My Weekend: Jim Mottram

Times Online, October 26, 2007

Jim Mottram is a tax partner at City firm Nabarro. He specialises in a lot of things that many of us do not understand, such as structuring and implementing UK and cross-border transactions for both funds and general corporate clients, the minutiae of investment trusts and offshore funds with a strong hedge fund bias. These hedge funds, according to Mottram’s bio on the Nabarro website, include hedge funds that “range from directional funds to funds of funds”. At this point one reaches for the aspirin. If only there was a magician who could explain all this.

Happily, and most atypically among his brethren, Mottram is, in fact, a magician. Literally. “I’ve been developing my magical skills for the past four or five years,” the 42-year-old says. “It all started when I was in a pub one night, and a magician came in and started doing tricks. He piqued my inquisitive nature. Soon afterwards, I called into International Magic and said: ‘How do you start?’”

For the uninitiated, International Magic on Clerkenwell Road is a magic shop in which world-famous trick-meister Jerry Sadowitz can often be seen. It’s also conveniently located near to Nabarro’s Holborn offices; soon Mottram found himself dropping by whenever he could to talk magic or watch in astonishment as Sadowitz performed impromptu tricks in the shop. If his interest had initially been piqued, now he was hooked, for as he says: “Sadowitz is amazing. He has to be the best close-up magician in the world.”

Before long, Mottram had absorbed enough information to start trying out his own tricks. He lives in Harpenden, in Hertfordshire, and can often be found in the town’s pubs, practicing magic on unsuspecting punters—so much so that some commuters on his morning train greet him as ‘Mr Magic’. “I’ll wander up to someone and ask if they’d like to see a trick,” he explains. “Initially they might be a little bit wary, but then, once I’ve done the trick, the look on their faces is fantastic. Hearing them say ‘That’s impossible!’ is what magic is all about.”

“Magic has two sides,” Mottram adds. “There’s a technical aspect to tricks but also a social side. The interaction of the two is very important. I find it an absolute joy, working out how something is done, but it’s vital to be able to engage with people as well.” By way of practice, Mottram tries new tricks on his wife Francesca, as well as his two children. Although his three-year-old daughter is a little too young for magic, he says that his son, eight, “loves it”.

For Mottram, magic is not merely fun for the family or the people he meets in Harpendon; it is also a useful ice-breaker at work. We speak just after his return from a conference in Japan, at which Mottram performed a few tricks. “I travel a lot and always have a pack of cards with me,” he says. “Being the lawyer who can do a bit of magic is a great way of making an impression.” Likewise, in recruitment situations, Mottram finds that magic “can neutralise the negative vibes that come with being a tax lawyer”.

As well as Sadowitz, Mottram is a big fan of Derren Brown. “His techniques of pseudo-mind reading are extraordinary. It’s very powerful when done right in front of you.” He is not so enamoured of David Blaine’s large-scale stunts and enthuses most of all about card tricks. “I don’t do a lot of tricks badly but prefer to do a few well. I’ve discovered a two-stage card switch at the moment that is probably my favourite trick.” Mottram explains what happens but, in keeping with the magician’s code, will not say how.

Is his pursuit of the magician’s art somehow complementary to the law—especially tax law? “I do it because it’s different,” says Mottram. “I wouldn’t want to do it for money. It’d be too stressful. As it is I just enjoy magic for its own sake and seeing how people react. It’s the opposite of what I do as a tax lawyer, where my task is to make complicated things simple. In magic, I’m making simple things seem very complicated indeed.”