Presenter Stephen Mulhern: Magic is a ‘universal art form that will never die’

The Deal Or No Deal and Dancing On Ice presenter chats to Prudence Wade about his latest children’s book, and why kids are the harshest critics.

Stephen Mulhern has released his third children’s book
Stephen Mulhern Stephen Mulhern has released his third children’s book

Magician Stephen Mulhern was entertaining the masses long before he started presenting on primetime TV.

He remembers doing magic shows for his family in the East End of London from a young age, saying: “I’d set up a stage in the living room, and then I’d go buy sweets from the shop and sell them.

“There’d be like a pre-show bit, where they’d have orange juice, and then they would see the show. Then when my sister was growing up, I’d do magic shows for my sister, then I started doing magic shows at other people’s parties.”

Mulhern’s stage might be a bit bigger now, presenting shows like Deal Or No Deal and Dancing On Ice, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

“I still do magic shows for friends that are in TV,” Mulhern, 47, says.

“I’m trying to think who was the last person I did a magic show for – I think it was Holly Willoughby [his Dancing On Ice co-host], I did [it for] her kids. I did Emma Willis’ kids’ birthdays.”

One thing he’s learned from children’s parties?

“They’re the toughest audiences,” London-based Mulhern admits.

“Adults have got this thing that we all learn, where you [know whether] it’s the right time to talk or it’s not the right time to talk. Kids have got no filter, so if they see how a trick is done, they let me know.

“They’re like, ‘Ahh, it’s under the table!’ At least if adults see something, they can quietly go, ‘I saw that, but we won’t spoil it for everybody else’.”

But that being said, Mulhern adds that adults don’t have quite the same sense of wonder as kids. “It’s interesting with adults that they’ll even come up with their own solutions to stuff, going ‘Oh yeah, I could see the strings’. Now listen, I know there are no strings in this trick, but it gives them a bit of peace of mind.”

Mulhern presented Ministry Of Mayhem with Holly Willoughby back in the mid-Noughties
Mulhern presented Ministry Of Mayhem with Holly Willoughby back in the mid-Noughties (Edmond Terakopian/PA)

Mulhern’s career started in magic – performing at a Butlin’s outpost on his childhood family holidays – before presenting children’s TV shows like Finger Tips and Holly & Stephen’s Saturday Showdown.

His childhood experiences as a magician are fictionalised in the children’s series Max Magic, co-written with author Tom Easton. The third instalment, Max Magic: The Incredible Holiday Hideout, sees the protagonist Max (based on Mulhern) head to ‘Bupkins Leisure Park’.

“Bupkins is based on Butlin’s, which is where I spent two years – I was a Redcoat there, one of their in-house entertainers,” Mulhern explains.

“I did that for two years, and I learnt a lot from there. I left having a proper magic act and I got my first break there on stage.”

Mulhern is heading back to Butlin’s later this year for the tour of his magic show.

“I’m working on a magic trick at the moment that I’m going to put into my stage show – it’s taken me two years to work on this trick,” he says.

“I finally mastered it and it’s ready – we do our first show in June. It’s funny I’m going back to Butlin’s – talk about [how] things are quite poetic and go full circle.

“I started my career there, and now, at possibly the height of my career at the moment, I’m going back to the place where it all started.”

Mulhern says he has plenty of moments where he can’t quite believe how far he’s come.

“I think back to watching the TV show Deal Or No Deal – I used to adore watching it with my dad and my family – and now I’m hosting the show.

“It’s bizarre, but this is also what I mean – your dreams can come true. You’ve just got to believe in them.”

In the books, Max isn’t just a magician – he has actual magic powers, too – which has got Mulhern considering what powers he’d like.

“To freeze time, I think is an amazing skill, magical ability to have,” he ponders.

“There’s so many times in my past that I’ve gone – oh, I wish we could go back and do that again. Or, I wish we could just freeze this moment, because it’s a lovely moment… Because time goes so fast.”

Are there any particular moments Mulhern wishes he could have frozen?

“We’ve just finished doing a show called Saturday Night Takeaway with my good friends Ant [McPartlin] and Dec [Donnelly]. The show’s been going for 20 years, I’ve been part of it for nearly half that,” he says.

“And on the last day of rehearsals, there were moments where we’d be talking about some of the stuff we’ve done, some of the stuff we’ve achieved. It was such a big end of the show, in terms of everyone was there, guests from the past, you name it.

“We took a photo at the end with us all together. I was like, wow, wouldn’t it be nice to have this – I know we’ve got the photo – but just various moments in the show. Everyone’s so fast-paced and rushed, it would be great to just freeze these moments and go: this is great. Look – Dec’s laughing, Simon Cowell’s having a good time.”

With his books, Mulhern hopes to inspire a new generation of magicians.

“I’ve always loved magic. I think it’s such a universal art form that will never, ever die,” he says. The books are full of QR codes which kids can scan to see videos of Mulhern demonstrating how to do a particular trick.

“It gives them the chance to learn something new, and it might just breed the new set of magicians for the future.”

Max Magic: The Incredible Holiday Hideout by Stephen Mulhern and Tom Easton, illustrated by Begoña Fernández Corbalán, is published by Piccadilly Press, priced £7.99. Available now.