Meeting Little Chalfont magician Tom Elderfield
PUBLISHED: 12:08 01 November 2016 | UPDATED: 12:08 01 November 2016
It's a magical mystery tour for Sandra Smith as she puts her cards on the table during a visit to a Buckinghamshire teenager's home
Within minutes of arriving at Tom Elderfield’s home in Little Chalfont, I’m speechless. Actually, gobsmacked would be a more accurate, if less sophisticated, description. Inside my head, and knocking on the door of logic are a multitude of exclamations: Oh my God! Impossible! No way! But my view is clear and, despite this being 8pm on a Saturday evening, I have yet to indulge in a glass of wine. Still, my rational understanding of the world – including gravity – has been thrown into chaos because just inches from where I’m sitting, I am witnessing this young showman apparently levitate several inches from the floor.
“I’m just a normal guy doing magic tricks,” Tom grins, taking in his stride my jaw dropping reaction as he stops levitating and settles on a sofa opposite. “I like to amaze people and have fun. If they are enjoying it, I’m enjoying it. This puts me on the same level as my audience.”
Tom’s professionalism and stage presence exceed his teenage years. Indeed, it is his engaging manner which includes a flair for entertaining that brought him attention at school.
“My grandfather did tricks and was part of the Magic Circle. When I was about 13 during a tidy of the loft, we found a black box which grandad had made himself. You put it on your head, open a door so people can see you then spin it round and when you open the door again your head has vanished. This intrigued me and I could see how it worked.
“I loved being on stage and did a year run as an extra in Oliver. At Amersham School I wasn’t a cool kid, more annoying than anything. I started doing simple tricks. I levitated and friends called their mates to see. I liked people watching me so thought I’d look into this more and bought some decks of cards.”
Spending hours at home practising, Tom soon learned that standard playing cards’ tendency to stick renders them unsuitable for magic. Packs from the US Playing Card Company, an air cushioned finish enabling them to glide, provided the solution.
Tom is flush with amusing patter. And, it seems, an ability to read my mind.
“Would you like to see a card trick?” he wonders, simultaneously reaching a pack from his pocket.
I watch closely as he asks me to inspect a £2 coin. Yes, it’s genuine. Now he’s pushing it through a pack of cards, over and over again. Maybe this isn’t a real pack of cards, he teases, perhaps the box is empty. So he opens the lid and out slides a solid piece of metal that clunks onto the table. “How on earth?” I splutter.
“The first rule of magic is to keep your secret,” Tom responds before telling me about his success with the Magic Circle’s Young Magicians Club.
“I was part of the YMC from the age of 15 then at 17 I became a mentor, chatting to young magicians and making them comfortable. They have a Junior Day every year. I hate competitions, being judged against other people, but friends persuaded me to take part and I won! At 18 you have to go for an interview and audition, performing a ten minute piece in front of other magicians. We have meetings each Monday evening. I’m always one of the youngest people there. Others, in their nineties, are so wise.”
Tricks of the trade
Tom has always been willing to share his magic, wherever he happens to be. In 2014 whilst on a Street Kids Direct charity mission he entertained children in Honduras and the following year, during a World Challenge expedition to Africa made sure he always had a pack of cards to hand.
How easily did he acclimatise to performing in front of larger audiences?
“I studied Drama at A Level and thanks to that went into gigs (weddings, birthday parties, corporate events) with confidence. It was another performing platform but still a hobby. I thought it was hilarious that people paid me. I assumed at some point I’d get a job and magic would just be pocket money.”
But then Tom began to cultivate his skill via an American magician, Shin Lim.
“Things began to change when I started talking to Shin. It’s like having a teacher at school help you. I learned a lot and developed enough good ideas that I teamed up with Murphy’s Magic in the US who asked to see some ideas then flew me out to California for 10 days where I was filmed showing people tricks.”
At this point Tom realised magic could become his way of making a living.
“When I got back I created an Instagram account and shared my tricks and ideas online. I wanted to be seen as a kid who went around doing magic. I’d film myself in Barclays making pens vanish, and upload it onto Instagram. Then Murphy’s promoted my name and other magicians found out about me.”
One of the most familiar and respected of his fellow professionals is Dynamo, whom Tom met at the Blackpool Magic Convention, the world’s biggest magic festival. “We spent the evening just chatting and over time became friends. He is a genuinely nice guy who cares about the future of magic.”
This year Tom helped out backstage at Dynamo’s UK shows and will shortly be working with the award winning magician during a tour of Australia.
As I hear about reinventing old tricks and conjuring up new ones (he’d like to turn a Nando’s chick into a real one) Tom reaches for another pack of cards and launches into one final stunt. I choose a card (Jack of diamonds) which is replaced, face down in the pack, only for Tom to fan the cards and reveal mine, the back of which has magically changed from blue to red. Impressive eh? Then he places my card face down on the table and insists the trick didn’t go as smoothly as planned.
So I choose another (8 of hearts) which is returned to the pack. This time as Tom fans the cards, there is no sign of a red one.
“This sometimes happens,” he apologises and fans again. Still no red card. I smile sympathetically. Foolish me. Tom is a better actor than I’d realised.
“Sorry, I seem to have lost your card, unless of course...” Then he picks up the red card which has been lying, untouched, on the table in front of us, turning it over to reveal my Jack of diamonds has miraculously morphed into the 8 of hearts.
What a magical evening. Not only have I been treated to my own close up show, Tom is also vibrant company and admirably humble.
“It’s extremely rare for a magician to leave school and go into magic. I’m in a privileged position. Sitting around at home makes you feel like you’re living a standard life. When you do a trick you end up doing something magical yourself, you fool yourself. Whether they are the richest banker or a homeless kid in Latin America, you can show them all the same thing; there’s happiness in sharing a moment with others.”
Find out more
Tom was The Magic Circle’s ‘Young Close-up Magician of the Year’ in 2014. You can see Tom in action on YouTube (there’s a great but easy guide to how to make a pack of cards appear to open itself) and discover more at tomelderfield.com.