Interview: South African magician/mentalist Brendon Peel creating the illusion of getting inside the mind – creating a buzz on the global performing circuit

South African magician/mentalist, Brendon Peel received a Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award, for his show, IMPOSSIBLE, at the 2022 National Arts Festival [NAF] – the largest arts festival on the African continent. IMPOSSIBLE was one of the top selling shows at the festival. Peel has a long association with NAF. He was 18 when he made his professional debut in 2011, at the festival and at that young age, his show was a hit.  The year 2022 has been busy for the mentalist, who has been gallivanting around the globe. IMPOSSIBLE was satged at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival – to capacity audiences. In addition to the arts circuit, Peel has been beguiling audiences on cruise liners. Peel who is only 29 [as of writing November 1, 2022], has carved out a formidable career on the international magic circuit and has been featured on numerous prestigious TV platforms, such as Britain’s Got Talent. In addition to bringing a keen intellect to his craft, he has the business smarts, with an MBA from Rhodes University which has assisted him in navigating the business side of showbiz. Catch him – on stage – if you can or on TV. Be amazed and entertained by the mind-flipping feats of Brendon Peel.  We must add, that he has a fabulous Instagram account – It is utterly addictive. No idea how he does it. And there is more – tonight- November 1, 2022- Peel – was named as the Entertainer of the Year 2022, at a ceremony at the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Event Awards (NMBBEA). A magical way to cap the year for Brendon Peel.

Illusion of getting inside of one’s mind

Do you call yourself a magician or mentalist? Mentalism is using the mind? But it is all an illusion, isn’t it?

Brendon Peel:  I don’t mind being called any of the above, though the form of illusion or magic that I generally do is called mentalism. Mentalism is essentially magic of the mind, where I create the illusion of getting inside of one’s mind. All of the above are forms of magic and illusion, yes. 

Real versus illusion

Your shows are a combination of magic, psychology, misdirection and snowperson-ship?

Brendon Peel:  Yes, indeed, some parts of the show contain genuine and real psychological techniques as well as genuine memorisation skills. These parts of the show are actually not a trick, however I add in a lot of moments of illusion and trickery into the show that makes many wonder what is real and what is an illusion. 

The unstoppable IMPOSSIBLE

You recently nabbed a Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award at National Arts Festival NAF 2022 for your show, IMPOSSIBLE. That must have been thrilling to win this coveted award, the first live NAF, since Covid put the brakes on live performance?

Brendon Peel:   Yes, winning the Silver Ovation Award was a blessing and a big deal. It was like a lot of work finally paid off. I love the National Arts Festival and have been a massive fan of the platform for years. My show IMPOSSIBLE has been touring around South Africa and UK in 2022 – where we had sold out audiences in Durban, Gqeberha, Joburg, Bloemfontein and the Edinburgh Festival. I also currently perform the IMPOSSIBLE show aboard cruise ships around the world. I am still planning on bringing IMPOSSIBLE once again to Johannesburg and definitely to Cape Town as well, that will have to be 2023. 

Magic that entertains and makes you laugh and feel

What is the conceptual arc that underpins IMPOSSIBLE and the wow factor which led to the Silver Ovation Award at NAF?

Brendon Peel:   IMPOSSIBLE includes a series of different types of genres of magic and illusion which gives the audience a taste of many types of magic and illusion that are available. I think the main thing of why so many people enjoy it, is the entertainment value of the entire show. It is not only about having strong and mind blowing magic but also having people laugh and feel emotional during the show really adds to it. It is  hard to pin down exactly why I won the Silver Ovation, but I suppose one of the reasons is that the show this year had a 95% sell out success rate over the entire festival which made it one of the top selling shows in the entire festival with all reviews being really great. 

South Africa’s Derren Brown

You are a fan of the UK mentalist Derren Brown – who has transfixed and enchanted audiences around the world?

Brendon Peel:   In IMPOSSIBLE, I create a lot of my own effects and it is very similar to Derren Brown style. I predict all sorts of things in the show and including a Lotto prediction. Derren Brown is my hero and I had a chance to meet him.  I have been in contact with some of his team and consultants and I’ve had chats with them about levelling up to his type of standing.

The meteoric rise of Brendon Peel

You are 29 and your professional career as a magician/mentalist – started in 2011 at NAF. How old were you? How did that come about – doing NAF at a young age?

