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Goodbye to a Great Entertainer

He ruled the TV roost in the 1980s and first half of the 1990s. Now Paul Daniels has passed away, leaving millions with fond memories of fun, laughter and some amazing magic tricks. Born in Middlesbrough in 1938, he was introduced to magic at the age of 11 when he picked up a book on a wet family holiday.

He saw that magic would be a good way for him to overcome his shyness and learn to perform in front of an audience. It also appealed to his intelligence and his liking for hard work and concentration. He practised constantly even as he went into National Service and then ran a grocer’s shop, polishing his act in evening appearances at working-men’s clubs and youth centres. By 1969 he was ready to turn professional and start hunting for stardom.

Television was his gateway to fame and he stepped through it in 1978 when he presented Paul Daniels’ Blackpool Bonanza on ITV. A year later he began the show that truly made him a household name: The Paul Daniels Magic Show on the BBC. His self-mocking catchphrase was: “You’ll like this – not a lot, but you’ll like it.” It wasn’t the truth. Millions of people liked his act a lot and he spent years on prime-time TV. He wasn’t tall or handsome, but he had charm, humour and magic skill in abundance. His apprenticeship in tough northern clubs gave him the calm and confidence to face any audience, carrying it with him easily and leaving it gasping in amazement at his tricks or rocking with laughter at his jokes.

During his BBC years he was accompanied on stage by his second wife Debbie McGee, who had danced as a soloist with the Iranian National Ballet before being forced to flee Iran by the Revolution. Debbie was famously asked by the comedienne Mrs Merton what she saw in “the millionaire” Paul Daniels, but in fact when the couple first met Daniels wasn’t a millionaire. He was simply a charmer. He even claimed in his autobiography to have slept with 300 women after he divorced his first wife, Jacqueline, who he had married in 1960.

His marriage to Debbie McGee would last the rest of his life. Always his own man, Daniels fell out with the BBC and lost his prime-time show. He was never as famous or successful again, but he kept in the public eye with appearances on reality TV and by expressing robust opinions on political correctness and global warning. He had no time for either, and didn’t think much of the younger and more down-beat magicians who followed him. He believed in glamour and fantasy, using magic to lift people out of their everyday lives and give them something to remember.

He faced death in the same way as he faced an audience or a TV camera: with calm and self-assurance. “Death isn’t scary,” he said. “It’s just like going to sleep.” And he lived up to his words. When he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain-tumour in February this year, he turned down the chance of radiotherapy, content to pass away naturally and in his own time. He was an old-fashioned entertainer who could thrill the most modern audience and he will be fondly remembered by millions.