A mother knows. But when we spoke to Sam Menezes, mother to Billy Menezes, the 13 year old up-and-coming magician and one half of Abracademy’s upcoming star YouTube duo, even we were surprised at how much she’d seen magic change Billy’s life.
You only have to watch Billy shuffle a deck of cards to know that there’s something special about him. The cards spin around in a blur whilst he looks you unblinkingly in the eye, plotting his next jaw dropping trick. But just how did Billy become so passionate about magic at such a young age? What caused him to stick with it, and how has it helped him to grow during those crucially formative years heading into teenage-hood?
What follows is a story of delight, commitment and personal growth, told by one proud mum.
Billy has such a talent for magic, and his passion for it is infectious. But when did Billy discover magic, and how did he take to it at first?
Billy was still at primary school when he discovered magic. It wasn’t a slow process whereby he developed an interest over time, it was literally overnight. An older child showed him a card trick and he was hooked. It was that simple.
What were your initial thoughts when Billy started learning magic?
I loved it. I'm a huge magic fan, I never want to know how anything is done!
Initially I thought the magic would be a phase, like Scouts, skateboarding and sailing had been. Billy loved to have a go at everything, and I always facilitated his interests, but nothing really stuck until the magic came along.
As with everything Billy has done, I encouraged him and supported him, but I really wasn’t prepared for the pure dedication and tenacity that he displayed. At first I didn’t really understand what he was doing, to me it just looked like he was constantly shuffling a deck of cards. But as he became more dexterous and his sleight of hand developed I realised the complexity of what he was doing. I felt incredibly proud that he had been so disciplined and had dedicated so much of his time into researching and practicing, and it had paid off.
Do you believe magic can be beneficial in the development of life skills in young people? If so, when did this become apparent with Billy?
Absolutely, as I said just the dedication and tenacity required are invaluable life skills for children to be developing at this age, but in addition Billy has developed a level of confidence and maturity way beyond his years.
Most magic lectures and workshops are geared towards adults, so he had to start operating in quite a grown up environment where there were different expectations as to how he would need to behave and interact. Billy always surprises me with his confidence when he approaches people to show them some magic, or goes to older magicians to ask questions about how best to perform a trick.
We’ve seen it ourselves - with the cards in his hands Billy can captivate an audience of adults without the slightest hesitation. At what stage in a child’s life do see learning magic to be most beneficial?
I genuinely don’t believe that any time is too soon. The younger the child the more they believe in magic, and as a parent you help them to develop that sense of wonder and to get them to start questioning: how did that happen, where did that come from? Children have naturally enquiring minds, and magic is a great vehicle to allow them to enhance that.
Do you see Billy’s passion for magic spilling over into other areas of his life?
As the child progresses and starts to understand the concept of a trick they start to wonder, as Billy did, how they can develop something similar, how they can create a particular effect, how they can customise tricks and make them their own. In Billys case he was never a big reader, yet upon discovering magic he became an avid reader of complex magic texts and the autobiographies of his favourite magicians.
In fact I can honestly say that magic seems to be something that Billy has managed to apply to all areas of the curriculum since starting secondary school. His skill with playing cards has made him confident with numbers, he is a keen student in drama and it has been noted by his teacher that he has a good sense of timing and a strong stage presence, and he has used his design and technology classes and science to think about creating magic effects and gimmicks. In english he has done various written and spoken projects on The Magic Circle and Houdini, and of course he obtained good grades in both because of the passion with which he wrote and delivered the assignments.
That’s what we love to hear! What would you say is Billy’s favourite thing about magic?
I think magic allows Billy to be the his own person. It's not a mainstream pursuit, it's quirky and different and I think that in a world where childhood is becoming so homogenised with computer games and social media dictating what is the norm for young people, Billy likes the freedom to express himself and be different in a way that makes him interesting and popular with his peers. However, if I were to ask Billy he would probably say that he likes to amaze people and make them happy, and he likes the fact that there are no limits. There is always something new to learn and there really are no boundaries with magic, if you can imagine it you can do it. There is no greater belief that you could arm your child with then that type of self belief and an anything is possible attitude to life.
Can you tell me about a time when you noticed a difference in Billy as a result of learning magic?
Billy's interest in magic started when he was 10, which any parent will tell you is a time of great change. It's hard to say what I can attribute to his interest in magic, suffice to say I firmly believe that the type of teenager he has become is because of his love of magic, and that's because he does what makes him happy.
As a parent, where can you see the benefits of children learning magic?
Well at a very basic level, but one which I think is a concern for all parents, it keeps them off the computer games and gets them socially active in the real world as opposed to the virtual world of gaming.
I believe that magic promotes self confidence and encourages an enquiring mind.
What keeps Billy interested in learning magic and motivated to continue in spite of all the modern day distractions?
With Billy it is a very organic process, and he is completely self motivated with his magic. The more he’s developing his magic skills the more adventurous he is getting in the type of magic that he wants to perform. He is involved with other young magicians who regularly meet up to discuss new developments and exchange ideas.
Abracademy, of course, is a wonderful source of learning and development.
The thing that parents mustn’t forget is that it’s not about teaching your child to become a magician when they grow up. No matter what skills, talents or interests your child has, all children will take something valuable away with them no matter how much of their childhood they dedicate to the pursuit of magic. For some children gaining a little more self confidence is a huge win, for others developing concentration skills and finding their fit at school may be enough. Magic is a very beautiful art form and once you believe in it, you will see it everywhere and in everything.
As Roald Dahl said “Those that don’t believe in magic will never find it”. Billy found it, and it’s changed his life.