Fay Presto Magician: the Drug I’m Hooked on is Applause

Susan de Muth in bed with Fay Presto: From glitzy parties back to my little flat, just like magic

Wednesday, 10 August 1994
Fay Presto is a magician. She lives in London.

NIGHT is the best time for magic. We all leave our problems behind and I can transport people to another place where that playing card I just tore up really has stuck itself back together again. It’s much harder to make that illusion hold in the cold light of day when the hideousness of life returns.

Apart from the innate human propensity to expect magic things to happen at night, the right kind of artificial light also helps a trick along. Proper lighting is essential – as it is in real life. How often have you been to the ladies’ on a big night out feeling just fine until you caught sight of yourself in the mirror, horribly illuminated in neon, and lost all your confidence?

Since I had a gender-swap operation several years ago I have fought for the right to be a real person, but nobody will let me forget my past. I’m a good magician, for God’s sake, but there’s always this curiosity, this prejudice that deprives me of opportunities – especially of gaining the social acceptability that comes with television appearances. The pain this has caused me has kept me awake in the past . . . but I’ve dealt with it now. And I no longer dream.

I work about three nights a week, mostly at private functions. I have a residency at Langan’s restaurant and do a lot of film premieres – they don’t know what to do with themselves at those glitzy parties. I peak around midnight and am on a high afterwards – I don’t drink so I go for beans on toast in a cafe to wind down. Now that I’ve got a mobile phone I can call up showbusiness friends who are also working late and arrange to meet.

Even if I’m staying in, my bedtime is still 4am. I’m very active at night: I recently completed a novel, which I started as therapy, bashing away at the word processor until I was so exhausted I’d just crash out. I never have trouble sleeping now unless the dawn chorus starts. I hate birds. I recently bought a New Age CD of waves breaking, thinking how nice it would be to drop off soothed by that sound – but it’s full of bloody seagulls]

It can be quite a culture shock coming home to my council flat after the glitzy events I go to. I used to have a portable ivory tower in the form of my old limo but it’s broken now. I also had a chauffeur, Vic, who was a motorcycle messenger with me back in the old days. Vic always rescued me when people were unkind. He works for someone else now. These days I drive myself home in my lovely Triumph Herald, which I can usually fix if it breaks down.

I’m not afraid to be out on my own at night. I walk tall and square. By the time I’m on my way home all the muggers are usually fast asleep anyway.

I was unlucky once, though – I was in the lift going up to my flat when a bloke stuck a knife in my ribs and asked for my purse. Using sleight of hand I hid my purse behind my back and emptied the contents of my handbag on the floor saying he could look for himself, I had no money. When he bent over I hit him on the head. I’ve always been courageous.

I’ve tried to make my bedroom as nice as possible – after all it is 50 per cent of my living space. I have a huge mirror, a proper silvered one that is kind, and a four-poster bed where William Stanley, my teddy bear, is waiting to cuddle me – though he usually ends up on the floor. I work abroad a lot and always take William Stanley with me to make a strange hotel room more friendly.

I never go to bed with a face on and I cleanse and moisturise every night. I don’t think it’s a bad face for 46, do you? Once in bed I run a few people through my mind. It’s a kind of prayer.

There are costumes all over the place in my bedroom and I keep my magic paraphernalia there. It does make me think about tricks when I’m going off to sleep and I suppose that would bother me if I saw it as work, but I don’t – it’s my life. The drug I’m hooked on is applause and you can’t buy a fix – you can only earn it. A spontaneous standing ovation is even better than great sex.

I’m quite used to sleeping alone. There is no love of my life – who could cope with it? I’m not interested in settling down. Mr Right would have to be a pretty special person.

(Photograph omitted)

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