Lance Corporal Richard Jones has made his name in magic through appearing on Britain’s Got Talent in 2016 and became a household hit after his winning performance. As Richard is still an active member in the army, he can often be seen in Uniform on stage, and has performed magic in front of the Royal Family many times including bringing Prince William up to help with one of his tricks. Meeting up with Richard in London last month, we find out about entertaining his fellow soldiers, his upcoming tour dates and on-going charity work.
Do you remember the first trick you learnt?
There is a magic company called Marvin’s Magic in Hamleys, and also Harrods, the guy’s name is Marvin, he’s a good friend of mine now, and last year he actually presented me a Rising Star of Magic award, which is a big award in the magic circle, which was quite nice because it was his magic set I first started out with. When I was a kid my dad used to take me to a magic shop, near Charing Cross, every time we used to come to London he’d take me to this little magic shop, it is the most bizarre shop you’ll ever see, it’s in the underground, but tucked away right in the corner. It’s a really run down part of the underground and you would never walk down there unless you knew there was something there that you were going to see. My dad somehow found out there was a magic shop there, and he used to take me there each time we were in London, and buy me little tricks from Marvin’s magic set, so the basic stuff, I can’t remember exactly what it was, it might have been disappearing a silk handkerchief to your hand, I still can’t quite do it! That was my first memory of magic, but then I kind of fizzled out of magic, probably in my teenage years, and didn’t really do much until I joined the army.
In the army I had a lot of free time, on coaches or aeroplanes, because I was always travelling it gave me a bit of time to do magic, I always say to anyone in the army, because you do so much travelling, you’ve got a choice, you can either choose to learn a new hobby or read books and become knowledgeable, or you can choose to just watch films every day, you might, with a career in the army, end up watching thousands and thousands of films, but it doesn’t really benefit you in any way, so I always wanted to try and do something positive, so I was always learning magic tricks on the way, it worked out well in the end!
What or who inspired you to get into magic?
My dad originally when I was a kid, but then like I said it fizzled out, the reason I got back into magic was, I started watching Derren Brown on TV, I used to love him, I thought wow this guy is fascinating. I went to see his live show once with my mum and dad, in the West End, he brought me up on stage and he hypnotised me, it was quite funny and amazing. I can’t really remember what he did while I was on stage, or what the trick was, but I remember looking out at the audience and seeing thousands of people, just mesmerised, and that’s what I wanted to do.
I haven’t seen Derren Brown since, but as soon as I see him, I’ll let him know that it was him that inspired me to do it. That always amazed me, from that moment being on stage, I knew that that’s what I really wanted to do. That was probably only about five years ago, I can’t remember what theatre it was, it was in the West End somewhere. Within five years, I’d won Britain’s Got Talent, and I did eight weeks, every night on stage in the West End, so I was quite chuffed with how quickly it turned around. I was quite lucky really, it worked out well, and if he ever comes to see my show, I’ll get him on stage hahaha!
Had you visited Worthing before your show a few weeks ago?
I don’t think I had, it was lovely, it was a lovely day, we were lucky, the sun was out. I didn’t get much time before the show to walk along the beach, but just after the show, walking back to my car, I stopped to have a look at the sea, there is nothing more peaceful than a nice evening walk with the sea just calmly coming in, if you live by the sea, you probably don’t think about it, because I don’t see it very often, it’s really nice. Worthing is a lovely place, it was a great audience as well, a really friendly audience, I love shows like that, when the audience integrates, because it means I don’t have to do any hard work in the beginning explaining who I am, what I do, and you’re going to have fun, because everyone’s already having fun, it made my job really easy.
My volunteers were great as well, I was lucky I had a little girl, with a really interesting name, I can’t remember it but it was very interesting, I sometimes have a problem remembering names, so usually in my mind I repeat it over and over and over again, for a couple of minutes so I don’t forget it, but it was such an unusual name, I kept forgetting it, I was like oh my god I really have to remember it and now I’ve forgotten it!
How did you get involved with the show, and do you have plans to return to the South Coast to do your own show?
