How We Met: Paul Daniels & Debbie McGee
Sunday 07 August 2011
Paul Daniels, 73
After a summer season at Newquay, the magician made his TV bow on 'Opportunity Knocks' in 1969. He is best known for 'The Paul Daniels Magic Show', which aired on the BBC from 1979 to 1994 – though he has also hosted shows including 'Odd One Out' and 'Every Second Counts' and was the driving force behind kids' show 'Wizbit'. He lives with his wife, Debbie McGee, in Berkshire
I'd arrived early at some rehearsals in London for a summer season of stage shows I was creating, back in 1979. I was there early and remember seeing this fabulous figure sitting on the ground with her back against the wall and her knees bent, and I thought, "Wow, she'd be anyone's ideal, she looks absolutely perfect – I hope she's in the show."
I was looking for dancers, but when I found out Debbie was ballet-trained I realised she'd be perfect for one of my illusions; she knew how to move and, more importantly, how to stay still. And we got on well instantly; she was quick-witted and she made me laugh, and she became a regular part of my show.
Coming from outside the field of magic she was able to look at stuff and say, "That's a 'so what' trick – what will that mean to Mrs Smith?" And I found that honesty really helpful, though I didn't always listen to her. I showed her a trick once with giant playing cards and she told me it was absolute rubbish. That night, entertaining at a function, I deliberately went around every single table and did the same trick for them. Every time it got a whoop I'd shout over, "Debbie, come over here." It wasn't a great trick, though.
When we finally married, after being together for 10 years, my credit-card payments actually went way down. For the 20 years since my previous marriage, I hadn't cooked one meal – I was always eating out. But Debbie loves cooking – and gardening. The running line around here is Debbie's garden labour and I'm garden management.
We hug all the time – if she's not hugging one of her rabbits – and she's a great source of comfort. In my 40 years as a magician I've only struggled three times. On one occasion, I went home and lay awake thinking how I could have improved it and Debbie just gave me a big hug; we're a unit of one and know exactly what the other's wants and needs are.
Debbie McGee, 52
Best known as Paul Daniels' assistant, McGee trained as a ballet dancer at the Royal Ballet School and made a living at the barre before meeting the magician. She was later artistic director of her own ballet troupe and now hosts a Sunday-morning show for BBC Radio Berkshire
I'd always hated magic, so I had no idea who Paul was when I auditioned, as a dancer, with the Bernard Delfont Organisation. It was putting on summer variety shows around the UK and put me up for a role on his show. Paul arrived early for rehearsals carrying a big box of tricks and wearing a lovely full head of hair – I didn't know it was a wig – and we made each other laugh straight away. He asked me to be his assistant, which delighted me, as it was £1,000 more than just being a dancer. In the first show I was just going on and off being the glamorous assistant, but I loved it – and how he praised others with talent.
I remember our first kiss was on our first date, on a boat Paul had taken out. It was so different from any other dates I'd been on. But I was only 20 and Paul felt that I was too young and the press would be mean about it [due to the age difference], so he was reluctant to take it further. Even now, 31 years later, they still occasionally make snide remarks, which amaze me, as we have one of the longest showbusiness marriages going.
He introduced me as "the lovely Debbie McGee" on that very first TV show we did, and it stuck. Working with Paul was always very comfortable; the only serious argument we ever had on the show was over a dangerous trick in which I'm put in a coffin, which is set on fire. He got really uptight about it as he was so worried, and got too bossy, so we had a bit of a row, and we've not done it since.
In some ways we're quite different. He's so open and his directness can upset some people, whereas I was brought up in Surrey, where you don't bare your soul.
We're both a lot more relaxed these days, as the TV show was so much pressure. It was a weird feeling when it got cancelled and I was a bit upset by our treatment, but it wasn't as if we had nothing to do – we're always booked about a year in advance for live shows.
Despite the age gap, he's always had more energy than me. As soon as he gets up, he's a live wire. And he always has a story. I'll be getting stuck into something and he'll be, "Come look at this Debbie." You can never get on with anything. But my life would be much worse if he wasn't around to tell me a story.
'Paul Daniels: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow' is at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, until 28 August (assemblyfestival.com)
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