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The mysteries of David: Hester Lacey asks David Copperfield if he flies by wire (and what Claudia sees in him . . .)

ONE of the world's greatest superstars flies into London next week.

Sweet-faced, blue-eyed German supermodel, Claudia Schiffer, is universally recognised as the most beautiful woman in the world. Strong men swoon when she tosses her famous shining blonde hair. Oh, and her fiance, David Copperfield, will be turning up as well.

Mr Copperfield is a magician - 'the most spectacular illusionist in the world' according to his publicity material. He makes his UK debut at Earls Court next week. But in his 15-year career as a worldwide megastar, why hasn't he visited Britain before?

'You didn't know who I was,' he explained from Milan last week, unruffled by allegations in the Sun that, among other glitches, there were visible body doubles flitting around the stage during the show. 'It would have been like a musician coming to a country before anyone had heard their records.' Now we've been softened up with television shows, he feels we are ready for the live Copperfield experience, complete with thundering rock music, dry ice, Houdini-style escapes, Copperfield chopping up scantily-clad women, etc.

But, amazing as it is to levitate the Orient Express (well, one carriage, anyway), what really made the ears of the British public prick up was the news of his engagement. Never mind the disappearing aeroplanes, what's the secret of pulling a global lust icon? 'What does she see in him?' gasped a nation of fascinated women and disappointed men.

What indeed? Copperfield is very rich. Churning out 500 shows a year rakes him in dollars 26m (pounds 17m), which means he can afford to be very romantic. Miss Schiffer sports a diamond ring the size of a pigeon's egg; he flies Concorde to New York just to spend minutes with her.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Copperfield's deep tan, quiffed hair, and smouldering gaze have not gone down well with sophisticated British observers (the terms nerd, geek and even dweeb have been freely tossed around). But the Hollywood Reporter says he's a sex symbol. And in Claudia's native Germany, 'Coppi' is referred to as a 'sex wizard'.

Finally, there is that unique and special dash of magic. They met when he plucked her from an audience in Munich and read her mind. (She was imagining a lion and a fox.) The coup de foudre was cemented when they went to supper after the show and he did magic tricks with the French fries. Boys, this ploy is worth noting; from the disappearing chips it was but a short step to cheek-to-cheek smooching, lipsynching along to Lionel Richie crooning 'Helloooo . . . is it me you're looking for?'

Copperfield's personal transformation is as amazing as any of his illusions.

He was born David Seth Kotkin in Metuchen, New Jersey, where his father worked in a clothing store. A solitary, lonely child, he was given a ventriloquist's dummy; he graduated from voice-throwing to magic. At 18 he had his own stage show, at 22 his own TV show. He's 38 now; more people see him live every year than any other entertainer worldwide. His shows sell out in America, Europe and Asia. It takes him around two and a half years to bring each illusion to performance standard - learning to fly took seven.

Copperfield has been the subject of some hostile articles written by snarky Brit reporters (one of the kindest adjectives used about him is 'taciturn').

But he doesn't take it personally. 'It's pretty normal for the British press, isn't it? Everything Diana's done they've picked on. The royal family, they're pretty nice people, but they're just about torn apart, just to sell newspapers. Everybody's game, I guess, even to the point of making up stories.'

What have they been saying about him? 'It's pretty comical, what people decide to twist. You can get decorated as a knight by the French government, you can be a star on Hollywood Boulevard, and you pick up the British papers and the headline is something like 'Copperfield's Fake Tanning Lotion]]' All of those things are not true. I don't use fake tanning lotion. Tweezed eyebrows is another good one. And I've never had a manicure in my life. My nails are horrible,' he reveals exclusively.

He reacted to the Sun's claim that wires were visible when he 'flew' in Milan with a long bray of laughter. 'They better buy some glasses. In the Italian papers today the headlines say 'Triumph]' People come for the show with binoculars - there was a show full of people with binoculars who didn't see these wires. That paper has a vivid imagination. Wires? File next to the manicures and the tanning lotion.'

Will a staid British audience give Copperfield the rapturous reception he is used to? 'Judging from ticket sales you may have even more enthusiasm than an American audience. It should be interesting - I'll give it my best shot.'

But we have a lot to live up to. Mary Elisabeth van der Happer, 28, from Westport, Connecticut, has seen Copperfield's show three times. 'His shows are just the best,' she says. 'You'll never see anything else like him. What he does is close to supernatural-you can believe he really can fly. I mean, I don't believe he can fly really, but just for a moment you wonder . . .'

(Photographs omitted)