Your Epiphany Bridges
05 July, 2017
I am a failure.
I’m a mess, a loser, an embarrassment to myself and my family.
There’s a lot to say in this week’s edition, but there’s more moments of failure, loss and embarrassment than you can shake a particularly red-faced stick at. Let me tell you about the time Simon Cowell called me “by far, the worst magician I’ve ever seen.”
Since I was 11 years old, there’s been nothing else in my life that has meant more to me than magic. Whether it’s watching other magicians, performing myself, directing and writing shows or even attempting to recreate that sense of magic you get from watching Disney as a young child, for 15 years, it’s been at the centre of everything I do.
This has its ups and downs, of course. Growing up, it automatically puts you in the spotlight with the obsessive, nerdy and slightly loopy fringe of kids in long capes, top hats and ill-fitting waistcoats. It also means that every gift you get, be it birthdays, Christmas, Easter or even as a graduating present, is either a Marvin’s Magic Box of Tricks or a brightly coloured 52 Magic Tricks For Kids book which still surface to the top of my nightmares every few years.
But there comes a time when every budding magician thinks to themselves that they need to prove how mature they are and become famous. My chance was with what was at the time, a brand new show. Something called Britain’s Got Talent.
Britain's Got Talent
Thinking back on it now, the prize would have been great and the chance to do the Royal Variety show could have been huge, but what really drove me was that odd mix of potential and stubborn, pig-headed determination.
I wanted more than anything to make a living through doing what I loved to do; by performing. I was doing pretty bad at school with my GSCE’s coming up. Both my sisters had got A’s and B’s, and the best I was predicted was a few C’s and mostly D’s. I really wanted to prove to both my parents, and the outside world, that I didn’t need great academic qualifications to make a living, or get high grades to be better than my older sisters. I could be successful on my own merits.
So, there I was, standing in the wings, waiting to go out in front of 1500 people and the three monolithic judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan. Confident that I had done everything to get to that point without breaking a sweat, I waited in the dark to hear my name.
“Please welcome, Alexander Rowley!”
The thunderous applause started, matched only by the deafening beating of my heart. Just as I was taking the first steps out of the wings, gooey chunks of something rotten inside my stomach rocked back and forth with every step I took. Red hot waves of doubt and anxiety flashed across my face, thick slime stuck in my throat and everything became a white, bleak and numbing canvas of cringing embarrassment.
Nerves had struck me. And it all was about to go downhill.
My Bright Idea
I started by spluttering my script before I introduced myself, making Simon sigh at my unprepared and unprofessional approach. I flat out shot down Amanda’s joke about being able to read her mind and the only glimmer of hope was Piers Morgan saying it wasn’t as awful as the others had said. You know that when Piers Morgan is your only redeeming moment, things are pretty bad. The first two X’s came rapidly, each like a poisoned arrow, slowly removing any hope I had from the inside out.
The last X sounded like a rocket lifting off and I felt a tiny, insignificant stirring of hope that it was all over. But then, it got so much worse.
Theatres, especially older ones such as The Alexandra in Birmingham, are designed to amplify the performer’s voice so it can echo around the auditorium without much audio equipment. What this means though, is that when one person in the auditorium boos, their voice is picked up and amplified as well. So, imagine what it sounded like when each and every one of the fifteen hundred people start booing.
There I was, 16 years old, standing in a borrowed jacket from my dad and an ex-hire waistcoat, completely under prepared and utterly defeated by a crashing wave of boos and jeers and judgment.
As soon as it had started, it was over. I was the worst magician Simon Cowell had ever seen.
What Happened Next?
My brief appearance on stage never made it to TV, and after a befuddled interview with Stephen Mulhern (a magician whom I’d watched avidly since I was a child) promising that I’d come back next year to try again, I left through the back-stage entrance, into the cold air of a January evening. I decided to myself, then and there, that I was never going to be a professional performer. My childish and cocky dreams faded into that night, never to come back.
