The 35-year-old illusionist, real name Steven Frayne, earned a reputation as Britain’s answer to the American star David Blaine, with a series of outlandish, televised stunts that saw him apparently defying gravity and sometimes death.
But a combination of arthritis, food poisoning and a long-diagnosed condition of Crohn’s disease has caused him to spend some time in the wings, reflecting on his next move, he said on TV yesterday.
Mr Frayne, born on a Bradford estate to an English mother and a father with Pakistani roots who spent time in prison and whom he did not meet until he was 18, said he had “taken a lot of time to re-evaluate my approach to magic and also to certain elements of life in general”.
He recently revealed that he had been suffering for the last eight months, after being hospitalised with food poisoning combined with his Crohn’s disease, and that he put on two stones and developed arthritis as a side effect.
But his problems, he said, paled into insignificance when he visited a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon and produced a short film there about children promised an education but who had been left out of the school system.
“I wasn’t able to perform much magic because of my illness so it allowed me to go out there and take a bit of time, do something to help other people and really focus my mind on not thinking about my illness and thinking about helping other people,” he said. “Being out there, it really put into perspective what Syrian children and what Syrian families are having to go through.
“My main focus by the end of the year is to get half a million Syrian refugee children into school. They were promised an education from the governments who met in 2016 at the UN, and they promised all this money to get these kids in school and they didn’t deliver.”
He said he plans to take a petition “signed by lots of people” to “remind the governments that these kids are still not in school”.
Mr Frayne, a modern-day street Houdini and one of the few British illusionists to have undertaken a stadium tour, has performed on both sides of the Atlantic and in front of the Prince of Wales, whose Prince’s Trust advanced him a £2,000 start-up loan.
He developed his skills with the help of his late great-grandfather, who knew how to make matchsticks disappear, and used them to help deal with the bullying to which he was subjected at school in Bradford.
His Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, means he survives on a diet of grilled chicken, mashed potato, vitamin injections and juices. At 19, he was admitted to hospital for six months.
He now says he is working with doctors to “get to a place where I could return to performing and show off some new magic tricks”, adding that the arthritis meant he could not shuffle cards or “use my hands like I normally would”.
He said: “My appearance has changed quite a bit due to all the medication I am on. I’m working with a physio and doctors to find a way to get the right medication, so I can hopefully come back on stage and show you some new magic.
“I’m always working on new ideas and I’ve got many ways to do my tricks, and some of them don’t need as much dexterity. I use my mind, which is still intact.”