A young lawyer who has grown up in dark arts
Chris Mcgeever is a Cambridge graduate, a North Londoner and a barrister – an impressive biography but nothing out of the ordinary, it would seem. By day, he is sent to County Courts to advocate and take instruction on civil claims. Before we meet, I Google ‘Chris McGeever barrister’ but this reveals nothing of his identity. No personal website detailing his practice areas. “It helps to be elusive for the mysterious nature of the job,” he tells me with a wry smile. The job he speaks of is magic. And the Magic Circle he rolls in is not the one of London’s leading commercial barristers’ chambers, rather the elite organisation of illusionists and conjurers around the world.
The dark-haired, dark-eyed 26-year-old wears a cool demeanour as he leans forward and nostalgically recounts being drawn into magic as a four-year-old boy watching illusionist David Copperfield on TV. “For Christmas that year, my parents bought me a magic set and I taught myself ever since.” With no mentor or direction, he dedicated himself to reading library books on magic and started practising card tricks. He soon became determined to broaden his repertoire “because card tricks are a bit of a cliché”. When practising mind-reading, what he describes as “the most credible form of magic”, on schoolmates, he thrived on their reaction.
“As a magician, you have to be OK with solitude but you have to be a people person too – performing and being the centre of attention. This always came very naturally to me. I’ve never had stage fright.”
The duality of his character does not surprise me. He has a quiet confidence about him but is, at the same time, charmingly modest when quizzed about the Magic Circle’s rigorous joining process, which requires the applicant be recommended by two existing members. He casually mentions his “luck” at being recommended by the Head of the Young Magician’s Club and the Head of the Magic Circle before joining the prestigious community as the youngest ever member at age 18.
Though Chris dabbles in the grandeur of stage magic, his realm of comfort is close-up magic at tables, a domain he deems more convincing, interactive and sensitive in style. At corporate and private events, he gauges audience reaction when oscillating between card tricks, illusions and mind-reading. He may ask someone to concentrate on any word before correctly guessing it. Or convert a palmful of borrowed twenty pound notes into lottery tickets with a mere sleight of hand. Or make someone’s engagement ring disappear and reappear in an unimaginable place without budging from his spot. What he really enjoys though is the genuine excitement of his audience. “Being on this side of the fence has dampened the excitement for me when watching magic shows,” he explains. He excitedly describes the satisfaction of leaving his audience in a state of wonder and animated murmurs. “Provided someone believes what I’m doing is impossible, then I’ve done the job well.”
The pitch and frequency of oohs and aahs his art evokes are highly dependent on his audience. He finds middle-aged men are often the toughest crowd. “Trying to convince someone you can read their mind can be something quite intrusive – there are people that may feel threatened and believe you have nefarious intentions. And there are those that may feel inadequate or offended by something they cannot explain, which is not my intention at all,” he says earnestly before shrugging with a relaxed smile. “You can’t win over everyone.”
Chris’ comfort in solitude aids not only the mastery of new illusions through ardent reading, but also his approach to the sub-culture that is the Magic Circle. Though many of his friends are magicians, he makes a conscious effort to keep his distance from the circle and all the events it hosts. No conventions. No weekly meetings. No subscriptions to the “samey” industry magazines. Chris prefers to stay out of it and retain his uniqueness. He would rather not fall prey to peer pressure or “the thinking trap of what good magic is”. It is clear that he has taken the society’s motto, ‘indocilis privata loqui,’ Latin for ‘not apt to disclose secrets’, literally in a fierce protectiveness over his art. He shrewdly adds that his reluctance to perform in front of fellow magicians is a deliberate isolation “to avoid them stealing my tricks”. He says: “There is camaraderie with other magicians but it’s not all hunky-dory – there is also rivalry and jealousy.”
His comfort in addressing an audience, on the other hand, feeds his strength in both advocacy and magic. But his confidence is devoid of the arrogance or irritability you might expect from a seasoned performer. It is all part of the allure of his calm, unruffled composure juxtaposed to the extraordinary of what he does.
Chris is fiercely loyal to the covert nature of magic – out of both principle and commercial smartness. “The cardinal rule of the industry is to never explain to the audience how it works,” he says assuredly. And he has never been tempted. Would he teach his future children if they were interested? He pauses thoughtfully and says he would not force it on them. “Plus, I wouldn’t necessarily want to increase competition,” he chuckles.
As for fluidity between his two contrasting jobs, he admits there are transferable elements – mostly mind-reading skills that manifest as sales tactics when trying to convince people who are on the fence.
What is most impressive though is how Chris balances the legislative, fact-based landscape of law with the enigmatic, boundary-pushing nature of magic. He is quick to discard the prospect of being a full-time magician. Magic is his “creative outlet” – a form of escapism and doing it for a living would be “too solitary”. As it stands, he says: “I feel lucky to be paid to do something I really love”.