MORE THAN A WOMAN... Fay Presto Counts the Queen and Madonna among Her Fans, but the Woman Who First Devised 'Street Magic' Was Once Shunned by Her Fellow Magicians for Her Transsexuality

By Wiltshire, Jo | The Mail on Sunday (London, England), March 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

MORE THAN A WOMAN... Fay Presto Counts the Queen and Madonna among Her Fans, but the Woman Who First Devised 'Street Magic' Was Once Shunned by Her Fellow Magicians for Her Transsexuality


Wiltshire, Jo, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)


Byline: JO WILTSHIRE

At last June's Party at the Palace to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee, Fay Presto had been asked - along with a host of other magicians - to perform tricks among the audience. During rehearsals, she watched as, one by one, the stars took to the stage. First up was Rod Stewart. 'Client of mine,' whispered Presto, to her assembled colleagues. Then Cliff Richard went on to practise his set. 'Client of mine,' she said, again. Then it was Paul McCartney. 'Client...' she began, to a chorus of 'Yeah, yeah,' from the other magicians.

'But then Paul McCartney stopped in the middle of his sound check,' she recalls. 'He walked down to the front of the stage and said to me, "Fay Presto, you're a bloody genius".' She shakes her head in disbelief. 'To have someone like him come up to you in front of your peer group and say that - it's very flattering.' But Presto shouldn't be so surprised. After all, she has been performing her jaw-dropping tricks at glamorous celebrity parties and in the homes of the world's most famous stars for many years.

The Prince of Wales, himself a member of The Magic Circle, is a big fan, and Presto has entertained both Princess Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles. The Queen has invited her, on several occasions, to perform at Windsor Castle.

She has put on a show at 10 Downing Street, and the list of her show business fans, from Madonna to Michael Caine, is endless.

They all love Presto's simple but stunning up-close magic that leaves her audience open-mouthed and unable to stop talking about it for weeks: pushing a wine bottle through a solid wooden table; pouring water from a newspaper that has been ripped up in front of their eyes; or boring a hole in a pound coin with a cigarette.

'I was doing a party at Sting's house,' she remembers. 'And at one table, there was Billy Connolly, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman and Elton John - and they were all applauding me. Can you believe that?' She sounds starstruck, but the truth is that these anecdotes are a way to reassure herself that she must be good, and that she is accepted. Although she has for many years been resident magician at London's exclusive Langan's Brasserie, and also runs a team of in-house magicians at Marco Pierre White's Criterion restaurant, she is possibly the most successful and sought-after magician never to have made a name for herself on television. Why not? Possibly because, for the past 16 years, she has fought to be accepted for what she is - a female magician - and not what she was: Oliver Winter, one of four brothers born to an East End tailor.

Presto, 54, wishes that people would get over the sex-change issue. She exudes a charisma that would make her a natural for television, but it seems that her transsexuality has prevented her becoming a presence in our living rooms. She has made guest appearances on Emmerdale and in the yet-to-be-distributed British film Mad Dogs, and when she appeared on Wogan some years ago the switchboards were jammed with messages of support. But that is as far as it went. Does she encounter prejudice?

'Yes, a huge amount,' she says. Is that why she's not on TV? 'I don't know. I'm surprised I've never found myself doing Celebrity Squares, or Ready Steady Cook. Ten years ago, I said, "Let's take a camera crew out on the streets and do magic in the bus queues and the fish and chip shops." The TV?roducers said, "Don't be silly, that would never work. Magicians have to be in a studio, with dancing girls." American magician David Blaine must have been in short trousers then, and now street magic is everywhere. I was before my time.' A few years ago, Presto appeared in a BBC?40 Minutes documentary.

After it aired, she received 600 letters of support, and the channel had its biggest-ever response to any 40 Minutes programme.

'I had had offers to make TV shows that portrayed me as a bit of a freak, but I didn't want that. …

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