DNA - Just An Illusion
Fans of TV show Britain’s Got Talent may remember the 2017 mind-reading finalists DNA who impressed Simon Cowell, the man who notoriously hated magic acts, to comment that they were “incredible”. After losing out in the final, Sorted chats to Darren Sarsby and Andrew Murray to find out what has happened to DNA.
Tell us a bit about life before Britain’s Got Talent
Andrew: I was a magician, doing corporate events, all stuff for adults.
Darren: I did that as well but was predominantly a children’s entertainer. I did that for about 15 years. We became friends about seven years ago and decided we wanted to create something quite unique, something that other magicians and people in the magic world weren’t performing. So, we came up with a mind-reading, telepathy act, something that was totally unique to us, and we found it very hard to sell it to people. It’s very hard to explain it, we’re like magicians but also like mind-readers and we do something different to everyone else. So, we used to perform at each other’s gigs whenever we could and try to get some marketing materials along the way. But again, that proved to be very difficult and that’s why we decided to do Britain’s Got Talent so that we could get seen by millions of people.
How did you first get into magic?
Darren: We both got into magic from a young age. For me, I went to a summer camp when I was introduced to magic at about 11 by somebody else that was in my dormitory that performed magic and from there, I caught the magic bug … I needed to know how everything worked and back in those days you’d read a book, so I went to a library, I went to a magic shop, Alan Alan’s Magic Spot, and that’s where I first got introduced to magic and magic literature.
Andrew: Whereas me, I liked magic from an early age and I met someone who taught me to do children’s parties and it kind of sparked my passion for performing, albeit it was children’s parties … it was still in the vein of magic, but I could still do adult events in the evenings.
Where did you meet and when did you decide to become a double act?
Darren: Andrew and I met at an event around seven or eight years ago … I was performing at an event and Andrew was a guest. I’d already heard of Andrew’s name and I had all his details on my phone, his name, his email and his website, and finally we met. I showed him something that I thought would definitely fool him but didn’t. We met up for a coffee a few days later and just hit it off as friends [right] from the start, and at the time we wanted to perform together. It was way more fun, driving to events, hanging out and performing at events together, and we thought how can we turn this into something that isn’t two magicians performing together, and where we can create one act? … We wanted to create something totally unique, something that people weren’t doing so that people could see something different from another magical mind-reading act, and hopefully we’ve created that.
Simon Cowell used to hate magic. What made you want to audition for BGT?
Andrew: We’d been thinking of entering BGT for a few years before we actually did it, and we had this preconceived idea that unless we came out and did something to amaze everyone instantly we’d just get four buzzers … We’d just got to the point where we thought the act was right and we were certain that we would get a reaction should everything [go] right. On the day, everything did go right, and as they say, the rest is history.
Darren: The thing we were worried about was to say, “We’re mind-readers” and then buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz because people have a preconception about mind-readers being boring or nerdy or whatever, and we just wanted to not give them the chance. If you look at our audition, Andrew comes out onto the stage and I pop up next to the judges and I don’t even give them a chance to interview Andrew, we just go straight into the act.
Were you worried it would go horribly wrong?
Darren: [laughs] It did go horribly wrong for us.
Andrew: Only in the final.
Darren: We’ll go into that later. I think that what we do, we are very much on a knife-edge whenever we perform. It can go right, or it can go horribly wrong. I think that’s the thrill of what we do as performers … we do a show, we don’t get the same outcome every time. The people have the free choice of what to choose or what to think about and where we don’t have any control over that, things can go wrong, and it has gone wrong many, many times. I think the thing is, we’ve spent many years honing our craft, getting it wrong in bars, in clubs, restaurants, [with] friends and family, to the point where we’ve got it down to just a small percentage that when it does go wrong, we just brush it off.
Did friends in the business advise against it?
Andrew: The simple answer is no, because we kept it a complete secret from everyone except our closest friends and family that we were even entering the competition. We didn’t need the additional pressure, we didn’t want anybody to talk us out of doing it once we’d made our minds up.
Darren: And we’re very secretive people anyway.
Was there anything you did specifically to prepare for going on the show?
