Out and proud Dutch illusionist Hans Klok chats about his London debut, the magic of the internet and why being a gay performer in the US is career kryptonite
With his blonde blow-dried hair, tan and shirt billowing in a wind machine, Hans Klok looks every inch the stereotypical showman illusionist.
While his high-camp theatrics have been a runaway success in Las Vegas and continental Europe, he is still a relative unknown in the UK.
But all that is about to change as the openly gay Klok prepares to amaze London audiences for the first time with his grand illusions and quick as lightning slight of hand, which has seen him materialise the World Cup out of thin air and vanish Pamela Anderson.
Performing at the Peacock Theatre in the capital's West End from 23 February to 25 March, The Houdini Experience is the perferct antidote to the overly serious pomposity of many of today's magicians.
I met him in his dressing room at the ITV studios after wowing daytime television viewers with a three minute illusion on This Morning.
Part He-Man, part David Copperfield, his newly coiffured hair-do (it was freshly made that day) was a talking point in itself. But with the clock ticking, I resisted the temptation to ask for his hairdresser's digits.
What can audiences expect from The Houdini Experience?
It’s a very exciting, big magic show which you can compare to the American Las Vegas shows.
I’m working with my three assistants which I call the divas of magic. I have great dancers around, five great, world class variety acts in the show, and there is a big storyline about Houdini.
It’s a very fast show, with very grand illusions and some quite poetic stuff. For example, I do a trick which I saw when I was 10 years old. It’s a trick by Harry Blackstone Jr., when you lift a light bulb and it goes over the audience. If you see it live, it’s such an incredible experience.
At the end of his life, Blackstone gave the trick to me. He died suddenly and years later his wife called me after having the courage to read her husband’s diaries. She found on one of the last pages that if anything should happen to him, the mystery should go to Hans Klok.
So, it makes me the only magician in the world to be allowed to present it and it’s such a beautiful trick. It was invented by Blackstone’s father, who was also a magician, and the music was written by Charlie Chaplin, so it has such a history.
The show is all about magic, so hypnosis, mind-reading, grand illusion, slight of hand, I’ve brought it all together in two hours.
Your show is quite traditional in its format and style. Is that something you were conscious of when making the show?
Lately, there are magicians who are a little too serious, especially people like Uri Geller. They also try to say it’s a bit supernatural. I don’t like it because for me it’s just entertainment.
I think it’s too much to call my show camp, but it’s a big element in it because you can dress up and have these lovely boys and girls around you who look amazing, and with the wind machines and everything, it’s a spectacle.
You have had huge shows in Las Vegas, but this is your first time performing in London. How have you adapted the show to suit a British audience?
The show has changed a lot. In Las Vegas, it was all about how I started as a little boy and there was a storyline about my life. Then of course I had Pamela Anderson as an assistant, which was an enormous publicity stunt for six months. But that was a whole other show and for me that was actually too much.
In the current show I tell little stories about Houdini. When he chained up and jumped in the Thames, he always got a kiss from his wife and the legend is that’s how she gave him the key for the locks. We will never know.
I think this is my best show because of the stories and it is all about magic. The magic should be stunning. That’s the big compliment someone can pay me – when people see my show and tell me afterward they were amazed and have no clue how it was done.
Just forget there is a trick and be amazed and entertained. Magic is art, but the only thing is, you can’t put your finger on what the art is.
When you hear a good singer, the talent is the voice. But with magic, you have to be an actor so people believe you and a comedian, as well as half a stunt man. It’s all the talents put together which make a great magician.
How do keep the classic tricks fresh?
It’s like the light bulb trick – it can go wrong very easily. I am the only one in the world who is allowed to do it. It’s such a protected trick. But of course, it’s hard to keep it fresh and it’s not easy. I think I have succeeded though.
It’s all about the style I have. Sometimes I make a combination of four tricks, which I perform in one minute. When I see some of my colleagues I think it’s pretty boring that it takes too long before something happens. But it depends. If you are a great storyteller, it doesn’t matter how long it takes.
Are there any tricks you have invented and have a trademark on?
My problem is that some tricks were originally mine but have been copied worldwide. There’s a trick where my assistant is in a box, I send fire through it and then a second girl comes out. A guy in Las Vegas built it for me and then I did it on American TV and slowly everybody took it without anybody asking my permission it.
It is hard to stay original. I think I am original in my presentation though. It’s a bit over the top, but at least it’s outstanding.
I see a lot of teenagers on YouTube trying to be Hans Klok, but it’s fine because I was inspired by other magicians when I was a child.
How much of a problem is the internet in keeping magic tricks secret?
I just did a three minute spot on This Morning and in the old days when you did a bad TV performance, everyone was forgotten by the next week. But now it ends up on the internet.
The power of the internet, combined with the fact everyone wants to figure things out, there are so many tricks explained on the internet. It’s incredible.
I don’t know why people do it. What’s the fun of it? The whole point is you don’t know how it’s done.
Have you done any tricks for gay icons?
I met Cher in Vegas because she’s very good friends with Siegfried and Roy. I love her. I’m gay myself so am also a fan.
So, I had a one second conversation with her. I said, 'I love your show.' She said, 'Thank you darling.'
Friends and colleagues, including Pamela Anderson, previously advised you to stay in the closet in America because it could affect your career. Once you were out over there, did you notice an effect?
Yes, there was an absolutely negative reaction. It was a shame. It’s a very hypocritical country in that way, which I hate.
It’s not the reason I’m here in Europe now, but you just don’t talk about being gay in America.
Like in Las Vegas, there’s hardly a gay life there. All the dancers and people who work in the entertainment industry, many of them are gay. In America you can buy a gun when you’re 16 or 14, but you can’t be gay.