He’s one of the UK’s best-loved magicians and the presenter of TV’s Britain’s Got More Talent, but Stephen Mulhern is never far from his roots as a Butlins Redcoat.
Q So how did you first get involved with Butlins?
A We always came to Butlins for family holidays – ever since I was six months old. When I was 17, an act didn’t turn up, so my dad asked the Chief Redcoat if I could do my magic show instead. Afterwards, I was asked if I’d be interested in becoming a Redcoat, and that’s how I got my big break. I worked at Minehead for two years. During that time I appeared in the Royal Variety Performance. I went on The Big Big Talent Show on ITV and got the part. It was the most nerve-wracking experience of my life – but the Queen seemed to like it!
Q Did being a Redcoat give you a good grounding for life in showbiz?
A I think the training you get as a Redcoat is better than any drama school. It’s about getting out there and learning how to work an audience. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to be an entertainer.
Q How did you get started in magic?
A It’s all down to my dad. He’s a brilliant magician. Rather than read me a bedtime story, he’d do a magic trick – then he started to teach me them, too. I loved it and from age 14, I properly got into it, studying card tricks and so on. Before I came to Butlins I was resident magician at Hamleys toy shop. I love performing for kids in particular: it’s great to watch their reactions. I was the youngest member of the Magic Circle in the UK. You’re supposed to be 18, but I was invited at 17, which was a real honour.
Q Any tips for would-be magicians out there?
A Yes – buy my magic set, available now in all good toy shops! Seriously though, go to a good magic shop and watch tricks being demonstrated, then buy them. Or go onto YouTube: there are lots of clips that show you how to do tricks.
Q Ever had any heart-stopping magic moments?
A Yes – on live TV, which was horrendous! I was trying to recreate a Harry Houdini trick on Blue Peter, called ‘Metamorphosis’. I was handcuffed and locked in a box, then I was supposed to magically swap places with my assistant. The handcuffs were meant to come apart easily when I banged them together, but it didn’t happen. It was a nightmare! And it didn’t help that I was dressed in a bright yellow canary outfit!
Q Other than being a Redcoat of course, what have been your highlights?
A Presenting Saturday morning kids’ show Saturday Showdown with Holly Willoughby for two and a half years was incredible. Nowadays, working with Ant and Dec on Britain’s Got More Talent is my dream job. Paul Potts, Susan Boyle and Diversity have been the stand-out acts for me – I hope we can find an act as good again.