From Eton to Emirates Palace, magician DMC turns the impossible into reality

Netflix star Drummond Money-Coutts sits down with The National as his Abu Dhabi residency takes off with head-scratching card routines, mentalism and prediction, which involve the whole audience

Drummond Money-Coutts is performing his street magic-style routines at a theatre for the first time. Photo: Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental
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Magic is now in the UAE.

And it’s a proper, close-up kinda magic. The kind that leaves viewers furiously scratching their heads while clapping and asking for more.

Drummond Money-Coutts, better known as DMC, is casting a spell on audiences with his show Impossible at Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental, Abu Dhabi.

He’s a member of a British banking dynasty, but left it all behind by running away to the circus, sort of. His elegant act is more Parisian parlour than sticky-floored Coney Island big top.

Having spent years as a travelling magician more accustomed to playing private birthday parties for world leaders and moneymen, with the occasional Netflix and National Geographic series thrown in, he’s performing in public for the first time.

And in further firsts, he’s the first magician to hold a residency in the UAE and he’s setting his sights on opening the region’s first academy for magicians.

Impossible you say? Impossible’s the point.

“I called the show Impossible because, coming from a family of bankers, being a magician was never supposed to be what I did – the idea was ridiculous, it was a running joke for 15 years,” DMC tells me.

“But I knew I could carve out my own space, and I did. I was never supposed to get a $10 million Netflix deal [for his show Death by Magic], but I did. Then in many ways, the craziest notion was that I could come to the Middle East and … not challenge, but soften some interpretations of magic and help show it can be something very beautiful.

“I’ve always lived my life believing that nothing is impossible. It’s also a core mentality of the Emirates to make the impossible, possible. It chimes between me and this incredible country.”

From Eton to magic, with kindness

DMC is impeccably polite, witty and equally self-deprecating when we meet before his show. His Savile Row suit is as sharp as his English accent, his cufflinks as polished as his performance.

His family own Coutts, a private bank for high-net-worth individuals. He went to Eton College, better known as the conveyor belt of British prime ministers. Twenty former UK leaders have come off its production line, including Boris Johnson and David Cameron.

But DMC’s life is not the gilded road that many, including his family, expected him to follow. Although he worked at Goldman Sachs for six months, he’s banking on magic – or magic with kindness, as he puts it – to build his legacy.

He’s helped design the 44-person theatre inside Emirates Palace. Packages for the 70-minute show on Fridays and Saturdays include a three-course dinner at the newly opened Broadway.

It’s boutique entertainment. It’s intimate. A smorgasbord of tricks – card routines, mentalism, prediction – are delivered under hushed calm rather than lampooned across 1,000-strong theatres, Las Vegas-style. Even a raucous wedding party outside can’t ruffle his rhythm on the night I visit.

Interaction with members of the audience, the whole audience, is at the heart of the show. In a space this tight, there’s no chance of slumping down behind the person in front and praying their perm will shield you from the magician’s gaze.

Though any fears of sawing women in half like Paul Daniels (ask your parents) or cheesy jokes just like that Tommy Cooper (ask your grandparents) are allayed. It survives on DMC’s flair for simplicity.

“I’m fully aware some people’s first or only experience with magic may be that style that’s uncomfortable, brash, bad jokes … but I would never wish to make someone uneasy,” DMC says. “They may dread the idea of audience participation for fear of being embarrassed, ridiculed or hypnotised to squawk like a chicken.

“I adopt a different style. I want this magic to be refined but inviting to all.”

I’ll avoid giving away the whole show, but he starts small and teases us in with a bit of audience-driven magic. He’s then conjuring up chocolates from nowhere and seduces us with sleight-of-hand routines at a table using cards signed by the audience.

At his table, eager audience members – let’s call them the deception detectives – book a spot to scrutinise his magic up close. He’s soon masterfully guessing words we pick from a book of more than 600 pages or reading our minds, before launching into his finale that ends amid a cacophony of applause and coos of: “How did he do it!”

