Few people would tell the world about their life's journey through an imaginary dog obsessed with changing the colour of his fur. But then fewer people are quite like Philip Nelson – better known as the children's entertainer who goes by the name Magic Phil.
The 28-year-old Brit has written The Dog That Loves Blue – an illustrated book aimed at toddlers. "It's about a pup that goes on a journey to fulfil his dream of becoming his favourite colour," he says.
Inadvertently, that (albeit daft) adventure mirrors Nelson’s progression from magic trick-loving kid in northeast England to establishing a thriving career in Dubai. “I never actually thought of it like that until I read the book, once complete, having been through a few drafts,” he admits. “The trip that dog is on – an impossible, silly dream of wanting to be blue … he never gives up until he gets that dream.”
An early love for entertaining
Nelson’s first “blue moment” was at his seventh birthday party. “I had a magician come along,” he recalls. “When he made coins appear from behind my ear I was mesmerised and I wanted to create that feeling for other people.”
At age 12, Nelson joined the local Magic Circle and met conjurors of a similar age. He also got into acting via amateur dramatics, later touring professionally with pantomimes and shows at a time when those around him were embarking on regular careers. "I've never had a proper job as such. And I'm the first family member – dad was a stonemason and mum provided home help for elderly people – who got into show business."
Even so, he says his parents were very supportive and "would pay for drama classes and drive me for 45 minutes every Saturday to the Magic Circle".
A dream of creating a book
Six years ago, he came to Dubai on holiday with his now fiancee. He spotted a niche as a children's entertainer, decided to stay and developed the stage persona Magic Phil, calling on his background to put on shows and perform in the annual pantomime he writes and produces each Christmas. "I perform in a style where everything goes wrong, but the outcome is another trick," he says of his family-friendly illusions. "It's comedy magic. I send myself up a bit. And hearing the sound of children laughing, or being amazed, it's an addiction."
The notion of creating a book emerged six years ago while meeting a friend who had been published. “It’s been a kind of a dream since. I knew what I wanted to do – a dog who loves blue – which is strange as I’ve never had a dog and actually used to be scared of dogs,” he says. “But I made a few notes and scribbles and left it to one side.”
Nelson's profile as Magic Phil grew to include shop openings and hosting a show on children's radio station, Pearl FM. It was there that he found his publisher – a guest on his show – and the book idea was revived. "Last year, I met a lady from the Young Author Academy, which holds writing workshops and usually only publishes child authors," he says. "She became a regular guest along with young children who had published books. Seeing these kids, aged six or seven, their books in their hands, was my inspiration, and I thought: 'if a seven-year-old can do it, what's stopping me?'"
Educating and inspiring children
Having shelved the idea of a joke book because of potential copyright and cultural issues, work began in earnest early 2019. This included commissioning Fatima Thani, a talented Emirati first-time illustrator Nelson had met as a designer at Pearl, and who later worked with him on a cartoon video for his Christmas song.
Thani has done a beautiful job bringing Nelson's ideas to paper, which apparently left kids in stitches on his promotional tour of schools in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah. "The point of the book is to educate and inspire children. That's a big thing for me," says the entertainer, whose target age group is three to six years.
"Simply put, this dog loves the colour blue that much he wants to be blue. He loves the beach because the water is blue – it's quite educational on the colour aspect – loves going for a walk because the sky is blue, and then it becomes very silly because he wants to be blue by trying to take blue feathers off a bird and swimming in the loo. He becomes that colour in a fun way."
While Nelson, who lives in Dubailand with three cats, admits they’re broad metaphors for his activities, the obstacles faced by his dog – which he leaves readers to name – are indicative. “The moral of the story is, you can be who you want to be, never give up no matter how hard it seems. Anything’s possible – follow your dreams.”
His next book – about a camel that loves red – will follow in November, but for now, his blue dog is residing at Bookworm in Dubai and on Amazon.ae.