Saudi Arabia’s award-winning master illusionist and Arabs Got Talent star Ahmed Al Bayed on tricking his parents, driving death-defying roads blindfolded and breaking his bones - all for magic.

Aiza Castillo-Domingo

What got you interested in a career of magic and illusion?

I did not choose this career; this career chose me. Some people are born with a certain talent and I guess in my case I was born with the talent to perform magic and illusion. Magic and illusion are part of me and they define who I am.

What was the first trick you tried?

I was about five when my grandfather showed me a trick. He wrapped a napkin around his hand, then drew the napkin off with a flourish to reveal a couple of coins in his palm. I found it awesome and was keen to learn the trick. And I did. I practised hard and a couple of months later performed that trick before my parents. Coming from a five-year-old they never expected it and the excitement and amazement on their faces spurred me to learn more tricks. Even today, I thirst to see that same reaction on my spectators’ face when I perform tricks.

If popularity is any indication, card tricks appear to be the easiest to perform. True?

Card tricks really are not easy. They require a lot of skill and diligent practice. Lots and lots of practice because some involve sleight of hand.

Did you enrol in a magic school or take any courses?

Not really. While I was doing my schooling in London, I used to visit stores selling magic stuff and purchase loads of stuff from there. I’d then create scenarios around the tricks and practise and perfect those tricks first before the mirror then before my friends and family.

I was 13 when I did my first professional show. I received 5 pounds for my work that day and it was a huge achievement for me. I used to get a pound as pocket money so to receive 5 pounds was unbelievable – it was a lot of money.

And you have been performing since…

Yes, I’ve been going on stage regularly. At 17, I expanded my repertoire and started doing restaurant magic shows. I was even a comedy magician for a while I was studying in university in the US.

Also read: Why I’m rethinking that work/life balance

What’s your dream trick?

There is no one dream trick. Today, anything that I want to perform is within easy reach. If you have proper settings you will be able to pull off any stunt.

You once wanted to make one of the pyramids in Egypt disappear…

Yes, I did. I made all the plans and went to the authorities to get the permits when one of the officials there asked me: ‘How can you guarantee that you will bring the pyramid back?’. That’s how he rejected my request.

The thing is that the disappearing pyramid trick is really an illusion; it would always be there only that you would not be able to see it for a short while.

What’s the most amazing trick that you have performed, Ahmed?

I’ve done a lot of big stunts for my award-winning programme on MBC television. One that was really tricky involved driving a car blindfolded on a stretch of road in Lebanon’s Wadi Jamajim (Skull Valley). The road is very dangerous because one side has a sheer drop of around 1,800 ft. In the event of an accident, there are no safety barriers on the road to prevent vehicles from going over the side of the cliff. There’s a story that the name Skull Valley came from the skulls of accident victims that lie littered on the valley floor.

What do you do when a trick you are performing does not go according to plan?

When you are on stage and something goes wrong, the spectator would not know because no one except the performer knows what the ending of the trick is going to be. The difference between a professional and an amateur is that the latter might pause for a moment if something goes wrong. I always have a way out. I believe in Murphy’s Law - What can go wrong will – so when I conceive an illusion, I also consider every angle that can go wrong and then think of ways to cover them. So, even if it happens on stage no one really notices. And if anyone does notice the mistake, I make a joke about it and make it look like it was intentional. Humour plays an important part in shows.

Tell us the time one of the tricks went wrong…

Once I was performing a stunt where I was in a strait jacket, hands tied, and dangling upside down by a rope tied to my feet about 12 metres above the ground. The trick involved me freeing myself after the rope is set alight. I had to slip out of the strait jacket, untie my feet, grab another rope and slide down safely in about three minutes – the time it takes for the rope to burn through.

I trained a long time for this trick particularly to be able to focus while upside down. But on the day, the person in charge of my safety mistakenly tied the safety wire knot upside down. So while I was able to slip off the jacket and untie my hands, I couldn’t free my legs in time. The rope burned through and I fell from a height of 12m breaking my pelvis in four places, fracturing my shoulder, puncturing a lung and chipping a few teeth. It was bad, very bad.

But I was back on my feet in a month and half and repeated the performance – this time doing it perfectly.

Another time my cell phone nearly killed me.

Wow, what happened?

See, some illusions are based on electronics and safety, too, depends on electronics.

Well, I was performing a trick which involved spikes dropping down on me while I attempt to escape from a box. The thing is that the spikes will never drop until I send a signal. But what happened was that just before I could make my escape, my cellphone rang triggering the signal and the spikes dropped while I was half way out of the danger zone. One spike took my knee and I had to be hospitalised.

What are your dreams, Ahmed?

I want to set up an institute where talented children will be provided all help to hone their skills to become the best in the world in their chosen field. And not only in magic but in arts, sports…

There will be experts who will teach the children and train them exceedingly well. We would be their managers and their agents and can help them achieve their dreams and put them in the world spotlight.

I think Dubai is the right place for such a centre.

Whats your biggest fear on stage?

I don’t have any fears while on stage. It’s like my second home. It’s my comfort zone.

Ahmad Al Bayad will be performing at City Centre Deira on January 26 and 27 at 5pm, 7:30pm and 9pm.