The best part of being a magician is that a great deal of the time I not only feel like a secret agent but I live like one.
I sat across the green felt covered desk, bathed in the light from a single brass lamp. I looked into the gray eyes of the man sitting there as he finished filing his pipe from a leather pouch on the desk. I felt a swell of affection for this man who had sent me all over the world on adventures that had taken me into moments of great joy and even greater danger.
He looked up from his pipe filling activities and smiled a smile that never quite reached his eyes. “Well.” He said, in a mild voice; “That’s the job. If you want to take it you will need to be in Jamaica by Friday.” I returned his smile and said; “I’ll be there, what do I need to know?”
I suddenly abandoned my well-worn fantasy and reluctantly acknowledged that I wasn’t James Bond receiving a mission from M that would save the world. It was just me, Nick, on the phone with my agent Barry accepting another gig on a cruise ship. No saving the world, just two 45-minute shows. Darn.
Let me explain. Unlike many magicians I didn’t become a magician to become another Harry Houdini. It wasn’t like that for me at all. When I was eleven years old I went to the local cinema and caught ‘Dr. No’ the first James Bond. It changed my life. After seeing the movie, I found most of Ian Fleming’s 007 novels in my brother’s bookshelf and read them with the same intensity that Ricky Jay must have studied ‘A magician at the card table.’
I loved the gadgets and elegant tuxedos that were such a large part of Mr. Bond’s world. I craved those exotic locations scattered across the globe that Bond visited with a nonchalance that I began to practice on a daily basis. Nonchalance is hard to carry off at such an early age and my school friends just thought I was a little crazy—hey, I also performed elaborate card tricks. That is an even surer sign of craziness than talking to yourself.
When the second Bond movie ‘From Russia with Love’ was released I was sitting in the cinema for the very first showing. For me the most exciting part of the movie wasn’t the action scenes or the fighting. It was the incredible briefcase that Q had created for Bond. The attaché case was rigged to the hilt with tear gas canisters, hidden gold coins, special locks and best of all a secret knife that popped out from the side of the case. I lusted after that case with all my heart.
After returning from the cinema, I went up in the attic and retrieved an old discarded briefcase that had previously accompanied my father to his office in the City. Since I didn’t have a folding rifle or bug-detecting equipment I decided to put the magic props from my fledgling magic show inside the case. They looked pretty darn good in there.
Forty-five years later I am still carrying the latest version of that prototype case with me as I jet around the world. The case is now filled with very cool magic props and every amazing electronic item that has an Apple on it. James Bond would have killed for an iPhone in those Fleming books from the fifties. Even Q wouldn’t have believed what it could do.
My case is heavily gimmicked and contains 34 tricks inside it, as well as the electronics and it still passes as hand baggage. This case goes onstage with me every single show and even houses a concealed butterfly knife with which I slice a lemon in half on a twice nightly basis. There are no golden coins hidden in the lining of the case but there is a secret pocket that contains several $100 bills. Just in case.
I left school and became a full time magician and began the endless traveling that has so far characterized my life. I have managed to visit all those exotic backdrops featured in the Bond books and films. In fact I’m pretty sure I’ve been to scads of places that 007 never even knew existed. I am now truly as at home in Jamaica and Russia as I am at home in Las Vegas— maybe more so.
While I do sincerely love magic and the business of its performance, it is the vision of elegant espionage that has really fueled my life and lifestyles. Like all guiding influences, the memories that ignited my passion have faded over the years. I have finally realized, but steadfastly refuse to acknowledge, that I will never be James Bond. Just as other magicians have realized that they will never be Houdini or Dai Vernon. Life is tough.
The good news is that I do have a black leather case filled with cool gimmicks and gadgets that accompanies me as I travel. However I have reluctantly realized that I will probably never be asked to smuggle microfilm across enemy lines, concealed inside my ‘Devils Hank.’ I have never lost the desire to be asked to do so though. Without a dream you become an act instead of an artiste.
So that’s my story: if you bump into me in Rome or Venice walk up to me and introduce yourself. I will look you directly in the eyes and say; “My name is Lewin. Nick Lewin.”
The photo above, of me standing in front of the Cecil Hotel in Alexandria, Egypt has special significance. The Cecil was the official, unofficial home of the British Secret Service during the Second World War. My Grandfather spent time there….