The Big Interview: Dynamo

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Let’s deal with the first question everyone asks when they find out you’ve met Dynamo: no, he didn’t do any tricks for me.

He did, however, I think, attempt to read my mind.

This Bradfordian magician/illusionist/ mentalist (all seem apt yet inadequate in encapsulating just what it is this extraordinary young man does) has quickly become the most-talked-about act in his field thanks to a mind-bending TV show in which he casually performs the impossible with alarming regularity.

Just one of the impossible things he appears to do with ease is read people’s minds. Viewers saw him do it in his mother’s hairdressing salon and, when talking, he has an unnerving habit of suddenly tailing off mid-sentence and fixing you with his intense eyes.

Chances are he just lost his train of thought, but this being Dynamo, you can’t help but wonder if he is trying to get inside your head. Not everyone has heard of him, partly because he slowly built his fame and a fanbase by allying himself with the UK hip-hop and urban scene, but his first TV show, which launched earlier this year with a little stunt involving him walking across the River Thames – to repeat, this young lad has walked on water – brought him to a wider audience.

He arrives in the swanky London offices of his management team, his small frame swamped by baggy clothes. It’s hard to believe this was the same man who in one episode, walked into a gym populated by big, burly men. He watched the biggest, most muscular guy, bench-press a bar, adding more and more weights until he simply couldn’t lift any more.

At which point Dynamo took over. With arms barely thicker than the bar holding the weight, he bench-pressed the amount that had just defeated the biggest man in the gym.

This particular trick is significant because it is reminiscent of the first piece of magic Dynamo ever performed. Before he was Dynamo, he was skinny Steven Frayne from the Delph Hill estate in Bradford which is perhaps best described as notorious.

He picks up the story: “There were these two lads who used to bully me when I was little – I don’t care, I’ll say their names.” It’s interesting that Dynamo has gained the confidence to name and shame them.

“They lived on the Delph Hill Estate as well and they used to walk me to school, but they’d also bully me, do things like put me in a bin and throw me down the hill.

“The thing about being bullied is that when it happens to you every day it feels normal which is why I think kids don’t talk about it.

“My grandpa was the only male role model I had around and he was a legend – everyone’s grandpa is a legend to them, but my grandpa could do, not magic, but just cool stuff – he had mad skills.

“He showed me this technique which meant I could take away the strength of these two lads so they couldn’t pick me up.

“I thought my grandpa was joking and if I tried it I might get beaten up even more, but the next time they tried to put me in the bin I used this technique and it worked. It freaked them out – it freaked me out a bit as well – but they were really shook up. Rather than admit they were scared of this weedy little kid, they started to spread rumours that I had these crazy powers and the rumour spread around school that I was an alien.”

Fellow Wyke Manor School pupils might have thought him not of this world, but Steven didn’t care what they thought as long as his new found powers stopped the bullying – which they did. He learnt more tricks from his grandpa and started developing his own, and he got very, very good. So good that he became an “overnight” sensation.

“Yeah, people have been saying that I’ve blown up overnight – it’s been 12 years, that’s a long overnight,” says the 28-year-old, who has actually been working at his magic for years – it’s just that this year the world appears to have noticed with his own show on satellite channel Watch.

A big turning point came when he returned from spending a year in America 12 years ago. His grandmother lives in Florida and, after dropping out of Batley School of Art and Design, Steven went to live with her for a year.

“She breeds dogs and she’s an amazing trainer, she takes them all over the country, I swear she could get those dogs to talk,” he says. “I spent a year going round with her and performing for people after the show.”

The year in America might have helped Dynamo perfect his magic, but as chronic sufferer from Crohn’s disease, the travelling left him weak and seriously ill.

“I just hadn’t looked after myself properly and I ended up in hospital for six months when I came back and nearly died. That was when I decided that when and if I got out of hospital I wanted to make magic my career. I wanted to leave a legacy. If I’d have died then, no-one would have remembered me other than the kids who bullied me at school and they might feel guilty for a bit, but that would have been it. I wanted magic to be my legacy and to be remembered for something.”

Another of Dynamo’s TV shows involves him returning to Bradford and performing his magic on the streets of his home city.

As a Bradfordian it was heartening and unusual to see the city on TV for something other than bad news – something to which Dynamo relates.

“Bradford’s always on TV for riots and stupid race stuff, but I’m really proud of where I’m from. I think the city does pretty well considering how many different sorts of people we’ve got living here and it’s nice to be able to stand up for the city a little bit,” he says.

What’s interesting about all of this is that it really reveals what kind of a man is behind the persona of Dynamo. Growing up on what he calls a “tough estate”, almost dying before he’d achieved his goals, being raised by a single parent with a father who was in and out of jail have created a young man who is humble, relies on his roots to keep him grounded and above all is incredibly driven.

He just happens to have “powers” that seem to be beyond imagination.

“When I got out of hospital I set out to achieve my goals. I didn’t want to do it for the money or anything like that, I wanted to get my magic noticed,” he says.

A £2,000 grant from the Prince’s Trust allowed him to buy a laptop and a camcorder with which he started filming himself doing his magic and uploading the videos to YouTube.

In 2005, he released a DVD of his magic, made for less than £1,000, which just happened to feature Snoop Doggy Dogg, Gwyneth Paltrow and other celebrities. He got close to these people – and convinced them to be filmed watching his magic – thanks to one particular trick in his arsenal.

“I’m a cheeky Northerner,” laughs Dynamo. “You know what it’s like, we’ve just got the gift of the gab. Imagine a whole bunch of cheeky Northerners – well, that was me and my mates.”

Along with his mates, Dynamo was hanging out at venues, getting to know the security and managers and “you work out who’s in charge and who you have to amaze to get in.”

Once you’ve “amazed” the right people in the right venues it seems, you can get to people like Snoop Dogg – or you can at least get to the corridor outside Snoop’s dressing room.

“When you grow up on a tough estate, you get that air of confidence you probably don’t otherwise have. Once we’d got into the corridor and created pandemonium, amazing people with tricks, then you’d get Snoop coming out to have a look what’s going on – and then you just have to amaze him.”

One thing inevitably led to another and Dynamo has now garnered a whole galaxy of celebrity friends who are just as amazed. The coolest person he’s met yet? Prince Charles.

“He’s way cooler than you imagine. It’s when I go home and my mum and my gran want know what I’ve been doing and I have to tell them everything.

“Then I stop and think, ‘yeah, that’s sort of mad for a lad from Bradford’. But it’s just about doing magic for me.”

Do the magic, work hard and the rest slots into place. Simple, right?

Except, obviously not.

When we meet, it’s just two weeks since Dynamo was able to move into his own apartment – he’s lived on sofas and for a number of years in the spare room of his manager, mentor and close companion (who even sits in on the interview) Dan.

For years,) TV companies were offering him deals, but none of them were right, none of them allowed Dynamo the creative control and freedom he needed to make the show he wanted.

“A lot of TV is very controlled by the channels and TV people. I had a specific vision – we’ve been a bit stubborn but that paid off,” he says.

“I could have taken the money and just done a show, but I don’t care about the money or fame – that’s a side of it and I know it’s part and parcel of doing what I do, but for me it’s all about the magic and creating something that’s not seen before.”

Doing something that’s not been done before – my mind flashes back to the image of the lad from Bradford walking across the River Thames outside the Houses of Parliament.

Dynamo looks at me, pauses and says: “Like talking a little stroll across the River Thames.”

Did he just read my... no, he couldn’t have. Could he?

Dynamo: Mission Impossible is out now on DVD.