Wednesday, 04 August 2021

When Debbie said: Paul who?

DEBBIE McGEE had never heard of her future husband Paul Daniels when she was first asked to perform alongside him, her younger sister has revealed.

Donna Phelan is currently living at the radio presenter’s home in Wargrave to support her as she competes in the latest series of BBC 1’s Strictly Come Dancing.

She recalled that when McGee was offered a slot as the magician’s assistant for a series of stage shows in 1979 she asked her sister if she knew anything about Daniels.

At the time, McGee had just returned from a lengthy stint as a dancer with the Iranian National Ballet Company and had not kept up with popular culture in Britain.

Speaking to Andrew Peach, one of McGee’s colleagues at BBC Radio Berkshire, Donna said: “I remember her telling me she’d been offered a summer season with Paul Daniels and asking if I knew who he was. She’d never heard of him because she’d been away and didn’t particularly like magic, which is bizarre considering it became her life.

“They hit it off straight away once they started working together. They had such a strong connection and were always giggling — they were such good friends.”

The pair continued working together on The Paul Daniels Magic Show, which ran on BBC 1 from 1979 to 1994.

They were married in 1988 before moving to Wargrave a decade later and were still together when Daniels died from a brain tumour in March last year.

At first their marriage raised eyebrows as Daniels was then aged 50, 20 years older than his wife.

It was famously the subject of a quip by the late comedian Caroline Aherne, who asked McGee on The Mrs Merton Show in 1995: “What attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”

But Mrs Phelan said: “People often ask what our parents thought but I once asked Dad and he said, ‘as long as they’re happy then it really doesn’t matter’ and I think they proved that.”

She said that Debbie had wanted to be a performer from a young age and would dance, sing or act in public whenever the opportunity arose.

She said: “She was always very focused... it’s always been in her to entertain people.

“The idea of standing up in front of lots of people never appealed to me but she thrived on it.

“I remember her careers advisors asking what she wanted to do and she would say she wanted to go on the stage.

“They’d reply, ‘no, but what do you really want to do?’ as if she should do a sensible job but in her head that was a realistic option — it’s what she wanted to do and what she has gone on to do.

“I’ve never felt jealous because I’m so proud of her and I know she’s proud of me.

“In my shy little world as a child I loved watching her perform because I didn’t want to do it myself.”

Mrs Phelan said her sister was enjoying her time on Strictly Come Dancing.

She said: “You can see on her face that she’s absolutely loving every minute. She’s happy and excited when she gets up and when she gets home she talks about how her day has been and how she needs to practise every step.

“I know people think it just comes naturally to her but it really doesn’t. She puts her heart and soul into it and wants to know that she has got that step just right.”

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