‘Magic saved my life – and now I use it to inspire others in tackling their mental health’, says inspirational south Warwickshire man
Angus Baskerville wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until he moved back from South Africa to Kenilworth aged 15, by which time he had failed to fit in at 13 schools and suffered chronic low self-esteem.
Now aged 26, he is a successful events magician who has vowed to ‘pay it forward’ by helping others overcome the challenges of neurodiversity through school workshops.
Warwick-born Angus, who also has ADHD, recalls: “School was a major challenge for me. Teachers didn’t understand me because I was behaving very differently to the other students, and I was always known by everyone as the ‘naughty one.’ I spent so much time sitting outside the headteacher’s office.
“Bullying was a major problem all through school, both physical and mental. There were times I would get kicked and punched and boys even tried to strangle me with a rope once. I was always excluded from everything and felt constantly isolated.
“I spent so much time in the naughty corner, at one school the teacher even named it after me!
“Lack of understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome, when everyone thinks you’re being odd or naughty when in actual fact it’s something you can’t help, can be a first-class ticket to serious mental health problems and it’s why I urge people to fight to get their diagnosis as soon as possible.”
It was while holidaying with family and friends aged 17 that Angus was shown a simple card trick and first became fascinated with magic.
“They also taught me how it was done, and I started going around showing everyone I knew. Because it wowed me, I wanted to wow other people. I became more and more interested, and I started learning tricks on YouTube and asking for magic sets for Christmas. I discovered it was massively helping my self-esteem.
“All of a sudden I found myself concentrating and focusing for hours on learning and perfecting a new trick. It wasn’t until I found magic that I was able to make friends for the very first time. My social skills improved a lot.”
As a Christmas gift in 2014 Angus’ parents Neil and Kate enrolled him on a magic course at the famous Davenport’s in London, bolstered by which he went on to compete in – and win - his sixth form talent contest. He earned money through his talent for the first time, performing tricks for tips in his local pub.
At 19, Angus joined Leamington and Warwick Magic Society and, in 2020 he was accepted as a member of the prestigious Magic Circle. He is now in demand on both the magic and public speaking circuits, performing for the likes of Richard E Grant, Linda Robson, Peter Jones CBE, Sir Mo Farah OBE, Roman Kemp, Melanie Sykes, Patsy Kensit and Frank Bruno MBE.
He also performs at major talent shows, alongside his idol Dynamo, including Autism’s Got Talent and Edinburgh Fringe and has recently been put forward for Britain’s Got Talent.
Angus, who recently moved to Stratford, is a regular keynote speaker at autism conferences and workshops around the country, and a neurodiversity ambassador for The Institute of Occupational Health.
But his journey has seen him battle some dark times, including a spell of self-harming and suicidal thoughts. Today he is hoping to bring his magic into schools which, he believes, could provide access to help sooner.
“I think if I had been diagnosed earlier things would have been different,” he said. “I just felt like I was a bad person and the whole world was against me. I just didn’t want to be here.
“I felt so much pain on the inside and I thought I’d rather feel it on the outside because sometimes emotional pain is worse than physical pain. I was also attacking myself because I believed I was such a loser. Over the course of the years, I came to realise that you have to find better ways of dealing with it.”
His mental health also suffered a huge setback in April this year when, while waiting for a train at Warwick Parkway Station, Angus was witness to a suicide right in front of him.
This harrowing incident made him even more determined to help others with mental health issues, by sharing some of the mindfulness tools he has developed over time to deal with anxiety and low mood. He also signed up to a course on self-harm and suicide awareness and prevention.
He said: “Anyone can have suicidal thoughts, but to actually witness a suicide in action when someone jumps in front of a train like that, is so awfully traumatic. It frightened the living daylights out of me. When I went to bed that night, I was role playing it repeatedly in my head, thinking, was it my fault? Could I have stopped it?
“People who take their own lives haven’t been able to open up and be honest about their feelings. They appear on the outside to be fine, even to their own family, and it’s completely second nature for them to say ‘yes, I’m fine’ even if they’re far from fine. You’ve always got to check up on those you care about regularly because you could be saving somebody’s life.”
As Angus continues to forge a successful career as a magician, he dreams of travelling the world with his show one day – and work is already under way on his first book.
He said: “My story shows that anything is possible. One of my favourite lines is from Winnie the Pooh: ‘You are braver than you believe, you are stronger than you seem, and you are smarter than you think.’ We are not alone. You can achieve anything you set mind to.”