Do I like this Not a lot! Paul Daniels describes the horror of slicing off a finger and the fear he can't make disappear – that he's lost his magic touch
Given the mess he’s made of his fingers, it’s just as well Paul Daniels wasn’t sawing his wife, the lovely Debbie McGee, in two when his hand slipped.
Instead, he was in his garden shed on New Year’s Day making — would you believe — a new safety guard for his circular table saw.
The wood snapped, the blade kept spinning and, before you could say ‘Abracadabra!’ the fingers on his left hand were . . . well, substantially smaller.
Paul Daniels with his mangled fingers and that circular saw which slashed his forefinger, mangled his ring finger down to below the nail and removed the pad on his little finger
‘The pain was terrible,’ he says. ‘Thankfully, I don’t panic. I go completely the opposite — icy cold mentally — and everything goes in slow motion.
'I yanked my hand out and clenched my fist, slamming it to my chest just in case it was gushing blood. I didn’t look at it. I couldn’t. I thumped the off switch with my right hand and ran.
‘Coupled with the fact it hurt like hell, my first thought was: “This could be the end of magic.”’
His fear was justified. The saw had slashed his forefinger, mangled his ring finger down to below the nail and removed the pad on his little finger. Paul’s ring finger is crucial to a secret sleight of hand that makes many of his card tricks possible. Surgeons were unable to save it.
‘In some ways it’s harder now as I’m beginning to realise all the things I can’t do,’ says Paul.
‘Yesterday morning I was cleaning my teeth and said to Debbie: “Oh, I won’t be able to do that trick any more.” It’s the trick I’m very well known for in the magic world of being able to make you pick any card — and knowing which card you’ve chosen.
‘That was always my best weapon in card magic.’
He looks so very sad when he says this that it’s impossible for your heart not to go out to him. Add to this the fact that he’s hardly slept these past weeks, partly due to pain but mostly worry, and looks every one of his 73 years.
Today, Paul’s hand is hideously swollen and scarred. During the days of his Paul Daniels Magic Show on the BBC, it was insured for 1 million.
But those days and his insurance have long since lapsed.
When we meet at his Thames-side home in Wargrave, Berkshire, his hand is covered with a woolly glove. The bandages were removed a few days earlier, but he couldn’t bring himself to actually look at it until this morning.
Paul and Debbie have been together for 33 years now and – despite chat show host Caroline Aherne's famous 'So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels' quip – share a deep bond
‘I calmed myself down before,’ he says. ‘I said to myself: “This is not what you’re used to seeing, but it’s time to move on.”
'I looked down and thought: “Well it’s a bit swollen, but the consultant said that would go down. So this is it. This is what I am now.’
Paul’s eyes, whether from unshed tears or tiredness, are red-rimmed now. I realise that accepting his injury has been enormously difficult.
‘Yes,’ he nods. ‘It was a very big thing. Suddenly I just started to think about our soldiers. Those lads not only have my deepest sympathy, but they have my deepest admiration — just suffering the bit I’ve lost and knowing how it’s affected my life.
‘At least I’ll be able to adapt and continue working.’
Paul intends to push ahead with a planned 26-date UK tour, due to begin in Portsmouth on February 22.
In truth, it’s a miracle at all he’s even contemplating work. Indeed, if he hadn’t remained so astonishingly calm and sought medical attention within the hour goodness knows how severe the damage would be.
Debbie, you see, was away from home working on her local live radio show when the accident happened.
‘I worked out that, this being January 1 before 11am, there weren’t going to be a lot of ambulances around and I’d probably have to wake the neighbours up — so I ran for the car to drive to a hospital in Henley,’ says Paul, who drives an automatic Prius Hybrid.
‘I shoved the plug in, leaned over to slam it into reverse with my right hand then into drive, thinking: “Just get there as quick as you can.” When I had to slow down because there was traffic on the country lanes, I was just thinking: “Oh my Lordie, this is hurting. Get out of my way.”
