'It's not just magic; I love to perform'

Alex Ward, 19, is a magician, based in Chiswick, west London

What does your job involve?

I'm a "close up" magician, which means that I perform right in front of people rather than on a stage. My main work is big corporate Christmas parties, weddings, private events and birthday parties. I've done a couple of MTV parties, and fashion events for Jade Jagger and the Marchesa label in New York.

At a cocktail party, I try to gather people around me and break the ice with my magic. If it's a sit-down dinner, I might walk around 10 tables, doing a 10-minute magic set at each. I'll do card and coin tricks, or mind-reading, where I ask people to think of someone close to them and fish out the word they're thinking of.

What's your working pattern like?

The working hours are usually in the evening, because that's when parties are held. It gets very busy at Christmas and New Year, but around January the work dies down. It can be an odd period for most magicians, because most weddings and birthday parties tend to be in the spring and summer. However, it's a great time to be productive, so I'll sit down with a deck of cards and invent some new tricks. I can either perform these tricks myself, or sell them to a magic retailer, who films me doing the trick and distributes it as a DVD, so other people can learn to do it.

What do you love most about being a magician?

The best thing about my job is that I'm my own boss. It's a lot of fun, and I don't have to work in an office. I get to meet all sorts of different people, and I also get the satisfaction of introducing strangers who might not otherwise have met. When people are watching me perform, they have a chance to start chatting with each other and to introduce themselves. It's my magic that has brought them together, and I find that really rewarding.

And what's not so great about it?

There are times when it gets difficult, when people are heckling you, trying to figure out what you're doing, and being quite rude. If you come over to a table and someone feels like you're stealing attention from them, they can react badly. You have to judge situations and try to judge how drunk people are, or whether you're interrupting. Usually you can find ways to win people over – if you can't, you just move on.

What skills do you need to be a great magician?

You really need to be obsessive. I'm dyslexic and I have a very short attention-span. Growing up, I found that I would get obsessed with things until I'd mastered them. But with magic, there's so much to learn that I never got bored. I used to spend all my pocket money on tricks and books. You need to learn as much as you can from reading about magic and watching magic DVDs. And you've got to enjoy entertaining people and performing. It's not just tricks and sleight of hand – it's about getting crowds to laugh and enjoy themselves.

W hat advice would you give to someone with their eye on your job?

The first thing is to get yourself a website. Have your contact details printed on business cards, and take them everywhere. You never know when or where you'll meet someone who wants to book you – I've met clients while out clubbing. You're probably not going to get paid jobs straight away, so it's worth offering to do magic for free at first. Go to your local restaurant, show them what you can do, and offer to perform there. Get out there, network, and the work will come in.

What's the salary and career path like?

You might earn £12,000 a year starting out, but a well-known magician could earn up to £100,000 a year. There are different sorts of magician – some don't perform, they just create new tricks and sell them on. In terms of career progression, you can build up your contacts and maybe do TV work.

For more information, see: www.alexwardmagic.com, www.themagiccircle.co.uk or www.theyoungmagiciansclub.co.uk.