The guy who runs it, Andrew, a really lovely guy, he sent my manager an email a couple of months ago, it was a fairly last minute thing, my management sorts all that out, I don’t really focus on it until closer to the time. It was a great reaction, it’s a lovely venue, so potentially I might try and put on a show there, maybe next year. I don’t know how close Weymouth and Bath are, they’re the only two dates I’m doing in the UK this year, I’m abroad so much. I think they’re by the coast or somewhere around there, aren’t they?
Bath is in Somerset and Weymouth is in Dorset.
Oh right, I didn’t know that, I always pictured them down by Worthing I don’t know why, lucky you’ve told me that otherwise I’d be driving towards Worthing in a couple of weeks going the wrong way!
What was it like seeing Zyrah Rose again?
It was interesting, it kind of confused me at first, because they weren’t the same people as before hahaha, apart from Charlotte (Melissa Tyler), I recognised Charlotte straight away, it’s always good to see Charlotte. I bump into her occasionally at events, it was good to see she’s got her own dance academy CMT, it’s a great logo. They were great at the Worthing show, I only saw them rehearse because I was backstage, the only way to watch from the audience is through the door right at the side of the stage, I thought everyone will notice me stood there! So yeah, it was good to see Charlotte, it was good to meet the other girls, have they permanently changed, or are they just filling in?
Kara is doing Cilla the Musical.
Cilla? What’s that about? Cilla Black? Really? No way, is she the main person? Wow, that’s amazing, I’ll have to message her. I bumped into her only about three, four months ago, no it must have been longer than that, maybe six months ago in London, she didn’t tell me about that though, that’s massive, that’s really good. They’re doing really well, which is great, I always remember BGT, they’d have the coolest set, because they had like fire behind them, I think that was great.
What’s the highlight of your magic career since winning Britain’s Got Talent?
That’s a good question. A lot of amazing things, I’ve been very lucky, a big highlight is when I do UK shows, last year I did a full tour, I did twenty dates and it’s nice, because they all sold out really quick, it’s nice to know that people are coming just to see me, there was no-one else on the bill. Also, I met my girlfriend through BGT as well, not that that’s magic, but it is real magic, I met her after the show so that was a big bonus, that was a big thing, that was nice. I just get to travel to so many different places, and it’s the fact that I’m a magician that lets me do that, I’ve just come back from Russia and India, I’ve done seven countries since February this year, it’s good, it’s quite cool, I love travelling, it’s great. Probably the highlight is though, when I do shows, that people buy tickets to come and see, so I know that they’ve come to see me, I do a lot of events where people hire me to go and entertain people, who are there anyway, you don’t know if they know who you are or if they like magic or anything like that, at your own shows you know the audience are there to see you.
While away on duty, do you keep your fellow soldiers entertained with magic?
The only reason I ever got good at magic is purely because of the army. The first time anyone in the army found out that I did magic, we were working with the UN in Cyprus, there wasn’t really much to do there. We were sat in a little café, like makeshift cafe, there was a pack of cards behind the counter which had probably been there since like the time it had got rundown, maybe about fifteen years ago, someone tried a magic trick and it didn’t work, I looked at the guy that had the cards, there was a big group of us, and I said, ‘I’ll show you something really bizarre,’ I said, ‘don’t look at the cards, but just take any card out and put it face down on the table,’ he did that, and then I said, ‘now just name any card in the pack,’ and I always remember he said, ‘Jack of hearts,’ and a serious face, in my mind I’m thinking, if this works I’m going to be a miracle worker, he turned it over, and in slow motion, I can still see it now, he turned it over, and it was Jack of hearts, it was like the perfect magic trick. I had no idea how it worked, it was just luck, but everyone went absolutely mad, and I think the fact that I didn’t show them anything else after that kind of made that moment even more powerful, because they kind of wanted more, but I didn’t have anything else to show. After that moment I had to make sure I always had something ready, something that I could show them, because, everyday I was on the road with them, travelling somewhere, and everyday they’d ask, I didn’t ever want to be the person to say, ‘I’m not showing anything,’ because even if I didn’t have anything to show, they’ll just assume I’m just being moody, and don’t want to show them magic tricks. So I always had to make sure everyday I was working on something new, and gradually, the shows just got bigger and bigger. After about a year of just doing little tricks every day, I had a guy who was really high up, I think he was like the warrant officer or something, said to me, ‘next week we’re holding a big event and we’ve got the generals coming, can you get on stage and do some magic?’ and kind of in the same way, as I didn’t want to be the guy who just didn’t want to help out before, I said, ‘yeah, sure I’ll do it’. I didn’t know how to do magic on stage, I couldn’t think of anything that people would be able to see from a distance, and then in that week, I just pretty much put together, hashed together, a stage show, it went really well. It kind of escalated more and more from there, it’s kind of the way life works, the more you focus on something, the bigger it will get, just naturally, which is why I always say, be careful what you focus on, if you focus on something you don’t like, then you’ll end up getting more of it, because you’ll notice it more everywhere, if you focus on something you really enjoy and the happy stuff that you enjoy doing, you’ll start naturally noticing more of those things throughout the day, it’s just the way life works in a weird psychological way. I did Afghanistan in January going into February, I flew out there, it was the most amazing experience. Every morning I’d get on the helicopter and go to a different base, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, we try and do a makeshift stage and try and put on a show, try and take the guys out of their usual life for an evening, that was amazing. The best reaction I’ve ever had was there because they were never expecting it, and they understood the fact that, for a few weeks, we were there just to entertain those guys, they really appreciated it, so that’s good.