His show isn’t loud. There are no lasers or limbs at risk. Words are his only smoke and mirrors, which stem from years of dedication to misdirection. Perhaps he has something in common with his politically aspiring classmates at Eton, after all.

It’s a far cry from his huge TV stunts that grab headlines and the public’s attention – setting himself on fire, while chained up; locked in a box while chained to train tracks; submerged underwater with no way out while, you guessed it, chained up. He confides three of his eight final acts for Death by Magic ended with medics being called, and regales a harrowing 2012 stunt-gone-wrong that involved him being dragged across the tarmac of Scotland’s storied golf course Gleneagles – in front of hundreds.

Although he keeps the handcuffs from the near-fatal day in a glass box outside the theatre, the only prop he needs for his show is a Mary Poppins-style bag of wonders.

“I can just pack it up and go around the world,” he adds. “It’s just me and it’s absolutely wonderful.”

DMC’s live act is the polar opposite of those death-defying stunts. The ones still rolled out ad nauseam under the lights of Las Vegas, where tired tricks are performed verbatim from tiring scripts. Shows where danger-hungry audiences barrel in balancing buckets of popcorn with two-litre cups of slush in flip-flops praying the risk of death is dialled up to “you betcha”.

“You can see it in their eyes, they’ve given up in Las Vegas,” DMC says of many of the acts. “It's the city largely considered to be the home of magic, but I hope this show brings the art back to its best.”

In Abu Dhabi, it's just him, the audience and a few packs of cards (along with 3,000 others he’s kept from his career that he uses to decorate the theatre).

“It’s why I love this show, it’s small enough that I can get involved with everyone in the audience,” he says. “I can change things on a dime if someone who’s been before comes in again.”

Reinvention, refinement and redefining

It's not the style popularised in the US and anything but the UK's stance, where magic has been watered down to gimmicks, pub games or fighting Voldemort.

Despite London being the home of Harry Potter, in 2003, when David Blaine dangled in a Perspex box over the River Thames for 44 days without food, many Brits couldn’t embrace it as magic. “No one said the vanishing man was just a zany American slowly fasting away into thin air,” they'd snigger. Each night, the BBC's News at Ten was filled with stories of the public pelting sausages at him instead.

But I was captivated – besides we share a commonality.

“All the greats seem to have the initial D,” I say, “David Blaine, David Copperfield, Derren Brown, Dynamo, DMC … Dean Wilkins?”

He laughs and nods, though more out of sympathy than certainty. “There is definitely a strong connection with the initial and magic,” he adds.

I know one card trick, I confess, though my performance is likely to leave audiences muttering: “Dean, who?” instead of Houdini.

“I bet it’s great,” he says. I see through the flattery. It’s the oldest trick in the book.

However, he seems genuine about encouraging the art form and is focused on bringing the next generation through. He aims to become a pioneer of magic in the country and wider region.

“I recognise beliefs in magic in many countries, including across the Gulf, have been quite conservative for a long time,” he says. “There is a weight the word carries in many religions, and I would never wish to change that. Though I think people are embracing the fun side much more, the side that’s all about smiles and happiness.”

Appetites in the UAE are growing. I visit on a weekend when the American group The Illusionists are also in town. A Potter theme park is on the way, too. DMC hopes to use the enthusiasm to launch his own version of Hogwarts, teaching magic to young people in the UAE.

“I fully believe in 20 years, the world’s greatest magician could be an Emirati,” he says. “Someone who redefines it and then leads the pack. It needs that evolution.”

And with DMC sharing his tricks of the trade, he could be right on the money.

Impossible runs on Fridays and Saturdays at Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental; tickets start at Dh950, including a three-course meal at Broadway; more information is available at www.mandarinoriental.com/en/abu-dhabi/emirates-palace

Updated: December 15, 2023, 5:25 AM