While many entertainers might have fallen at the first hurdle on finding they are suffering from MS, Wayne Dobson is still making stage appearances – with a bit of magic. He talks to Steve Pratt.

MAGICIAN Wayne Dobson was starring in his first TV series when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His career was soaring, he was making a name for himself and a potentially debilitating illness was not something he was willing to face up to.

“It was obviously a massive blow, but I tended to put it at the back of my mind and thought, ‘if I don’t think about it, it doesn’t exist’,” he says. “It wasn’t that I denied it, I just didn’t want to talk about it. I just wanted to get on with things.

“I was also worried that if I told people – television people – they might think again about employing me. There was no point in telling at that point. I wasn’t being deceitful. I felt that sometimes, in television especially, they don’t want that sort of baggage.”

That was in 1989. More than two decades later he’s in a wheelchair and his condition has got worse, but he’s still performing, although not as much, and is a regular lecturer on the international magic circuit “I do quite a lot in America now and find they accept disability very well. It’s not the fact that people don’t want to accept it here, it’s that they don’t know how to, sometimes.

When I open my show I make sure I talk about it straight away and that puts people at their ease,” he says.

In fact, he mentions to me at the start of the interview that “I don’t do a lot of shows nowadays because I have MS and am in a wheelchair”.

This week, he’s one of the international magicians at the South Tyneside International Magic Festival 2010 in South Shields. He’ll be doing his act as well as An Audience With Wayne Dobson, which includes footage of him over the years, most of which hasn’t been seen before.

He likes attending magic conventions, getting together with colleagues from around the world, because “it’s like going back to the family”.

The North-East holds special memories for him. “What’s good for me coming to Tyneside is that I learnt my trade up there when I first started at 21,” he says. “I was doing the clubs in the North-East until I was 27. One of the stories I tell is about the Shoreline in South Shields, which I did late one Sunday night. It was a fairly tough place.”

DOBSON has learnt to adjust his act to suit his disability. “I have a carer with me, but I’ve always had the philosophy that you should only do what you’re good at and then you look good at everything you do,” he says.

“I know I can’t do certain things physically and won’t attempt them.

It’s a case of adjusting and re-choreographing the act and finding new methods. Necessity is the mother of invention. I do everything one-handed with my left. That’s got a bit weaker so I tend to do less now.”

Magic has been part of Dobson’s life since his early childhood. At 15 on a school trip to London he went into a magic shop and found it was like an Aladdin’s cave. He began working on a semi-professional basis at clubs in his hometown of Leicester.

After winning joint first prize for close-up magic at the International Brotherhood of Magicians British Ring Convention in 1977, he made his TV debut on Blue Peter. At 21, he turned professional.

The attraction of magic, he says, was that he could do something no one else could. “I was doing it at school and certain members of staff paid attention to me and that was part of what I liked. I developed a style, but never thought all those years later I would be starring in my own TV show.”

His blend of magic, fast-talking patter and humour earned him work as opening act on tours for performers including Freddie Starr and Shirley Bassey. He toured the US as support act for Engelbert Humperdinck and, back in the UK, he performed at the 1989 Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium.

Eventually, he was rewarded with his own TV series.

In 2004, the Magic Circle awarded him the Maskelyne, the highest honour in the world of magic, to mark his outstanding individual achievement.

If anything, his illness has made him more positive, although he recognises sufferers react in different ways. “People say to you, ‘you’re so brave’. I’m not really, it’s just the way I am. I want to get on with things, that’s my choice,” he says.

“But just because somebody does not get on with life when they’re disabled doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. That’s the way they are. All I say is that with the right attitude and right way of doing things, you can contribute to society. That’s what’s important, the feeling that you’ve made a contribution.

“People talk about good days and bad days – I tend to be 100 per cent all the time, although sometimes I do feel a little more tired than others.

There are occasions I go off and say, ‘why do I keep doing this? what’s it all about?’ But the next day you wake up and feel different.”

■ The magic festival gala shows are tonight and tomorrow at the Customs House, South Shields, at 8pm. Tickets 0191-454-1234.