Will you be doing any military related tricks on your Military Illusionist tour in Weymouth and Bath?
Yes, in fact pretty much every magic show in the world is, in the bare bones of it, very similar. As a magician, you can kind of see the similarities in everything, the only difference really is how it’s presented, and how magic is created in our minds. The majority of what I do in my tour show is themed around why I got into magic and why I love magic tricks, and how it connects to, and what affect it had on the army guys. It’s very much themed along my life, and how my unique twist on magic is the military aspect. I use my Ceremonial Sword, which I used in Worthing, and I did that trick with Prince William. He came to one of my shows last year, I got him on stage and I brought the sword out, and you could see his security panicking because I hadn’t told them in advance, I was waiting for them to rugby tackle me, part of me was hoping they would, I would have got great publicity out of it, but he trusted me, so that’s good!
Do you have any support acts?
Not on my tour show, no. I’d like to for some shows, just because quite a lot of the time I travel round on my own. So no, I don’t at the minute, my show is just me, it’s an hour and a half show, with fifteen minutes interval.
Will you be adding any extra dates to the tour?
At the minute, no. I think next year I would like to try and do maybe a fifteen, twenty date tour, this year it’s very difficult because I’ve got a number of commitments with the army. Between now and September, I’m doing shows in five countries, with the tour show, but in five other countries, plus I’ve got the Queen’s Birthday, which is in June. Straight after the Weymouth and the Bath show, I’m going to be doing the Queen’s Birthday, so that’s a big thing, then I’m on the flight again getting out there, so literally, it’s just two like every now and again. I need time to sit and plan different things, it’s just too difficult to fit in this year.
Can you always tell which audience members are happy to get involved?
Not always, I usually look for people who I can tell are enjoying it the most, and smiling the most, and look the most friendly and comfortable in the environment, 99% of the time it works out really well and I get them on stage and they’re fine, I’m quite good at choosing people. Occasionally though, I might go in the audience and someone might seem really up for it and really excited, and sometimes they might even volunteer, and you get them on stage and then they suddenly freeze, and they’re nervous. I don’t do anything in my show specifically to embarrass anyone, or make anyone feel bad or silly, I try and avoid that, but there’s a lot of lighthearted stuff. I think it’s evident if someone is really tense and nervous, it kind of makes everyone not feel as comfortable, so I have to be very careful, but I try my best when I choose someone, to try and make them feel as welcome as possible, and let them know that I’m not going to embarrass them, it will be fun just chill out and relax, and usually it goes down fine. No-one’s ever kicked off on stage or anything like that, the worst I’ve ever had is just someone freeze, and just being so nervous, but we get through it. Weirdly, in a couple of instances that’s happened, after the show they’re the ones who come and say, ‘ah that was amazing, I’ve never been on stage before, I loved it,’ it’s like, ah right, we didn’t realise that, it looked like you were nervous, and that’s quite a nice thing to know, that even though they came across as hating it, they quite enjoyed it.
How do you come up with new ideas for your performances?
