Interview: Street-style Magician Nathan Earl On Why West End Busking Must Be Saved

Save London Busker's campaign is fighting Westminster City Council to keep busking and street performing legal across the West End

By: Nov. 04, 2020
Interview: Street-style Magician Nathan Earl On Why West End Busking Must Be Saved
Eddie Izzard joins street performers
at the Save London Buskers

After a rise in complaints, Westminster City Council is planning to ban all street performing and busking across the West End (read more here). Save London Busker's campaign is trying to block these new laws, which could be devastating for hundreds of street performers and buskers.

Nathan Earl is a street entertainer and magician who has been performing in London for the past eight years at Magic Corner. He passed the entrance exam to become a member of the Magic Circle, the most prestigious magic society, at 18, the youngest age a member can be. He shared with us why he thinks street performing and busking should be saved.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to get into magic?

I've been doing magic for about almost nine years now, since 2011. I started as a kid but I never really got into it before I was 16. It was a hobby and then I decided to take it up.

How did you become a street performer?

When you're doing magic work, it's really hard to get gigs. My day job was selling and demonstrating magic sets in stores, and I decided to quit it to become a street performer. I think the key thing with street performing is the freedom I have. Performing is really amazing - it can be really funny. It's a great job. I'm glad I decided to do it.

What do you love the most about it?

I love the whole freedom that comes with it. I can work when I want and if I don't want to, I don't have to. When there are really big crowds, it gives you a really good feeling about it. There's also the fact that you can earn while you're practising. You can always practise during your show and learn something while you're doing it. It's great all around. With the streets, these people want to see the show, or they walk away, so it's a very democratic way of performing.

How long do you spend performing?

The show normally lasts around 25 minutes on average. It really depends on how the crowd is, obviously. I was doing it every day during the normal times but now, it's not as easy, so I'm not doing it as frequently.

Interview: Street-style Magician Nathan Earl On Why West End Busking Must Be Saved
Covent Garden Magic Corner -
Save London Buskers

What's the most important thing you have learned from doing this?

I think street performing teaches you a number of skills. It teaches you how to be engaging, how to be funny. It also prepares you for being on a stage, as you're performing in front of people you've never met before all the time.

What do you want to achieve as a magician? What are your goals?

My dreams have changed a bit since COVID, but I want to become a full-time working professional, doing a lot more private work and gaining as much experience as possible.

How do you feel about how the performing sector has been treated during the pandemic?

Regarding the [busking] licenses [proposed by Westminster Council], we knew it was planned before, but with the pandemic, it was the final nail in the coffin. It's not right at all to treat performers like that. Performers have been always there and now we have no work. Street performing is so needed again. We need life back on the streets. We are the heart of London, so it's not fair to do this to us.

How would Westminster City Council's proposed plans impact on you?

The council is making these licenses that are so restrictive. They want to criminalise unlicensed busking across the West End. Their proposal is extending now across the whole borough. Personally, I feel we've been a bit manipulated, because this feels like it was always the endgame.

It definitely affects us because the license and conditions include things like banning applications on all work free in certain zones. It takes the whole spontaneity out of it. It will also ban sharp objects from performances, even though performers know how to use them. It takes the whole art out of performers' hands. We'll get fewer shows and lose the quality of the show. It wouldn't allow us to make a living. Street performing would just die.

How are you working to prevent this?

We're working closely with street performer associations and organisations. We're all working together to see what we can do to fight this.

Interview: Street-style Magician Nathan Earl On Why West End Busking Must Be Saved
Street entertainers at the
Save London Buskers protest

It would be devastating if it goes through. We've been trying to work with Westminster Council to figure out an agreement, but when it comes to such a minority of performers, they do have the laws and resources to deal with the problematic performers, without needing this blanket license.

A license is not going to solve the issue because all of the complaints, which are not about buskers or performers, they're just complaining about the noise. I believe that some of the complaints aren't genuine as well.

They need to try and work with us to sort it out. We know they haven't used their existing power to deal with it. They just want to put the license in place.

Why do you think street performing should be saved?

First of all, it's our culture, it's our heritage. Busking relies on the nature of being a great, spontaneous art form. You're always going to get some people who are irresponsible, but that's a minority, and you can deal with them on a case-by-case basis. We need to save it, or the beauty of street performing will go.

This is also one of the reasons tourists come here. They enjoy it, they come to see it. If street performers end up quitting the industry, there will be fewer people coming. It would also have an effect on other boroughs too. If it spreads, it could be very harmful, and that is worrying.

What do you think street performing brings to people?

It brings people laughter and distraction when they're having a difficult time. It's also a living for people. Street performers invest their time, and it's their livelihood to make people happy. It's so important, especially in times like this with COVID, where we've not had entertainment for so long. And not just entertainment on a screen. With all the theatres closed, there's no events or venues. And it's outdoors, so it's safer than indoors. If you don't have street performances, you have nothing, and people need it.

If you want to help, you can sign the petition here, respond to Westminster City Council's consultation here or donate to support their legal challenge here.

Photo credit: Chas Pressman