Andrew: We actually had the opportunity to go into an office in London and run through our entire rehearsal in front of three different groups of people, and that gave us the chance to make sure what we did once we got on stage wasn’t the first time we done it. It’s really hard to prepare for a performance at the London Palladium when you know you’re getting up in front of 3,000 people. So we did it three times in front of three groups of four people and that gave us enough confidence that if we could pull it off in … such a close environment, then 3,000 shouldn’t be that difficult
Darren: And the other thing is, in terms of timing when you perform, an audition is that they want you to do it within a few minutes. So we had to make sure that the timing and the rhythm of what we do was right and we were on the money with it, especially with the T-shirt change and stuff. There [were] different layers to our audition. So we had to not just perform it in our homes, which we did [for] hundreds of hours, but also doing it in a live pressured environment gave us the opportunity to cut stuff out, put stuff in, reconsider words. We put a lot of work and effort into the audition.
How did the standing ovation at the London Palladium feel?
Darren: Getting a standing ovation at the London Palladium in front of 3,000 people, as performers, it really is a dream come true, something that you think about when you’re younger, when you’re practising or when you’re gigging, through all the hard times, the bad gigs. To get that confirmation that people have enjoyed what you’ve done is something that I’ve never experienced before and is something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
Andrew: And going into the audition process, I think the best that we hoped for was to get four yeses. Getting the standing ovation was really the icing on the cake.
Tell us a bit more about your journey on the show.
Darren: It’s a really amazing journey. It’s a bubble that when you are in it nothing else is real life, and actually when you come out of it, you realise the bubble isn’t real life. It’s a very bizarre situation. Our first audition was amazing. We had about a month to wait to be told we’d made it through to the live semi-finals. For me on a personal level, that was a really big deal because I’d been working for my agency for 15 years doing children’s parties and I knew that I didn’t want to air on a Saturday night on Britain’s Got Talent and then the next day go and perform at a children’s party. I knew that if I got through to the live semi-finals it would change my life and I’d give [the children’s parties] up. I knew that when I was going for dinner the day after the results … I was either going to tell my agency, “Hey, I’m not working for you any more and I got through to the live semi-finals” or “I went on Britain’s Got Talent and it didn’t work out for me”. Luckily it was the first, which I’m really thrilled about. The audition aired, and it trended on YouTube at number one for two days and we went viral, we hit the news in Australia. It really was incredible. All the local and national newspapers were talking about us with the T-shirt change. It really captured people. And then we won the semi-final to go straight into the final, and the final – I’ll tell you about that later. It left a bittersweet taste in my mouth … to put it mildly. People think you go on Britain’s Got Talent and that’s the end, but really its just the beginning. At the end of it, it feels like the bubble has popped and you’re out in the real world.
Can you explain the process behind the scenes?
Darren: It’s really a lot of emailing, going in and having meetings, a lot of secrecy because you know they don’t want the result coming out that you’re through, so you’re not allowed to tell anyone whether you’re through to the lives or not. Really, there’s not much more to say other than we worked really hard leading up to it.
Andrew: The only other thing that I [want] to add is that Britain’s Got Talent is a very well-oiled
machine … there’s so many people working on that show that they pull everything off with almost zero effort, but it’s a lot of hard work and they’re very good at their job.
Darren :It’s like organised chaos, really.
How do you put together new material?
Andrew: This is one of the most difficult things for all performers. Darren and I are very conscientious when it comes to choosing material and putting new material in the act. We always try to innovate rather than just take something that’s an existing idea and just make a minor tweak to it. In truth what we do is go through a process which is a lot of experimentation, a lot of rejecting ideas that at the time we think are brilliant … actually, putting new material in is quite a slow process. It really has to make the grade before it goes into the act.
Darren: I think the thing Andrew didn’t mention is that we will normally die in front of an audience first and then after we do that a couple of times, it starts to resemble the bones of … a routine and from there, we build. So yeah, we get things wrong way before we get it right.
Did you make any friends with any of the other acts or judges?
Darren:… We made a few friends; there was a crazy Dutch magician called Niels who is still a friend today, we absolutely love him … We really liked Tokio; Matt Edwards is really nice. We were friendly with everyone we spoke to, but we did kind of keep ourselves to ourselves. We knew that in a competition there can be jealousy and all that kind of stuff and we didn’t want to attract any of those feelings … so we just put our heads down in any of the group meetings … we’d be friendly and say hello, but we’d go off and do our own thing. So yeah, we were very friendly with the people we saw, with the members of the production; Simon Cowell was lovely to us, Amanda [Holden] and Alesha [Dixon], David [Walliams] were friendly, but I wouldn’t say we were friends with them ...