I wish I could say something like “Or so I thought…”, or “But then suddenly…” The harsh reality is that things don’t turn out like Harry Potter or Disney, where magic always wins through in the end. I languished for years with these thoughts rolling around my head; the memories of a thousand people booing me, the sticky anger and hatred I had for not rehearsing properly, the pinpricks of guilt I had for convincing my family to come and watch me utterly and spectacularly burn out.
Something strange happened just a few weeks afterwards though. My dad and I were in Blackpool at the world-famous Blackpool Magician’s Convention, a yearly tradition we keep to this day. Though my heart had gone from becoming a professional magician, magic was and will always be something I love. A touchstone to a brighter, more miraculous way of life.
Ken Dodd, Lifetime Honorary President of Blackpool Magician’s Club, was walking up to the stage when my dad caught his eye and briefly explained what had happened to me. I was in awe of Doddy then, and as the years have gone on, my admiration and love of this iconic comedian has done nothing but flourish.
His surprisingly short advice was “Don’t let the bastards get you down, son!” You can’t let people who don’t know anything about what you do hold any power over you. Even as I write this, going through these memories and the whirlwind of a time I had, those words have acted like a beacon.
It was a long, long time until I even picked up a deck of cards again after that. Truthfully, and a little bit to my shame, it’s only been over the past 6 months that I’ve felt anywhere near confident and comfortable enough to call myself a magician without having wild flashbacks to that terrible and trembling experience.
But, at the end of the day, I think my love for magic and all things magical has won through this time.
It’s such a part of me, it informs huge swathes of what I do on a daily basis and it pulls me forward through the hard times and the good. As I said many times in last week’s edition, magic is my principle guiding point: using it to create wonder and engage with people.
None of this means that I have forgotten that gut-wrenching cruelty that I put myself through over 10 years ago. I still remember the moment when my heart broke, having to stand in the middle of the stage as a thousand people unleashed their bored and furious boos for wasting their precious time. It’s always in my mind that a trick could go wrong; a card could be in the wrong place, I might have forgotten the page number, I might have said the wrong thing or that joke might have been too cheesy or too offensive.
Even now as I send this out, I’ll be worrying that my experience is too alien for a lot of people and it will lead to a lot of complaints, unsubscribes and negative reviews on Twitter and Facebook. There’s always a degree of worry, and I think my experience at the fleeting light of celebrity and fame had a lot to do with cementing the social anxiety I’ve been battling with for years.
But you know what, I’m still really trying hard not to let the bastards get me down.
So, I never got to perform for the Queen, nor even get a whiff of that elusive prize. But I think I’ve learned so much more over the years than what those brief possibilities could have given me. I’ve learned that if you’re passionate about what you want to do, you’ll find a way to do it. I’ve learned that no matter how many people boo you, you’ve just got to keep going.
Most of all, I’ve learned that there’s no quick and easy way to live your life the way you want. You’ve got to work hard, keep learning in both the easy and the hard ways, keep a positive attitude and be as determined and as open minded as you were when you first saw something magical happen.
That’s my epiphany bridge. The day Simon Cowell called me the worst magician he’s ever seen is one of those stones that form the bridge of my life. It’s an act that was so ridiculous, so incredibly challenging and so life-changing that it’s informed every part of me up to this day.
My question to you this week is; What’s your epiphany bridge? Why has it changed you? How would you tell it to others?
Starting Tuesday 18th July, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Both myself and George are going back to the stage for a series of open evenings at 3Three’s in Birmingham. These are all completely free, but provide an opportunity for you to see what we do first-hand, to get to know our ideas and our models better, and to be part of something completely new and different.
All we ask is that you have an open mind, register at www.mindsways.com/game-of-thoughts.html before coming and only boo me when it’s absolutely necessary.
Thanks in advance,
AKA. By Far, The Worst Magician Simon Cowell Has Ever Seen
07970 480 615
P.S. “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something. Whatever it is you're scared of doing. Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” – Neil Gaiman
About Author: Alexander Rowley
Alexander is a creative thinker, website designer, trained performer, experienced actor and magician, writer and stage director who produces online experiences, high design and adapts the materials used in training courses to deliver the best online experience. His history of stage acting and 10 years working behind the scenes delivers the highest quality performance and the best, cutting edge online technology available.