That’s a really good question. I try and figure out what kind of message I want to express in my show, because I don’t really like magic just for the sake of magic, as in I’ve never liked the idea of showing off, and just saying look at me, I’ve got these powers look at all this cool stuff I can do. I much prefer to have some kind of underlying message within the whole thing, and kind of showing like, you wouldn’t have seen it in Worthing because it was very much a lighthearted kind of comedy, kind of just fun, because I only had about half an hour, but in the tour show, I very much try and express a really positive view of what real magic is. It’s difficult to explain, but I always believe that, like I said earlier, you get more of what you think about, and that you can do anything, and the only limits that exist anywhere, are the limits that we set ourselves, and very often that’s just a natural thing that we all pick up growing up, for example, someone tells you, don’t touch a hot kettle you’ll burn yourself, and you touch a hot kettle, you burn yourself, so instantly, you think ok, I should listen to people because they’re telling me things that are real, but then gradually, as you go through school and you get older, maybe you might have had dreams of being an astronaut, someone might say, oh it’s quite difficult to do that, it’s probably not worth your time focussing on it, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, it’s a big one, but in reality there’s loads, it’s like anything is possible. A lot of people told me I wouldn’t be able to be a TV magician, because there’s too much competition, there’s thousands of magicians in the world, but I always wanted a way of being a magician, well-known on TV, but still being a soldier, and obviously that’s something that’s never been possible, but somehow it’s worked out, and it works out perfect, I’m still in the army, even though it’s more of an ambassadorial role, so I don’t do day-to-day stuff anymore, I’m doing that, and being a TV magician. If I would have told people ten years ago, that’s what I’ll be doing, they’d laugh, they’d say, well the army’s not going to let you do that, set your own limits, and that’s the kind of message that I try to bring in my tour show, co-operate, and try and show lots of examples through magic, lots of examples from people who’ve faced the biggest odds but have just stuck to what they’ve always wanted to do, and they’ve made it, so I try and show that within the effects and stuff I do. Music is a big powerful thing, if you listen to music it really puts you in a state, I always say if you listen to negative music too much, you become negative, if you listen to really emotional music too much, you become really emotional, so whenever I go running, I go running in the evening, which I’m doing tonight, I always have to pre-select what I’m going to listen to, because if it gets too emotional, I’ll give up, and I’ll be like, I can’t do this, whereas if it’s really fast-paced stuff it’s ok. It’s psychological, we’re really manipulated by the the sounds that you hear, it’s amazing, so I use that in my show a lot.
How did the Britain’s Got Talent Big Celebration go in February alongside the likes of Collabro and Tokio Myers?
That was Liverpool, that was really good. It was good to see Tokio again, he’s an amazing guy, I’m a pianist as well, but not a very good one, it fascinates me watching him, amazing stuff. It was the first time I met Susan Boyle, which was an interesting experience, and Paul Potts is just as interesting, fascinating people, I’ve got lots of stories about conversations we had, but I probably should never have them in print! They’re amazing, they’re really amazing, they’re just some of the most funny people, who else did I see, Jamie I know quite well, he’s a nice guy, it was good. My favourite is probably Tokio and Daliso Chaponda, he’s a comedian, he’s hilarious, he was really funny and a nice guy as well, he’s really chatty and fun.
Are you ever surprised at other magician’s tricks or can you always work out how it will end?
Not always, I mean the majority of magic, because it’s all related circulation, most magicians will be able to tell what you’re doing, you’ll still be impressed even if you know how it’s done, but occasionally I see something, that I know I’ll work out at some point, but it’s nice to not know how it’s done. I went to see David Copperfield when I was in Vegas, his show’s just hilarious, he’s so good, as in not a comedy, but it’s just hilarious, just how amazing he is, his show must cost millions to put together, he just has no limits, he puts everything into it. I won’t tell you what happens in it, but half way through the show the most amazing thing you’ll ever see appears in the room, right above your head out of nowhere, it’s incredible. We had really good seats, I was there doing some shows, but I took my girlfriend with me. A friend of mine knows David Copperfield, I think he’s like a stage hand, a really close friend, and he gave us these seats, we weren’t sure at the time, we weren’t sure if they were great seats, they weren’t the best seats, I was like, thanks this is really nice, we were wondering why we were in this position, and then halfway through the show, you realise why you’re in the best position, you look up and it’s the most amazing thing you’ll ever see. We met David Copperfield after, which was nice, I mean he’s David Copperfield he’s my favourite magician, and Derren Brown is also my favourite magician I should distinguish, but they’re very different, very unique, and that’s what I like about them. I’ve got the military magician kind of niche, I usually perform in uniform, but occasionally, like in Worthing, I couldn’t, just for political army reasons, so occasionally I can’t, my tour show, I’ll be in uniform for at least half of the show.
