When you spend your life entertaining people and there is no one around to make people smile, what do you do?
It was the harsh reality that Steve Burley faced when Covid took hold last year.
His successful business as a magician, artist and DJ was forced to close overnight.
His skills – honed over many decades – have been rendered virtually useless.
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Steve, from Nailsea, was forced to rethink things quickly when the coronavirus pandemic – and the stay-at-home lockdown – saw all of his reservations canceled overnight in March last year.
“One minute I had a journal full of reservations, the next they were gone,” Steve said.
“My job was gone overnight when the first lockdown was announced. “
Steve runs the Little Disco Company, hosts children’s parties as well as Memory Lane Entertainment where he visits local nursing homes to entertain residents.
“Entertaining people is what I know and what I love,” he said.
“No more kids dancing and enjoying my magic tricks and older residents singing war classics.
“All those smiles were gone in an instant.
“And I knew it wasn’t just me that it would have a huge impact.
“The kids had lost their social ties with their friends with the canceled parties while the older guests also lost something they so looked forward to on a regular basis.”
“There was a gentleman who, when he knew I was coming, went straight down to the living room and waited.
“He wouldn’t even go for breakfast.”
Steve, who has been a full time artist for 12 years, has traveled the world with his work.
He made a stint as a DJ in Dubai nightclubs for six months in 1992 as well as entertaining American troops.
He was also the resident DJ of the Mauretania nightclub in Bristol.
When his daughter Gina arrived, Steve – who worked in recruiting and sales – started taking her to children’s parties.
And that’s when he got the idea to start his own business.
On a trip to Newton Abbot, he bought a Toucan puppet and started playing with it at home
“He would go out when Gina’s friends came for tea,” he said.
“Then I also started buying magic tricks. “
From there, the father of one of Gina’s friends asked Steve to come and entertain the kids at his daughter’s birthday party.
He then started getting more and more private bookings and The Little Disco Company was formed in 2006.
“Back then, I was still working as a zone sales manager,” Steve said, “but the business was really starting to grow and I was out all weekend, every weekend doing children’s parties and discos.
A turning point for Steve came in 2008 when he was fired.
“I had the basics of a business with children’s parties and I needed to find work during the week.
“It was then that my wife Lisa suggested that I offer my services to the local nursing homes.
Steve quickly grew the business – starting Memory Lane Entertainment – visiting local nursing homes to perform magic tricks and enjoy songs and other activities with the residents.
His magic skills are completely self-taught and he is now vice-president of the prestigious Bristol Society of Magic.
“I had often set up quizzes with songs and movies from the time,” he said.
“The residents loved it, especially being able to remember and sing along with Sandy Shaw and Petula Clark. “
Before Covid, Steve was a regular at more than 100 care homes across the region, stretching from Bristol to Weston-super-Mare and Yeovil.
“Having to stop – especially so suddenly – was heartbreaking,” he said.
“As much as I missed it, I knew he missed the residents more. It was so vital for their well-being.
“Often, the quieter of them came to life, engaged, remembered, and got involved in the shows.”
Like many, Steve had to change careers during the pandemic and found a job in a warehouse.
But he’s always made people smile in the workplace – driving his forklift in a monkey mask and playing pranks on his coworkers.
“I had to do something to keep my hand and keep myself and everyone from going crazy,” he said.
“It was important to try to make people smile again in the most difficult times. “
With the restrictions easing, Steve was finally able to repack his magic box and don one of his famous Rod Stewart-esque jackets and hit the road again this summer.
“Boy, it took a long time to come,” he smiled.
“I returned to my role as a full-time artist on July 15 of this year – and I’ve never been happier.”
The concerts have changed, however, due to Covid, with a number of measures still in place.
“I still wear a mask in some care homes and some tips have changed due to social distancing,” he said.
“But the fun is still there.
“For some of these kids, it’s the first time they’ve attended a real party with their friends because of all the blockages and social distancing.
“It’s amazing to see.
“However, some of my concerts have been tinged with great sadness, especially in the care sector.
“Many of the faces I looked forward to seeing are no longer with us.”
The pandemic also gave Steve time to further develop his business and he has now launched Stevie Wander – a ‘mobile’ magician.
He’s already done a number of gigs, including a stint at the charity bike show in Nailsea.
He amazes his audience with tricks such as producing lemons out of nowhere and hammering nails into balloons.
“If there’s a little magic I wish I could do, it’s make Covid go away completely,” he said.
“But I think it’s a little out of my reach.”
Steve is now looking forward to a busy schedule of reservations as Christmas approaches.
“It’s a total joy to be there again, to bring smiles to people’s faces.
“I appreciate him more than ever.
“After being locked up for 18 months, it’s amazing to come back and make people happy.”
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