‘In Henley itself, at the traffic lights, a car stopped in front of me. I dived out of the car, ran forward and said: “Can you get out of my way I’m bleeding. I’ve got to get to the hospital.”
‘The lady just jumped out of her car and ran round to the passenger side away from me. I guess she was nervous. I just wanted to get there and get it fixed. I might have been crying. I can’t remember.
‘So I went up on the pavement on the left around her and through the lights. I got to Townlands (the minor injuries unit), parked the car slap up outside the door and ran in. They could see my hand was busted by a saw.’
Paul intends to push ahead with a planned 26-date UK tour, due to begin on February 22
Staff gave Paul gas to ease the pain and immediately called an ambulance to take him to a plastic surgery unit at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough.
‘They kept saying: “Breathe, this will take the pain away.” It did. /01/27/article-2092907-002C7A3700000258-470_634x450.jpg” width=”634″ height=”450″ alt=”Paul's a relentlessly optimistic Yorkshireman with an indefatigable spirit – annoyingly so at times. Debbie says he can be 'a handful'” class=”blkBorder” />
Paul's a relentlessly optimistic Yorkshireman with an indefatigable spirit – annoyingly so at times. Debbie says he can be 'a handful'
Debbie covered him with a duvet and made a strong cup of tea with lots of sugar. She says it seemed to take a lifetime to stop him shaking.
‘That was my low point,’ he says. ‘That and the realisation sometimes: “Oh my God, why can’t I do the stuff I did before” No matter what it is — picking up a screwdriver or typing.
'When you’re typing you can’t work out why the letter hadn’t appeared on the screen because my brain hasn’t worked out yet that the top of my finger isn’t there so I’m not reaching the key — I just think I’m reaching it.
‘At the moment I can feel the pad of the finger, which isn’t there. It feels like it’s cut. I haven’t touched a pack of cards yet, but I will — I will.’
But Paul’s a relentlessly optimistic Yorkshireman with an indefatigable spirit — annoyingly so at times. Debbie tells me he can be ‘a handful’.
‘He’s got so much drive you need a lot of energy to keep up with him,’ she says.
‘He jokes all the time. I do have moments when I say, “Look, it’s 9pm, I actually want to watch Midsomer Murders. Shut up.”
‘But seeing him like this is probably one of the worst things we’ve had to go through and probably still are going through. I am very protective of him. He’s got this image of being brash because of his shows, but he really is a kind person.
‘Throughout all of this I worry how he’s going to cope. You’re in shock for the first ten days and that’s absolutely awful. When you come out of that every day there’s a hurdle to climb over and you have your up-and-down days.’
‘Lots,’ she says. ‘When I see his hand I just feel sad.’
Paul had his heart set on magic from the age of 11 when, during a holiday, he read a book called How To Entertain At Parties. A short, painfully shy teenager with a fast-receding hairline, magic became his passport to a popularity of sorts.
His brand of entertainment, though, was rather like Marmite. You liked it or you didn’t. Personally, I didn’t, but I find myself warming to this man.
Performing is part of his DNA. He tried to retire when his TV series finished in the Nineties, but it didn’t suit him.
‘I just like doing stuff. I don’t like leisure,’ he says.
‘All I ever wanted to be was a professional magician. I’ve never been much of a social animal — I guess I’m still not. I’m not a mixer at all, but magic is fabulous in that you can’t do it on your own.’
With which he disappears into the kitchen to retrieve some cards to demonstrate the first trick he learned. The cards are covered in numbers.
‘Pick a number, any number.’
And it’s pitiful to see how much effort it takes to hold the cards. But he pushes on.
‘Is it a double number’ Yes. ‘55’ Yes.
‘Give me another week-and-a-half at the most and I’ll go through everything I do, make a note, “right, relearn that one, relearn that one” and change hands.’
It will be a painful process, but given his passion for magic and determination to succeed, one he will surely master.
To borrow his favourite catchphrase — ‘You’ll like this, not a lot, but you’ll like this.’