It’s not too often that anyone will return a missed call with the excuse: ‘I was cleaning out the rabbits and I couldn’t get to the phone in time.’
But as excuses go, it’s not a bad one. And from famous TV magician Paul Daniels, it’s believable – the rabbit has a role in his latest show.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, he was a fixture on primetime TV – he had his own BBC1 show, The Paul Daniels Magic Show, which ran for 15 years, and he also hosted a trio of gameshows, Every Second Counts, Wipeout and Odd One Out.
Paul, who celebrated his 76th birthday the day before he spoke with The Guide, is about to star in an Easter pantomime of Alice in Wonderland at The Kings Theatre.
He plays the King of Hearts alongside his wife, the lovely Debbie McGee, as the White Rabbit. Also in the cast are ventriloquist Steve Hewlett from Britain’s Got Talent, playing both Tweedles Dum and Dee, and Lucy Reed as Alice (pictured right, with Paul).
Paul says: ‘I’ve often wondered over the years why someone didn’t do it, and I came to the conclusion that it’s uneconomical.
‘The Easter period holiday-wise, to get children in, is remarkably short.
‘This time, spread around the country you’ve got a period of about three-and-a-half weeks, and even that’s pushing the boat out a bit financially when you risk a pantomime. But this guy Jamie who runs the Magic Bean production company, he came up with something that’s quite extraordinary.
‘I was very: “Should we do this?” But I am so glad we did, and so is Debbie.
‘He’s taken two classic books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and merged the script by incorporating a lot of the Lewis Carroll nonsense – it comes from a time when people were writing a lot of nonsense poems.
‘This is about as good as you’re going to get, it’s almost like a West End production.’
‘Lucy, who plays Alice, she looks like Alice from the books, and not only that, this kid can sing.
‘And there’s Laura (pictured bottom right) playing the butterfly – we all go to the wings to hear her song. Leon as the Queen of Hearts, and Jasette as the Cheshire Cat – they’re a great company.’
The show opened in Gravesend last week.
‘Kids are loving it, the reaction has been enormous,’ he enthuses. ‘We’ve only done three or four shows, but they’re raving about it, much more than any other panto I’ve been in.
‘It’s for the kids, but it’s for the kid in everybody out there, if you’re a misery guts then don’t bother coming.
‘I don’t get these actors who say: “Oh, they’re such hard work. Like hell are they – they’re a party, and this madness we’re involved in now, it is a party. I do things on the basis: “Do I like them? Are they different? Is this going to enrich my life?”’
After he wraps up the pantomime, Paul is already planning going back on tour after a successful ‘farewell tour’ last year.
‘The farewell tour came about because the one before was Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow, and the manager came along and said we need another silly title.
‘So I looked at the Rolling Stones at all these guys who’ve been having farewell tours for years, so I called it My First Farewell Tour.
‘The next one might be the Debbie McGee shoe fund tour, but we’re already booked into the autumn.’
The magician says he found that shaking up his act has given his show a new lease of life, comparing it to other performers such as comedians and musicians, who will play and hone the same material over the years.
‘I did that,’ he says, ‘then last year I decided to go boomph! Cut and change the whole show completely.
‘I did it for an RNLI concert I do every two years, and it was amazing, the reaction was enormous.
‘So much so on the social media feeds, which is now where the best critics are – they’re no longer relying on somebody who goes to a show every night – real people are writing exactly how they felt, that really built the audiences up. It felt good – the only complaints I got were from magicians who wanted to see me do the routines which for some reason, I had developed a name for.’
Computing and social media is something that Paul has long had an interest in – he prides himself on being an early adopter.
‘Debbie thought I was quite mad when I got into computing, but then she’s always thought that. I used to write in HTML code and all that, and it was quite fun. I’m very much a tomorrow guy. I use all of them, Skype and all that.’
Warming to his theme, Paul recalls a recent incident where he was accused in the national media of saying he would never go to Scotland again if they voted ‘yes’ in the upcoming referendum.
‘I would never say that, I love Scotland,’ he says. ‘I don’t even know where they got that from. A live radio interview or a live TV interview is almost the only place you can believe what is happening nowadays.
‘Even that will be unbelievable in the future because of things that started in Forrest Gump where they took a photo of a woman out and put Tom Hanks in.
‘In the future you will not be able to believe that is David Cameron talking unless you’re in the same room. But then if you go back 20 years, I saw a full 3D hologram projection and Donald Duck was standing four feet from me singing Three Caballeros.
‘I’m always looking at those advances in technology.’
Paul is appearing in Alice in Wonderland at the Kings Theatre at 7pm on April 16 and 2pm and 5.30pm on April 17. Tickets from £12 for children, £14 for adults. Go to kings-southsea.com or call (023) 9282 8282.