Three months ago Naroop Singh could barely shuffle a deck of cards – let alone wow a packed pub with magic tricks.
The 36-year-old was at a low ebb, spending time at Middlesbrough’s Roseberry Park hospital, and was short on confidence.
But a pioneering new scheme to teach magic to help those with mental health conditions or learning disabilities has restored Naroop’s self esteem.
Magic Therapy was brought in after Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Trust advertised for volunteers last year.
The former salesman understandably did not want to dwell on what led to his stint in hospital, but waxed lyrical about how much the magic lessons have helped.
‘I went along with it but never thought I’d do it’
Naroop began magic therapy around three months ago.
Magicians from the Middlesbrough Magic Circle got involved in the scheme last year, and deliver regular tutorials focussed on basic tricks and skills.
The Middlesbrough man – who grew up in the centre of the town and later lived in Acklam – always had an interest in magic, but had no training at all.
“I’d seen about magic and heard about it, I liked it,” said Naroop.
“But the first time I ever did it was in this group. I could barely shuffle the pack when I picked them up but they went slow and taught me about it.
“Week by week I started getting sucked in to it. They explained to me that at the end of the sessions, I’d be able to do tricks.
“I went along with it but I never thought I’d do it.”
‘Some of the old patter is coming back’
As we talk Naroop takes out his cards, and places them on the table in the Devil’s Advocate pub on Borough Road, run by Gary Bainbridge, one of the magicians who volunteers in the group.
They had promised Naroop and others who take a keen interest that they would be able to showcase their skills in a show.
Thursday night was that night.
“The first trick I learned was the Gemini Twins, so basically, every card has a twin. An eight of clubs is twinned with the eight of spades, do you know what I mean?
“Then I learned this next one,” says Naroop, as he tells me to pick a card.
I do – the 10 of clubs – and he goes into magician mode.
“Through mystical Indian powers, I’m going to take your card in and out of the deck,” he says, as he turns over a five of hearts – not my card.
“That’s called an indicator card. Because it indicates I got it wrong.”
He turns over the next five cards – my 10 of clubs, and all the aces in the pack – and everyone applauds.
“I think a bit of my old salesman patter is starting to come back with it,” he smiles, as he shows me another trick in which he matches my card to one he’s written down and folded in the middle of the table.
“I’ve been practicing and practicing to get better. I can’t speak highly enough of everyone who’s helped.”
Eammon McClurey, the community health and learning disability nurse who has worked with Naroop and started the Magic Therapy scheme, said it had been more successful than even he’d hoped.
“Naroop was a bit nervous about coming along to the show tonight, but to see him standing and doing tricks in front of everyone is brilliant,” he said.
“I did magic and it’s something that gets you talking, builds your confidence.”
Neil Armstrong, of the Middlesbrough Circle of Magicians, is one of the people who has instructed Naroop and others.
“We’ve seen it make a massive difference to those people who want to engage with it,” said Neil.
“When I was younger, I was always impressed with someone who had a talent – for singing, playing an instrument, anything really. It was easy for them to meet people and make friends.
“Magic is like that too. We’ve worked with people who have drug and alcohol issues, and also those with mental health issues or a learning disability.
“Everyone reacts differently but we start seeing the confidence seeping back into people. You’ll see that with Naroop.
“The great thing about it is that we’re all volunteers. This hasn’t been tested forensically but we can see it works, and as we’re volunteers it’s costing the NHS nothing.
Tom Daws, who has just started a weekly magic residency at Central Park in Middlesbrough, said getting involved was easy – and has been rewarding.
“I saw an ad in the paper and decided to go for it, and it’s been a fantastic decision,” he said.
And Gary, who regularly wows Devil’s Advocate regulars with his magic, said: “Look, it’s unbelievable. I can’t believe how successful it’s been.
“The people we’re teaching magic too have got a lot out of it, but I think the volunteers have as well.
“Seeing how people get on – with their communication, their confidence – it’s incredible.”