How did you get involved with Together 4 Short Lives?
I’m already an ambassador for Scotty’s Little Soldiers, I became an ambassador for them last year, that’s a charity for children who have lost their parents, who are in a military family, not all of them, but a lot of them, lose their parents when they’ve gone to war, but I love it. I do a few events for them, most of the events for them are fundraising events, to raise money, occasionally I will do events that they put on for the kids, which are great, really amazing things they put on, they have lots of fun things going on, like an Alice in Wonderland themed event, where it was just so natural, it was great. Together 4 Short Lives I’ve done a few events for last year, Simon Cowell is a patron as well and some of his relatives work within the charity, they approached me, and said, would I like to come on and help support a few events, I did that, and it’s just a really nice charity, it’s really nicely run, everyone’s really friendly. The fact it’s a charity aside, I enjoy it, giving my time up for them, because it’s just always a fun event, it’s always fun to meet them all. They asked if I would be an ambassador, and there’s no reason for me not to, it’s great to help put the word out for them, the stuff they do is really powerful, it’s a really important thing. I specifically like supporting the children’s charities because it connects with me a lot more, and they’re a great charity, they help people in their last few years or few months of their life, which is quite sad, but it’s a really great thing. It would be nice to mention something about Simon Cowell, obviously Simon, not so much anymore, he used to be seen as the mean guy on TV, he’s very supportive, but whenever you see him behind-the-scenes, he’s a great guy, he puts on events for Together 4 Short Lives every year and I did one of them last year, it’s a big fundraiser, they raise a massive amount. What you don’t see is behind-the-scenes, when Simon leaves, he’ll leave very much on the quiet, he’ll go out and he’ll make sure he goes to say bye to all of the staff at the hotel, he’ll go and shake all their hands, and he’ll shake the door staff’s hands, and say thanks for having us, he’ll go up to reception and say thanks to them for having this event, he’s a really nice guy, it’s just nice to see. I always get a good vibe from the charity, it’s a good one, sometimes charities don’t treat you as well as they should, they don’t appreciate your time, which blows my mind, if you’re giving up your time to help, it’s unbelievable, but they’ve always been great, they’re run really well.
Would you like to do any TV reality shows?
Yeah I’d love to. I’d love to do Strictly Come Dancing, I can’t dance, but I just think it’s a fun show, Dancing on Ice would be fun, I like ice skating, I’m not very good at it but I’d love to do that. I’d even do the jungle, I think people would probably expect too much from me being in the army, if I did the jungle you’d probably see that I probably can’t survive on my own, haha! If they gave me a bug and said eat this, I’d kind of feel, that’s a bit harsh, because I don’t need to eat this bug, this bug’s just happy being a bug, running around, so that would probably upset me a bit, and I don’t really like the idea of the slime they put on you and then they kill a load of insects, it’s like a mass torture of thousands of cockroaches and spiders and stuff! Bear Grylls Island, although I’ve never really liked the idea of having to kill something to eat it if you don’t really need to, that’s the only downside to it.
What was it like returning to Britain’s Got Talent as a guest performer?
