YOU may have seen Benoit Compin around. You may even have been entertained by him. He’s The French Magician.
“That’s what people call me,” laughs the 30-year-old, of Solly Street, city centre. “‘Hey, you’re The French magician, aren’t you?’ And I guess I am. When I’m out I’m always getting recognised and asked to do a trick. It feels like people have taken to me.”
Perhaps it’s the casual way he does his card illusions. Perhaps it’s the ease with which he makes coins appear. Perhaps it’s just his trademark hat and Gallic finesse.
But he’s right. It seems they really have. Because just a year after leaving a waiting job to brave the choppy business of entertainment, Benoit is finding life as a pro magician is easy as AB(ra)C(adabra).
This weekend he has performed for VIP guests attending a huge rock gig at Milton Keynes Bowl. This week he has an unprecedented nine gigs in six days across three cities. This month he has four videos being released online. And this year...well, he’s French, he shrugs, he doesn’t plan that far ahead but he’s nothing if not ambitious.
“Performing on TV isn’t my aim,” he says. “But I don’t rule it out. It’s nice when I get stopped in Sheffield. And I think being French does help – it gives people something to remember me by, so who knows about the future? I want a long career in magic.”
It hasn’t always looked like it would happen. Benoit, also known as Benoit Pierre Benz, had spent years learning his art after being inspired by a magician while part of a street theatre group at 17.
“Well,” he explains, “not exactly inspired – the guy was so bad I thought if audiences like him, I can make it work for me.”
But when he first arrived in Sheffield in 2005 to perfect his English (“if you want to be an entertainer, you need to speak English even in France”), he got somewhat sidetracked.
“I moved because I had a friend here,” he says. “I was only going to stay three months but I love it so much I stayed, but maybe I loved it too much – I was drinking every night, having a great time. I was working as a waiter but I was so often turning up late, they eventually said, ‘Okay, you just work part time from now on, just evenings’.”
And yet, in spite of his love of la bière, he continued to perform tricks to customers while working at Otto’s Moroccan Restaurant in Sharrow Vale Road, Sharrow.
“Then last year, I was 29,” he says. “I suddenly thought ‘S**t, I’m 30 next year, I need to be a magician by then’ and so I focused. I got enough gigs to cover myself money wise for two months and I quit waiting.”
He doesn’t do stage shows but works rooms, showing off tricks to little clusters of people at a time.
“It’s more intimate that way,” he says. “But even so it’s been hard because when you go full time you have to approach it as a business and that can drain your creativity. I didn’t have enough money some weeks to afford the bus fare from my old home in Fulwood to these free business classes in The Wicker so I was walking, but, of course, it was worth it.”
And, after performing everywhere from nightclubs such as The Leadmill to restaurants like Ego Mediterranean, from weddings to corporate functions, he says getting spotted in the city is something of a reward.
“Of course, I always do a trick when people ask,” he says. “Why wouldn’t I? Being a magician is not just a job, it’s who I am. I love astounding people so, yes, I have my coins and cards wherever I go.”
Now, buoyed by all those bookings, he’s started advertising in Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham.
It may not be long before Benoit Compin is recognised walking down the street of those cities too.