Friends and family of Paul Daniels are said to be in shock today, after news reached the UK that the once-popular TV magician has been burned at the stake while on a tour of Eastern Europe.
Over the past few weeks, Daniels (76), had taken his touring magic show to countries such as Estonia, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in an attempt to recoup some of the costs of wife, Debbie McGee’s, ill-advised dance project, Ballet Imaginaire, which almost bankrupted the star back in 2001.
It is reported that during a demonstration of some of his most popular illusions in the Latvian town of Valmiera, Daniels was jeered and booed by several members of the small crowd which had gathered to watch his performance. Although the former Every Second Counts frontman did his best to ignore the taunts, when some local men took to throwing rocks at the stage, Daniels – whose “not a lot” motto was a household phrase during the 1980s – had little choice but to appeal via a local translator for calm.
Despite his plea, the abuse continued, until a visibly distressed Daniels made a joke about turning the hecklers into frogs. Before the translator had even finished relaying the gag, several members of the crowd surged forward, chanting “Burve! Burve!” and clawing at the diminutive magician.
When a terrified Daniels asked his Latvian translator what the crowd was saying, she replied: “Witch! Witch!”
Daniels is alleged to have been pulled from the stage by angry mob members, before being kicked and beaten with such ferocity that it is believed the star – who was named “Magician of the Year” by the Hollywood Academy of Magical Arts in 1983 – sustained multiple fractures and lost an eye.
When Daniels regained consciousness he found himself tied firmly to a stake outside Valmiera’s St Simon’s Church, with a sea of around two thousand unfriendly faces surrounding him, demanding his death.
“We can only imagine what poor Paul was thinking at that point,” said fellow TV magician and comedian, the Great Suprendo, on hearing the news. “Branded a witch, tied to a stake, surrounded by thousands of angry Latvians, and missing an eye. Even the critical mauling he received after appearing in [Channel 5 reality show] The Farm kind of pales into comparison.”
Suprendo – real name Geoffrey Durham – sobbed as he added: “If only they’d left him his wand, then he’d have shown them. Then he’d have shown them good.”
Eyewitnesses describe “a great cheer” going up as the first torches were put to Wizbit creator, Paul, who is said to have spoken in tongues and “thrashed around like the devil,” before breaking out in terrified, hysterical laughter until the flames finally overcame him. Daniels’ charred remains will now be left on permanent display in the town as a warning to others of the dangers of dabbling in the occult.
Debbie McGee – Daniels’ former assistant and wife of almost twenty-five years – was being comforted by friends at the couple’s home this morning and was unavailable for comment on her husband’s death.