He wowed the judges of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent with a magic show like no other, and is now a household name, enjoying sell-out shows across the UK. But Ben Hart says it’s in Winchester that he’s most looking forward to performing this Spring, with his one-man show gracing the stage in his home city, at Theatre Royal.
It was at the tender age of five that Ben became fascinated by magic, and after borrowing and reborrowing the same book of tricks from Winchester Library he began performing to his friends. “I had a very limited audience,” he says, “and would inevitably end up revealing how my tricks were done, so it wasn’t until I went to Kings’ School that my performances started to get better.”
Here the school blazer provided plenty of opportunities for hiding props and revealing them again, and as he read more widely his repertoire of tricks became impressive enough for friends’ parents to book him for dinner parties. At 16 he won a national Magic Circle competition and began performing in pubs and nightclubs – initially just for tips.
“As I grew in confidence and skill, so the opportunities got bigger,” he says. “I remember flying back from a high-paying booking in South Africa and then getting into trouble at Peter Symonds College for not doing my coursework. Magic was the only career I was even considering by then.”
Magic has seen a resurgence in the entertainment business, Ben says: he thinks the lack of wonder in a digital age has boosted its appeal. “There are not many things in life that still have that air of mystery,” he says. “Magic only exists in the mind of the audience. It’s a game that makes you question what is real and what is an illusion.”
Using his talents to provide special effects for the theatre gave Ben another string to his bow, and he extended his repertoire to create his own one-man show. “It was about that time that I went on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent,” he says. “Because I was so different from the other acts, I got to the final, and, although I didn’t win, the publicity it gave me catapulted me into the mainstream.” His touring one-man show has now been all over the world, often playing to sell-out audiences, and has been heralded for its creativity and storytelling.
Winchester remains his go-to for time out of the spotlight. “What I like about being home is organising my life again in a city where I know where everything is. I might work all over the world now, but Winchester is still where I call home.”
Ben Hart comes to Theatre Royal Winchester on 29 April 2020
01962 840440 www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk