As an heir of a British financial family, Drummond Money-Coutts (also known as DMC) should have been a money man, or an intrepid voyager, considering his father Lord Latymer sailed single-handedly across the Atlantic Ocean in 2005, but he chose to chart a unique course that made him a magic man, enchanting audiences with sleight of hand and acuity of mind.
As a conjurer he can do anything from performing simple-looking card tricks to pulling off a series of death-defying stunts on the telly; he is someone who can crystal gaze at the human intellect and fathom its little known secrets. Call him a magician or a mentalist, he casts spells on his audience with his fluid and spontaneous on-stage presence and performance.
The intrigue of magic is not easy to understand. It traverses different realms of the human psyche and who better than the man of the moment himself to explain the intrigue of magic, its many layers and why magic shows are an unparalleled form of entertainment to audiences across the world.
The thrill that turned the tide
The first thing that strikes us about Money-Coutts is the manner in which he broke the tradition of following a family vocation and decided, when he was just eight years old, that he would be a magician. It was a chance visit to a magic shop at that tender age that “fixed the compass of his life just like that.”
As a child, Money-Coutts was captivated by the prospect of magic making anything possible and giving life a free hand without constraints. The wondrous elements of magic and the possibility of exploring it himself seized him in that moment of epiphany when he walked into the oldest magic store in London (called ‘Davenports’ – a fourth generation magic shop that had existed for more than a century) with his father and realised that he too could learn to perform magic.
“As we walked inside, I suddenly realised that I could in fact learn to perform magic, and in doing so I could give other people that same intoxicating experience. As I stood there staring at all the many mystical props and old magic books around me, my father says that I turned to him and asked, ‘But if I can make people feel like that, why would I do anything else with my life?’ Thus, an interest became an obsession and then a passion, and now, it is a profession that has taken him across the world to more than 52 countries, intoxicating audiences with everything from card games to street magic in places he has visited to some seriously dangerous acts of dare.
Art or science?
The question whether magic belongs to the right hemisphere of the brain or the left is as old as the hills. It is a craft that many consider involves ‘hoodwinking’ and several others believe works within a scientific framework. Which of the two is true? Let’s hear it from the master performer himself who in the most eloquent manner avows that it can be both at the same time.
“I believe it was Einstein who wrote, ‘All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.’ If you were to take a magic performance that a master magician has perfected for 20 years, there is no question that it should feel like a seamless, smooth and effortless piece of art to the audience. However, the master magician himself will have spent many hundreds of hours studying and analysing his words, gestures and movements, much like a meticulous science experiment. No question, there is deep science within all great art and great art within all deep science, and I feel that magic is the perfect embodiment of that.”
Expanding on the scope of magic and the different levels ranging from the primitive tricks that would take seconds to learn to the most advanced acts, Money-Coutts compares magic to music, a comparison that elevates his craft from the fantastic realms to the dulcet domains of aesthetic experience. “Nobody is born with the ability to play complex piano scales, chords and arpeggios … but they are born with the passion and commitment required to sacrifice the years (perhaps even decades) to develop and refine those complicated movements. In magic, I believe that the innate passion and dedication that any great performer must have is just the same. No question, the most capable magicians alive today could all sit alongside the greatest concert pianists, violinists or guitarists when it comes to sheer skill and ability.”
Magic and mentalism
It is interesting that the tricks that once were broadly called ‘magic’ where the magician summoned invisible things or performed vanishing acts has now found a new genre – mentalism, where mind reading takes centre stage and it cognises the thoughts and feelings of the audience to unravel the mysteries of obscure human faculties. Magic and mentalism – are they two different things? Is one illusion and the other psychology?
Money-Coutts asserts that although many magicians will see a distinction between genres, to him it’s all the same thing. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a silver coin vanishing from a coffee cup, a playing card changing from one value to another, or me telling you the name of your favourite grandparent – it’s all the same core experience. In terms of the ingredients to a magic performance, there will always be a carefully balanced blend of psychology, illusion, sleight-of-hand and misdirection, just in different quantities.” His statement establishes the fact that to a true artist, genres are mere extensions of a singular interest that at some point in time becomes a passion.
However, it is salient that the response of the audience to the same piece of magic can be very different based on their age, culture and background. In a language that reflects his fluent poetic sensibilities, Money-Coutts says, “In that sense magic is just like love; a thousand different people will have a thousand different ways that they will try to explain it to you, each of them absolutely correct and valid in their own unique and wonderful way.”
It is all about perception, isn’t it, we explore further, and the philosopher in Money-Coutts sneakily surfaces giving us a ringside view of what makes magic so appealing to human minds. “Perception is everything. Just as Wayne Dyer said, ‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,’ and I believe this more passionately than almost anything. It is how we each choose to look at this world that defines the lives that each of us will experience. We each carry our own blueprints and filters for the world and the people around us—interpreting everything in our own unique ways—and the interpretation of magic is no different.”
Defying death and overcoming fear
Even as the discourse on magic and its intricate aspects seemed absorbing and hard to let go, it was impossible to blink at his stupendous accomplishments, and not have a conversation about his iconic Netflix series Death by Magic. For the unacquainted, Death by Magic is a reality television show that premiered in 2018 and it “features Money-Coutts researching the myths and legends behind magic tricks and stunts that allegedly led to a performer’s death.”
It was a remarkable journey, he says, one which exposed him to dangers of different sorts. Surely, only an intrepid and gritty soul with oodles of confidence could have possibly undertaken the stunts that he describes as a “unique cocktail of dangers.”
“There are far too many crazy stories about what happened off-camera on that show, and I was incredibly lucky to get to the end of filming without any lasting injuries. I had to be treated by paramedics after three out of the eight stunts, and on the two stunts that involved fire I suffered huge accidents in both rehearsals. There’s nothing in this world that could convince me to film another series like it.” Those are words reflective of the deep love of life and the innate fear of death that lurk in human hearts, despite all the daredevilry one may display in pursuit of passion and perfection.
Although the fear factor has abated after his multiple exposures to dangers during the series, certain fears linger leaving a continued sense of discomfort, and the only way to overcome them is by doing it again and again in familiar settings. “Flying back and forth from London to Los Angeles at the time, I did start to develop a discomfort with flying in airplanes, and so the moment we wrapped on the show I travelled with a friend to Portugal and I committed to qualifying as a skydiver, jumping out of an airplane again and again until that fear of flying left my body. It took almost 40 jumps, but I’m pleased to say the treatment was a complete success.”
Those are the bigger fears. How about the little nerves that every performer feels when he is on stage? To this, Money-Coutts says with a verbal flourish, which has now become a signature style, “There are always nerves when trying something new and unfamiliar. I never shy away from things going wrong from time to time. Almost everything I do on stage is incredibly layered and complicated to achieve, and isn’t a juggling act always much more impressive when the juggler drops one or two balls before the big finish?”
The master wizard, who began his journey with a dream to intoxicate people with his magic, is now on a mission to bring happiness to the world with his art. He now traverses new expanses – from refugee camps to underprivileged communities – to spread smiles and make a difference. That, in the larger scheme of things, is the purpose of all art – to bring the magic of joy in people’s lives. And as Money-Coutts quoted British children’s author Roald Dahl in a different context, “Only those that don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
Drummond Money-Coutts will perform at Mandarin Oriental Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi.
Friday – 7:30 PM
Saturday – 7:30 PM
Sunday – 7:30 PM