boy’, while he is also working on an elaborate design on Cleopatra, involving magnets and a pyramid.
“I’m going for it now,” he said. “I’m 56. I need to get a few more lessons I feel, I want to get a good art teacher to help me improve myself.
“You never stop learning, and I just want to go all the way.
“I still like to experiment all of the time.
“There are definitely things I have seen and done from my childhood that are definitely coming into my art now. That’s part of it, as well as the magic.”
Why is Steve so passionate about art?
“I think it is because you are the creator,” he explained.
“You have got a piece of paper there, or a some normal items, and you are going to create something that has never been created before from your imagination, from your thought,
“I want to start making stuff which has never been done before.
“It’s only the last six weeks since Harry has been at school I’ve thought I want to become a professional artist.
“Before it was a hobby and I liked doing it in my spare time.
“I enjoy it so much and I have got so much I want to create.
“The next Damien Hirst — why not?”