How were your nerves on the live final?
Andrew: As you can imagine our nerves were quite high, for the kind of act that we do we have to focus really hard on what we say and what we do, and I think there is a degree of trepidation there because you’re always aware that things can go not according to plan. I think that nerves can just keep you focused, really.
Darren: all we had to do was focus on our nerves. For the final we changed our act and we didn’t have enough time to rehearse and practise and that’s why nerves did get the better of us in the end, and that’s why we’ve never watched it back since ...
Andrew: In truth, things didn’t go as planned and it’s just one of those things. And that’s just one of the pleasures of performing on live TV.
There was a bit of a stumble in the trick in the final. Do you think that added to the authenticity of the act?
Andrew: That’s actually a really good question, and I think it was Simon Cowell [who] said that making the mistake, in a way, made us feel more human to the audience at home. There is a school of thought in mind-reading, or mentalism as it’s known, that people … intentionally don’t get everything right so that it creates the feeling that what you’re watching is absolutely genuine. The truth is, things don’t always go according to plan and there is always the chance that we will get a word wrong or a number wrong or somebody changes their mind half way through the process and we end up with egg on our face. Does it add to the authenticity? Without question.
Darren: I actually disagree, to be honest with you. We probably should’ve discussed this before we answered the question but for us, we are perfectionists, we don’t like to get it wrong … I don’t ever want to get things wrong. Andrew’s more than happy to miss slightly; he thinks it makes us more authentic. I don’t particularly like that. In terms of getting things wrong in the final, it was just a genuine mistake, the nerves got the better of us and we would change things if we could.
What advice would you give to anyone considering going on BGT?
Darren: If you’re passionate about something and you want it to reach millions of people, then go for it. If you think you’re going to do it and become a millionaire overnight, then I’d say don’t ... I’d want to know what they want to get out of it. If they want to be famous, if they want to be a millionaire, then I’d say it might not be the right place for them. If somebody’s passionate about what they want to do, and they want to take what they’re doing to the next level, then it’s a really amazing place to showcase your skill and your talent.
Andrew: The one thing I wanted to add to that is, if you’re considering going on to the show, go into it with a really positive attitude and try to enjoy every moment, because its over in the blink of an eye.
What has been your biggest high so far?
Andrew: Since coming off the show we have [had] the opportunity of performing at some really high-profile events, travelling the world and supporting some really amazing charities. That said, I think for us, the biggest high is having the opportunity to actually have our own UK tour and having the support of the public who pay money to come [to] see us and support us.
Darren: Yeah, I think [the] fact that people are going to invest themselves as well [as] to dedicate that time and that date to come and see us, and support us and enjoy what we do, it really is [an] affirmation that all this hard work has been worthwhile, and [it] is something that we’ve dreamed about. We’ve worked so hard to get to this position; we [are] just so grateful, so thankful, for anyone that would come and see us live. That’s the biggest high for us.
What’s next for DNA? Tell us about your dreams.
Darren: In all honesty, we’ve just had this UK tour and that’s all we’ve had in our mind for the last six months. We’ve been practising, rehearsing material, and really, we’ve only been focusing on that. Really, if you’d asked us a year ago what our dream was, it would have been to have our own UK tour, so we feel like our dream has come true and it has been a lot of hard work to get here. I think the ultimate goal, the biggest dream for us, would be to have our own show in Las Vegas, the home of magic.
Without giving away too many secrets, what can we expect to see on the new tour?
Andrew: We’ve worked really hard to put together an amazing show and we’re not going to give away any secrets. Suffice to say that when people come to the show, its going to be a very immersive experience; we try to get as many people involved as possible.
Darren: I think if you’ve seen us on TV, if you’ve seen us on Britain’s Got Talent, it’ll be everything you’ve seen and way more. It’s good family fun for all ages, and we’re just really excited to share what we’ve been working on, and we hope that everyone leaves having had a good time.
Andrew: We look forward to all of you coming along to the theatres, and if you do come along, make sure you hang around to the end of the show and say hi.