When science seems magical

Magician Ben Hanlin.

Magician Ben Hanlin.

Published Nov 13, 2014


In recent years, the TV landscape has exploded with cutting-edge magicians like David Copperfield, Criss Angel, Dynamo, David Blaine and Derren Brown. Drawn to this world of illusion, the UK’s Ben Hanlin has been leaving his own footprints with Discovery Channel’s Magic of Science, writes Debashine Thangevelo.

DESPITE just flying into South Africa with not much time to recover from jetlag, Ben Hanlin was a bundle of energy.

In fact, the confident 25-year-old was only too happy to dive into media interviews and, in between the ongoing banter, bowled over sceptics in the room with a trick or two.

Revisiting his magnetism towards the craft, Hanlin offers: “I was always fascinated by magic. When I was 15, that’s when David Blaine came out with street magic. And I used to sit at the back of classes in school bored and doing card tricks to entertain my mates.

“And, a few years later, instead of getting a proper job, I decided to become a magician. I performed on streets, at weddings and corporate events. Then I ended up making some YouTube videos, it was fun. Then people on TV saw them and asked if I fancied doing some stuff on TV and I went: ‘Yeah, okay!’”

So how did he learn the tricks of the trade.

“I went to Hogwarts,” he teases. “I read a basic magic book. You can order it or read in online. More beginners want to learn the basics and then they stop. I just wanted to keep on learning to the point where I could change and do my own tricks.”

Interestingly, his YouTube performances grew legs when he started chasing celebrities to perform tricks for them.

He shares: “I believed I could use social media to track down any celebrity in two days. This was about three years ago. I would ask people to name a celebrity and I would find them and do a trick. In fact, my friend bet me £15 that I couldn’t do it. And sure enough, we got a name out of a hat, and we went and found her – a radio and TV presenter – and I stood on the street with her and did a trick. That sparked a whole series…

“When David Hasselhoff heard what I was doing he called me six hours after I tried finding him and said: ‘I have been getting Tweets and e-mails… come to my dressing room and show me some tricks.’”

And they managed to track down more celebrities in LA.

Hanlin offers: “We tried to find as many as we could. We found Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Foxx. Arnold Schwarzenegger said ‘no’, though.”

But his YouTube stint certainly got him noticed. He also did a show in the UK called Tricked. He reveals: “It is basically like Punk’d, but with magic. That has been pretty well received.”

In Magic of Science, he is joined by three other talents: Billy Kidd, James Galea and Wayne Houchin.

He notes: “This is a tough show to get your head around in the sense that it is not the simplest of approaches.

“People think they are watching a magic show reveal, where you see the science behind the tricks. It’s not that.

“What we did is take science – and things we all probably learnt at school – and make them more amazing. So it looks like real magic and people go, ‘Wow!’ So you are not learning how David Copperfield cuts people in half. You are not learning how we make tigers appear and disappear.

“It’s taking science and making it look like magic in a cool and unique way, which is why it is so different to anything else on TV.”

Inspired by Blaine and Penn and Teller, he says he prefers magic that is more light-hearted. In the second season, the guys have quite a few tricks up their sleeves.

He reveals: “There is the simple stuff. And then we had other things that were massively elaborate. One that springs to mind is the whole piece we did trying to read someone’s mind.

“Magicians, of course, have a whole way of psychology and suggestion to read someone’s mind. We found a device that you can plug on to someone’s head in a hat that genuinely reads their mind. We made them think of a colour and then put the device on their head and the monitor would tell us the colour they are thinking of. And we decided to test that.

“So we got one of our magicians to bungee jump with four different coloured ropes – with only one attached. He knew the colour that was not to be cut. We got the mach-ine to read his mind and tell us which ropes to cut. We dressed it up more theatrically.”

Other feats include one of them handcuffed and thrown into a tank of water and one where Hanlin was placed in a box and set on fire.

“It wasn’t a fun day,” he laughs.

Of course, viewers will have to tune in to find out more.

Magic of Science 2 airs on Discovery Channel (DStv channel 121) on Wednesdays at 9pm. By the way, the fourth and final season of Dynamo: Magician Impossible also airs on the channel, also on Wednesdays, at 8.05pm. His guests this season include Coldplay, Sam Smith, One Direction and Bollywood star, Irrfan Khan.

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