That was fun, I had to be very careful because obviously I’ve already won and was doing well and there were magicians on the show the year I went back, and it was very important to me, that I wanted to make sure that on the day I went, there were no other magicians, because I didn’t want people, in their voting process, not voting for someone because of it. In the end the BGT team were great, they’re such a well run team, they’ve been doing it for so many years, so they know exactly how everything should run, and after a while of making sure that what I was doing was completely different to everyone else, we were all happy, it was easy, it was nice. It was the first time I had some dancers to help out, I had a box made for it, they gave us a good budget to showcase what I already do, but in a little fancier way that fits TV quite well, which was nice. I’ve got a garage, and every time I’m on TV and every time I do something big, I always keep like a memento of that time, I should probably move it into yellow storage or something, the only thing I don’t have in there are the dancers, everything else is in there, it’s like piling up, it’s just what is essentially stuff I can’t use anymore because it’s designed for the TV. I love going back to BGT, I’ve always been a fan of the show. Something I’ve never told anyone is, before I even knew that I really wanted to pursue magic, I always knew I wanted to win a show like Britain’s Got Talent, in a weird way this won’t make any sense, it will be difficult to explain, but when Leona Lewis won The X Factor, probably about eleven years ago, I always remember watching that, seeing the end moment, where all the gold confetti comes down, and she’s singing A Moment Like This, and it gets so emotional. I remember watching that and thinking, I want that moment, that’s the most amazing moment you can ever have, I was really emotional watching it, I didn’t even watch the series, I just watched that moment, and I remember getting the emotional feeling, wow, that’s the most powerful feeling that anyone could probably ever have. I always wanted that moment, I wasn’t even doing magic at the time, so I didn’t know how I was going to do it, so in a nice way, when that same moment happened to me and all of a sudden the gold was coming down, and I’d just won, it was like, oh my god this is so fun. I was so pleased, it was weird because I love it, it was the moment I wanted, not necessarily performing magic on TV, which I did want, but that moment I really wanted, was that gold confetti and knowing that people have voted for me, it’s just really overwhelming, so that was powerful. The other weird thing, I’m really going off track now, but this is, well it fascinates me, it probably won’t fascinate anyone else, but when I did start getting into magic, just after I saw Derren Brown, I wanted to be on stage, I used to do a lot of visualisation, whatever I want to achieve, I try and visualise it in my head quite often, and then it kind of makes it easier to do in real life, and work out a way of how to get it. I used to visualise myself, and imagine myself walking out onto stage to Zadoc the Priest by Handle, coronation music, I used to imagine, in my mind walking out on a dark stage, then the lights come on, this big moment, I don’t know why that was just the most powerful piece of music I could listen to while I was trying to visualise that. When we were all back behind the screens, live on the final of Britain’s Got Talent, we were just about to go on and find out the results, the doors open, all of a sudden the music starts and it’s Zadoc the Priest, and I walk out, think I was like, oh my god I’ve got this, I just knew it was a sign from someone, I thought, oh my god, that’s like the perfect moment, there’s no way this all could be a coincidence. This is what I always wanted to do, and so specifically to this music, it had just blown my mind, which is why I now feel so strongly, as to positive benefits of thinking about what you really want to do, and really not listening to any negative stuff that comes to you. They’ll always be people who don’t understand what you want to do, they’ll always be hurdles, it will feel like you can’t overcome them. There’s now a car flying around in space, like who would have thought that would happen, and they made it happen, so it’s just crazy.
Are people able to buy your DVD or magic set online?
Yes, on my website, I think it’s under bookings, the bottom of the page. You can’t just click and order, and the reason for that is, because magic is a really powerful thing, that is only powerful because it’s difficult to access, and the magic community keeps secrets to themselves, which is what makes magic so mysterious and powerful. There are magic things you can buy out there, just with a click of a button, it’s still easy to get, but you have to email for mine, then they’ll send you the details of how you buy it, but just that extra step stops people who might just think, ah let’s just see how he does this, and just click and buy just for the sake of it. It means it increases the amount of people who are just really keen to learn and become a magician, they’re the people who will go the extra step, so I kind of do it for that reason. For me, I don’t make much money out of the DVDs, it’s not a business to me, it’s just something that I’ve made, for anyone who really wants to do it, so it’s quite nice to try and limit the people who have got it, to people who genuinely want to learn and do well.
Apart from your shows in Weymouth and Bath, do you have any other shows planned for this year?
I’m doing a lot of shows in the country, just most of them are private shows and for companies. I’ve got some TV coming up again soon, also a number of TV ideas which hopefully, if they come off, will be massive. I’m involved in a number of other TV things, I’ll be at a number of special events, just not ticketed events. If anyone wants to see me, but can’t get a ticket anywhere, if they keep an eye out for the Together 4 Short Lives events or Scotty’s Little Soldiers events, most of those I’ll be making an appearance at and doing some magic, that will help the charity raise some money if they get a ticket for them shows… so yeah, keep an eye out!
Follow Richard on: