Who’s the real Dynamo, the man behind the magic?
Maybe a man who’s ‘walked’ on the river Thames, ‘floated’ above The Shard and ‘levitated’ beside the 543 bus to Victoria could work his magic on London traffic.
It’s 11.54am on a sunny day and Britain’s best loved illusionist has just arrived at our cover shoot in east London. He’s 54 minutes late. But instantly forgiven.
Not only has Dynamo, 33 – lesser known by his real name Steven Frayne – been on the road for four and half hours having driven from Birmingham (no chauffeurs for this superstar), he’s also going through the mill following the death of his beloved German shepherd, Bessie.
‘Bessie came on tour, she was famous on my Instagram, she got more likes than me,’ he says of the pooch who couldn’t shake a bout of pneumonia. ‘It was pretty traumatic last week,’ he adds, and his hypnotically bright blue eyes glaze momentarily.
FAR FROM TRICKY
Dynamo, the man who has turned snow to diamonds and hard as nails hip-hop artists into excitable children, is very much in person the way he seems on telly: down to earth, engaging and, despite countless friendships with A-listers including One Direction and Coldplay, a tad lonesome.
He’s also no stranger to trauma. Born to a 17-year-old trainee hairdresser called Nicky and an Indian ‘street thug’ who was carted off to jail when he was just four, Dynamo’s childhood on a tough Bradford council estate reads like a plot from a gritty Channel 4 drama.
‘I almost grew up without parents,’ he explains. ‘I don’t remember [mum] tucking me into bed at night and we never hug each other. That’s alien to us.’
And are there memories of his jailbird dad? ‘Only from when I was 18 and he came to the bar where I performed every Wednesday. It was really awkward,’ he says before revealing that his father – also called Steven – died last year from liver problems. ‘I didn’t feel sad but I felt relief because I’d met him. That chapter’s kind of done.’
Dynamo, who measures 5ft 6in and weighs around 8st, was 15 when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a digestive condition that restricts him to a diet of ‘mainly potato, chicken and steak’. At school his physical fragility made him a daily target for bullies, who beat him up and stole his dinner money.
‘They’d throw me in a wheelie bin, take me to the top of a hill and push me down,’ recalls Dynamo. Did he cry? ‘I cried in the pain of the moment. Fear was the biggest thing, and I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to. I kept it a secret. My family had enough shit going on without me adding to it.’
Fortunately, Dynamo’s great grandpa, Ken – who he lived with from the age of 16 and died in 2012 – spotted the tell-tale bruises then hatched a plan to help Dynamo overcome the bullies using magic he’d learned while serving in the navy.
‘He taught me to fight back in a non-fighting way,’ says Dynamo, referencing his famous trick where he makes himself seem too heavy to be moved. It worked: his bullies were trounced and his passion for illusion and trickery was born.
At 17, while in hospital for six months following a life-saving operation to remove a bowel abscess, Dynamo secured a £2,100 grant from The Prince’s Trust.
‘I bought a camcorder, a laptop and used the money to go to events and blag my way backstage to do magic for celebrities,’ he explains. He posted the footage on YouTube and a created a demo DVD featuring Coldplay, Gwyneth Paltrow and Snoop Dogg. It dazzled TV executives at satellite channel Watch who, in 2011, commissioned his first TV series, Dynamo: Mission Impossible. The show pulled in 1.7 million viewers and made him a household name.
‘It’s crazy,’ he smiles. ‘Against all those odds I made something of myself and [now I] get to travel the world, doing something I love.’
He believes that his tough life experiences have helped him forge a bond with fans and shaped his own destiny. ‘Without going through that experience I wouldn’t have become the person I am today,’ he says. ‘I hope that I can inspire people who are going through similar situations to not let it hold them back.’
Dynamo receives messages daily from troubled youngsters and is an ambassador for the Teenage Cancer Trust, The Prince’s Trust and Rays of Sunshine charities. Later down the line, he hopes to launch a foundation to help bullied kids. He explains: ‘I’m a role model so it’s important that I inspire people for the right reasons.’
He already does. ‘Tenacity’ is the first word Dynamo conjures up to explain his success, followed by ‘talent, a good work ethic and luck’. He says: ‘It’s also not taking stuff for granted. I seize the moment and live in the moment.’
EYES ON THE PRIZE
There is, apparently, a difference between Steven and Dynamo – the stage name he acquired at 17 when a member of his audience shouted ‘this kid’s a f***ing dynamo!’ He says the latter is a more confident version of the first, an alter ego who helps him in moments that would ordinarily make him apprehensive.
Like? ‘Walking out on stage in front of thousands of people,’ he says. ‘I was a nervous, awkward kid. I wasn’t 100% comfortable with myself. My wife is the reason why I’m so comfortable in my skin right now because she accepted me and finally made me accept myself.’
He wooed 30-year-old Mrs Frayne – a woman he has never publicly named to protect her privacy – at a festival in 2010. At their home in Hampstead the couple have a ‘no magic rule’. Surely he buckles occasionally, perhaps to win an argument?
‘If I could do that, my god, that would be amazing!’ he laughs.
With his professional life ablaze, there’s little time to get cracking with his dream of making mini Dynamos. But he knows he’ll make a good dad.
‘My kid won’t grow up under poor circumstances because my career can pay the bills, but what I didn’t have, or feel, was unconditional love from my parents,’ he says. ‘I want that for my children.’
Given he holds all the secrets to his bumper box of tricks, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that Dynamo still genuinely believes in magic. He defines it as ‘an emotion, a feeling that brings you back to that childlike state of mind’, because, he says: ‘it obliterates the rules and boundaries that confine us as adults’.
So what, then, would be his one wish if he could truly magic something in or out of his life? Dynamo doesn’t hesitate. ‘I’d love to magic Bessie back alive,’ he says, those blue eyes locking ours with a pleading look that makes us want to hug him. ‘That’s the only thing that’s missing right now.’
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