The magic of storytelling with Britain's Got Talent winner, Richard Jones
PUBLISHED: 10:07 11 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:16 12 April 2018
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With a new series of Britain's Got Talent having just hit the nation's TV screens, last year's winner, magician Richard Jones, is heading to Guildford to show off the power of our imaginations
Nearly 10 million people watched him become the first magician to win Britain’s Got Talent last year but things will be rather more intimate for Richard Jones when he performs at the 300 capacity Boileroom in Guildford this month.
“We had a lot of fun putting together such a spectacle for BGT but, to be honest, I much prefer having these sorts of audiences as it’s a lot easier to engage with them,” the 26-year-old military man tells Surrey Life over the phone from a lay-by in between army bases, as he prepares for his The Power of Imagination tour. “Things can be much more interactive and, if I want, I can just step off stage or pull people on for certain tricks etc. Obviously the TV stuff has to be perfectly choreographed and there’s a big time constraint, which makes it tricky for magicians to build the right atmosphere. We won’t be able to fit the band on stage on this tour, obviously, but my magic is more about story telling than flash effects anyway. It’s all new material with plenty of surprises along the way.”
A powerful tale
Still a serving soldier, the charming lance corporal won the 10th series of Britain’s Got Talent with an epic set-piece telling the story of Fergus Anckorn, a war veteran and Britain’s oldest magician. The performance culminated with the 96-year-old joining Richard on stage, while the massed ranks of the Band of the Household Cavalry played. There were tears.
“I met Fergus about four-and-a-half years ago when I first joined The Magic Circle. Obviously we’re both army guys, so we used to chat a lot,” Richard explains. “He’s got the most incredible stories. He used magic to survive while he was interned in a prisoner of war camp in Singapore. It’s the most extreme of scenarios, but it didn’t seem that enough people knew his story.
“We’d joked about doing something together in the final if I got there and so when I got the nod through the rounds I gave him a call. He said his shoes and medals etc were all ready and shining. It was hugely emotional and I’m pleased that came across to the nation.”
Richard has since performed at the Royal Variety Show, even getting Prince Charles in on the act; been involved with a one-off Operation Magic TV special with Katherine Jenkins (which should be airing just after this magazine hits the shops); and he has travelled across the globe.
While Surrey is by no means his usual stomping ground, he did train briefly at Pirbright barracks, learnt the ropes at the Royal Military School of Music on the border in Twickenham and has regularly attended events at Sandhurst Military Academy in Camberley.
“A town like Guildford is always a reality check kind of place for anyone training in the military. When the guys at Pirbright would get a bit of time off, they’d always head there for a few hours,” he says. “I don’t remember it that well but I look forward to visiting again.”
Tricks of the trade
Following his win, which came with a £250,000 prize, there had been some talk that he would be leaving the household cavalry – but circumstances have aligned to allow him to continue his magic career alongside his military one.
“I always wanted to be in the army, so it’s great they’ve been so accommodating with the touring and TV,” he says. “I already loved magic but didn’t seriously start until I joined. We did a lot of travelling, which gave me the chance to try my tricks out on the guys. You won’t find a tougher audience, so it certainly makes you sharpen your focus. You have to learn very quickly.”
It’s not just the performance skills that he developed though. Without the army, he says it’s unlikely he would ever have found himself performing on live television to millions of people around the country. He’s certainly not the first to find fame from a military background, of course: Leatherhead’s own Sir Michael Caine, Dame Kelly Holmes and, er, James Blunt all served before finding the paths they’re better known for today.
“The mind-set that’s driven into you changes the way you think,” he explains. “‘Be the best’ is far more than a slogan because you really do get pushed so much mentally and physically it shatters any limitations that you might have had beforehand. It opens you up to new challenges. ‘Well, if I can survive that, what else can I achieve?’ That kind of thing.”
The overriding message running through his latest show is one of self-belief and inspiration, and Richard hopes that it will help some people break down the limitations in their own minds.
“We can do anything if we don’t stop ourselves from doing it,” he says. “When you’re a child your imagination is limitless and you believe you can do anything; you can fly, you can disappear, you can levitate etc. It’s only as we get older and more and more rules are placed in front of us that those dreams begin to fall away. Magic says ‘we shouldn’t be able to do this but we can’ and it’s a great message. Over the last couple of years, I’ve really pushed myself and it’s been amazing.”
It’s somewhat fitting then that he recently teamed up with Tadworth’s The Children’s Trust, which helps to rehabilitate children who have suffered brain injuries, for a magical dinner at the Waldorf Hilton, London. The night raised around £100,000 for the charity and, coincidentally, host for the evening was none other than Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards regular, BBC newsreader Nicholas Owen.
“It was an absolute pleasure performing for the charity and it was extra memorable for me as I was sat during dinner with a young man who had experienced first hand the care at the trust,” says Richard. “It was inspiring to hear his brave story and he gave an emotional speech to the room about all of the incredible hurdles he had overcome in the recent past. I look forward to hearing from The Children’s Trust again in the future.”
The final flourish
There’s been a rich vein of cool new magicians in recent years (think David Blaine, Dynamo etc), of course, but for Richard’s main inspiration you have to head a little further back to a certain stadium-rocking showman, David Copperfield.
“He was hugely inspiring. Magic is at its most powerful when it’s telling a story and even better when it’s embellishing on a true story that’s close to people’s hearts. David always did that so well, which helped his illusions really connect with the audience. That’s the kind of thing I try to do. Make it more than just tricks. I’d love to emulate him and one day have my own TV series.”
While Britain’s Got Talent hasn’t always been the perfect breeding ground for long-term career ambitions, Lance Corporal Richard Jones isn’t likely to be disappearing any time soon.
• Lance Corporal Richard Jones performed The Power of Imagination at The Boileroom, Guildford on Wednesday May 3. For more, visit theboileroom.net
A taste for magic?
This year’s Guildford Fringe festival is also getting in on the magic act, with the hotly-anticipated Danny Buckler’s Comedy & Magic Chat Show on Saturday July 15 and Benjamin Earl: Ordinary Things on Wednesday July 26. For more details and tickets, visit guildfordfringefestival.com