x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 February 2018

Money & Me: 'I came to Dubai on holiday and conjured up a whole new career'

Briton Philip Nelson, aka Magic Phil, now earns a living as a children's entertainer and radio host

Philip Nelson, otherwise known as Magic Phil, a children’s entertainer, has a help me fund in the UK in case he ever lands in financial trouble. Antonie Robertson/The National
Philip Nelson, otherwise known as Magic Phil, a children’s entertainer, has a help me fund in the UK in case he ever lands in financial trouble. Antonie Robertson/The National

Philip Nelson came to Dubai from northern England on holiday five years ago, but stayed to become Magic Phil, a children’s entertainer, as well as a radio presenter with kids’ station Pearl 102. The 27-year-old Briton also just completed a sold-out run of festive pantomime shows with Robin Hood adaptation Magic Phil & The Enchanted Forest, at DUCTAC Theatre, Mall of the Emirates. Mr Nelson lives in Dubai Production City with three cats. He reveals his colourful money journey and outlook.

How did upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I had a normal childhood, receiving regular pocket money when I didn’t have a job. I learned to save but always spent on stuff I’ve been interested in, such as magic tricks. I wasn’t big on saving when I was little. My mum is a home help carer for elderly people, and my dad a stonemason. A lot of the family is hands on – retail, joiners, electricians; I’m the first with ‘jazz hands’.

What prompted you to become a magician?

A magician came to my seventh birthday. The feeling I got when he made coins appear from behind my ear … I was mesmerised, gobsmacked and wanted that feeling for other people. Hearing the sound of children laughing, being amazed, it’s an addiction. I joined the local Magic Circle when I was 12 or 14, met magicians of similar age and was lucky enough to perform with Paul Daniels. I trained as a close-up magician. I’ve always acted as well, used to do amateur dramatics and toured professionally doing pantomimes and shows. I perform magic in the style of Tommy Cooper, a UK legend, where everything goes wrong but the outcome is another trick. Mine is fun, silly, kid/family-friend colourful magic; comedy magic. I send myself up a bit.

How much were you paid in your first job?

I worked in a restaurant at Durham Cathedral, on about Dh19 an hour. Further back, I did a paper round every morning when I was 14, earning Dh60 a week.

What brought you to Dubai?

My girlfriend Hannah's parents lived here. I came purely for a holiday. I had a UK pantomime contract to go back to, my girlfriend a dance contract, but we decided ‘we’re not going back’. I started doing some gigs, got into radio and it kicked off. My main thing is the magic. I started doing birthday parties. I don’t do those anymore, but I do big events, guest appearances, shop openings, do a few stage tricks, get children involved, and create a fun, magical atmosphere. I knew there was a niche in the kids market here. I started becoming more of a children’s personality, appearing on shows of various radio stations.

What is your best investment?

I produced my first big pantomime at DUCTAC Theatre, Mall of the Emirates. I had no sponsors, but sold out two shows and made Dh70. I paid my cast, bought my set, paid for the theatre, all out of my pocket. I spent a fortune, but that kick-started everything. It was Magic Phil’s Pirate Adventure; I wrote, produced, directed, starred in it. My next, Magic Phil’s Arabian Desert Adventure in 2015, did four shows and had sponsors - big brands like Virgin Megastore, Kids HQ. I made 300 times as much, but if I hadn’t taken that risk I wouldn’t have gone from two shows to the sold out 11 I’ve just done with Robin Hood.

Are you a saver or a spender?

I spend. I don’t have kids. It’s completely different when you do; you want to leave something for them. At the moment I’m my own person; I go away for up to 10 weeks a year, travel the world. I’ll put money away for next year’s panto, so I have a budget. I know what I’ll get from sponsors, but that extra bit helps; I can pay the theatre rent. I’m a workaholic, but love what I do. I don’t have massive life savings. I’m still young, living my career.

Where do you save?

I have a ‘help me fund’, which I transfer to the UK. If anything happened - I need a flight home, to rent a hotel room for a month - I’ve got that. I send a lot, but I keep a balance in my UAE account. I used to live at The Greens, paying a fortune. I now live in Dubai Production City.

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What is your philosophy towards money?

You don’t get buried with it, but it keeps me driven. I invest a lot into my productions. I’ve got nothing to put money into, other than shows. Anything extra goes on holidays - and cat treats for my rescued cats Bailey, Oscar and Mia.

What is your most cherished purchase?

That magic kit I bought when I was a child for about Dh12. Some kids get kits, just play with them or show friends, but I got genuine reactions from family. My parents were very honest; if they saw part of the trick they’d tell me because I wasn’t going to learn off them pretending it was right. If I didn’t have that magic kit, I wouldn’t be here. I wanted to make a living out of making people amazed.

Do you prefer paying in cash or by credit card?

It depends where I am and what I’m spending. If I’m in a supermarket or doing my petrol I like a debit card for ease. For my pantos I will take out my budget in cash because I have people who buy props and stuff for me. I keep better control if I’ve got cash; a card I’d just keep paying. On holiday I’m strict with our daily budget; if we have cash we take out for the day we manage our money better. I’m quite sensible. My UK credit card…I always pay it all off. I don’t have a credit card here.

Has it been relatively easy to build your career in the UAE?

In the UK, there’s far too much competition. It's much easier for me trying to get a bit of fame and fortune here, it’s much easier; I could count the number of magicians in the UAE on one hand. Now kids recognise me. There were times I did free events in return for my name and face on the poster. I’m lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. It’s about getting to know, respecting and trusting the right people.

The magician is also a radio host with kids’ station Pearl 102. Antonie Robertson/The National
The magician is also a radio host with kids’ station Pearl 102. Antonie Robertson/The National

Are you wise with money?

I wouldn’t say I’m tight, but I watch my money. When family comes, I like to spoil them and I spoil people when I go to the UK, but I am careful. There are people who need stuff more than me, so I do stuff for charity. I’ve flown to Jordan, put myself up in hotels, and entertained refugee kids.

Do you plan for the future?

I’d love to have property eventually. I rent a car as I don’t want ties yet. I’d love to have kids – I’m going to wait until I’m a bit older. I’m happy, that’s the main thing, taking every day as a bonus.

What would you raid your savings for?

A flight home or any issues at home – if, heaven forbid, anyone is taken ill, I’ve got that UK ‘help me fund’.