Brendon Peel:  I am 29 years old currently, yes [as of November 1, 2022]. And my first stage show or performance was in 2011 at NAF where I was 18 years old and also the youngest solo magic act to ever do a show at NAF. However I started doing close-up magic for tips at various restaurants in Port Elizabeth, when I was 14 (around 2007). I started doing actual magic -for fun. I started learning magic when I was about 12 (around 2005). 

How doing NAF at such a young age came about was the fact that I had put together a mentalism and mind reading show at age 17 but I had nowhere to display or try my show out, the only option really for me was the NAF. It was a major risk financially and quite a gamble, I actually spent pretty much all the money I had made from the previous two years of doing close-up magic to be able to afford to do the NAF, on top of that I needed help and support from my mom who was hesitant but she trusted me. It turns out that the show in 2011, Mind Games, ended up being a massive success and I loved every second of being at the NAF, from there I have not looked back since. 

I am currently the top selling mentalist/ magician in South Africa and have even been listed by BRIEFLY as one of the Top 5 greatest magicians of all time to come from Africa. The reason for this I believe is because my act is unique, highly entertaining, and interactive and of course mind blowing. I have worked incredibly hard for the last 12 years to grow my brand to a world class standard. And I believe it has worked, hence these days I am mostly out of the country performing in Europe or Asia and it is only the beginning.

Making magic in the impossible time of Covid with live performance on the pause mode

You seemed to have navigated lockdown and online very well – creaming it on the digital stage. In an ‘impossible’ time, you made magic. Can you talk about your work doting the pandemic and some of the gigs that you did?

Brendon Peel: Don’t get me wrong but Covid was a terrible time, but I did try to do as much virtual work as I possibly could. It was not easy, especially, considering in 2019, I did nearly 150 shows and performances that year. All of sudden we went to zero live shows very quickly. I did adapt my show to a virtual setting and I was blessed to get quite a few bookings over that period. The biggest gig over this period was actually filming for the Travel Channel’s new TV magic show called Magic Caught in Camera. This show had a selection of some of the top magicians from around the world doing TV street magic, I was one of the magicians involved. It was a blessing and an honour to be selected and it also got me through the tough time. But hopefully Covid is now a thing of the past. 

The magical rise of Brendon Peel

You grew up and went to school in Gqerberha and after school you did a degree majoring in journalism and drama, and a post-grad in Business from Rhodes University. Cape Town has its famous College of Magic but there is no college in Gqerberha. Where did you learn your craft?

Brendon Peel: Yes, I grew up in PE (GQ), attended Pearson High School and then studied at Rhodes University. Most recently I received my Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Rhodes Business School.  I learnt magic when I was in junior school and essentially I just had to teach myself by reading as many books as I could from Walmer Library, I would then practice what I was learning in my room alone. Learning the art of magic and illusion on my own, gave me a lot of creative freedom to mix and match non-traditional and lesser known techniques into my art.

Magical mystical cruising

You are currently doing gigs on cruise ships such as the Island Princess. The next gig in SA is Bellezar Umhlanga Rocks- December 18 – 23, 2022. What about Cape Town?

Brendon Peel: I am currently on the Island Princess cruise ship, which is going around the Mediterranean. Yes, Umhlanga should be good. And I definitely need to plan a Cape Town show for early 2023. For the rest of the year [2023], it is largely corporate events from here until Christmas time, which is a blessing. 

New show for 2023

Can we expect a new show for 2023? Any chance of us seeing the Crossbow Act which you performed on Britain has Got Talent [2020] and Romania has Talent [2022], with your performing partner in magic, Li Lau. He got injured on BGT –but luckily he recovered. After that, the news went global and international producers took note.

Brendon Peel:  I am excited for 2023 and I am currently creating a brand new mind blowing show that I can’t wait to share with everyone. As for The Crossbow Act – we will see

Mentalist: South Africa’s Brendon Peel has carved out a magical career in his home country and internationally. In 2022, he won a coveted Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival [NAF] for his show, IMPOSSIBLE. NAF is the largest arts festival on the African continent. He also played to capacity houses at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Brendon Peel – magician/mentalist

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✳ Featured image – Brendon Peel – supplied.