Lee Thompson


 

Lee Thompson - A Man of Many Talents

Profiled by Alex Kocan

Lee Thompson, magician and professional pickpocket extraordinaire, has written a book. "A Man of A Thousand Faces" chronicles the distraction techniques used in pick-pocketing. Let us take a closer look at the man himself. Lee met with me at Nottingham Train station to talk about his career. We sat and chatted over a pot of tea for more than an hour.

The West Midlands born lad has been in show business since acting in plays at the tender age of five years old. "As a result my parents were not shocked at all that I went into the entertainment industry." Lee groaned in confusion and brought his hands up to his face. "I really have no idea what I would have done in life if I hadn't become a performer. My careers officer at school said there's no future in it and suggested that I join the army. Thank god he was wrong. I did do bar work and sweep roads before I became full time, but if you want it bad enough it'll come."

Lee actually stumbled across his pick-pocketing talent by accident. "I was working in Japan with a friend of mine doing our magic double act, called Ben and Lee. An entertainment company flew us to Japan for three months but neither of us spoke the language. So we created a cabaret act that was like Tommy Coopery meets Lee Evans. We thought it was hilarious but the Japanese didn't! Anyway on one occasion we got a guy to come up on stage to check a box to see if it had any hidden compartments and his watch came off in my hand. So we revealed it at the end of the show. The audience went wild and I thought okay let's try this." And so a new chapter in Lee's career opened.

As in magic slight of hand and distraction are essential for pick pocketing. Lee explains further: "A lot of the distraction in my case involves themes." Lee's act contains several characters all played by himself to vary the show and keep the audiences mesmerised. "If I'm dressed up as Fakin, [a parody on the Oliver Twist character], the audience know something is going on, it's obvious. But if I was dressed as my security guard character I can distract them. I may pat them down, which is a normal thing for a security guard to do. Then they won't notice if I have loaded their pockets or taken something away."

 
Lee has a makeup artist that transforms him into these characters using fake teeth, wigs and "very expensive" latex masks. Lee also prizes himself on the voices he has developed to accompany his many personas. "I love doing their voices. Performing the characters allows me to express part of my personality that wouldn't normally come out. The only problem is keeping up the voice for the entire performance. I am having voice coaching to stop myself slipping back into my Brummie accent while doing Fakin', which is a London accent."

Even the pros' confess that they can't get it right one hundred per cent of the time. "I did a corporate job for a big computer company once and I ran into real difficulty because of their uniform, which was jeans and T-shirts. Jeans pockets are nearly impossible to open unless you slit the material. All I could do was take their glasses or watches; it was a really difficult gig." Dipping into someone's pockets can also be difficult if they are sitting down. But it actually depends on the individual's personality. At a table I stand someone up in front of their friends. I don't want to humiliate them but you need to remove them from their safety zone, so they are more susceptible to your plans."

Lee's talents cannot be contained by the corporate scene as he has appeared on television many times. However, things don't always go to plan, especially on The Chris Moyles Show. Chris Moyles, Radio One DJ and wise guy, set out to humiliate Lee. To get them into the swing of things he asked Moyles and comedian Dave to have a chat with him before filming began, but they refused. "I thought that was a bit weird. Why bother inviting me on if they're going to be like that? He [Moyles] removed everything from his person except his wallet. "He also sewed up most of his pockets which made any attempt to remove anything impossible. The show's producers were pleased with Lee's work and invited him onto Moyles' Channel 5 show, he politely declined the offer. Fortunately the exposure gave Lee some free publicity and he also got some more gigs out of it.

In such a tough profession it is fortunate that Lee loves a challenge. After developing his pick pocketing to perfection he decided to take his act to the streets, perhaps the toughest streets in the world, New York. On touchdown at JFK airport Lee headed for South Street Seaport. It is an old port now popular with tourists. Lee reminisces about his time there: "I made very good friends with my fellow performers. They helped me develop my act. They were great guys. The actual act was a disaster, but I only did it to say I had done it. I went to New York in March which was definitely the wrong time of year to go. It was freezing cold and there were not many people around. New Yorkers are wise towards people trying to rip them off. Pick-pocketing is a real crime and isn't very nice, targeting a member of the public isn't ideal. Therefore I used a volunteer, usually a little boy dressed up in old-fashioned school clothes. I would plant a catapult and sandwiches on him, which I would then steal. But it made people nervous. So I stuck to the old classic cups and ball trick. New York was a great experience for me. It may not have been a financial success but it has toughened me up a little towards audiences response back at home."

 

The changing face of magic upsets Lee, especially the trend of illusionists revealing how their acts are created. The Masked Magician is perhaps the most famous example of this. "I would not reveal my secrets for any amount of money. I don't like the whole aspect of this trend one bit."

 

While working in Japan Lee performed at the picturesque destination of the side of a volcano. He also performed to 15,000 people no less. "At another resort in Japan we were staying up in the mountains. You opened your rice paper curtains in the morning and could see bears fishing in the valley. It was beautiful."

 

"If you are interested in magic and want to make it big you need to get yourself into a magic society and practice hard. A lot of magicians don't like criticism. Don't be scared of failing. You've got to fail to succeed".

Mr. Thompson was a very nice guy. He even paid for the tea. At the end of the interview he jokingly said: "Hooray. Did I pass the test?" You did indeed sir!
 

www.leethompson.com

 

MagicWeek 2003

 

Back

 

www.magicweek.co.uk