Emma’s Eccentric Britain: escapology, Covent Garden, London

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Chris Cross looks like a slightly camp extra from Pirates of the Caribbean. He's as tall as a ship's mast, is wearing a leopard skin bandana and his clothes are covered in skulls and crossbones.

He's from Newcastle and is a magician and escapologist once described as "a lanky Geordie velociraptor". There's an air of unpredictability about him, so I'm surprised when I look down and see what he's wearing on his feet.

"Socks and espadrilles, Chris?" I ask, pointing.

"They're ever-so toasty," he tells me, swishing a foot, coquettishly. "It's all about the espadrilles. There's a hint of madness, but I'm bookable."

Chris is part of the Blink Collective, an organisation that works as an online marketplace for amazing experiences and I’ve joined him in Covent Garden, where he's going to teach me the rudiments of street performing.

He's also got a pair of handcuffs. "I'm going to padlock you in those later," he tells me, swishing them in front of me. "And if you're really lucky, I'll tell you how to get out of them too."

Chris performed his first magic trick at the age of 10. It was a disappearing coin trick bought for ?2.49. "It was a coin, a piece of elastic, a safety pin and a crocodile clip," he tells me. "It was rubbish but I was a fat kid and whenever I did it, I got respect. It was a confidence booster. I was cool."

Confidence isn't something Chris currently has a problem with. He's a bag of beans. As we walk together through Covent Garden, he's happily chatting to everyone. "Don't you hate it," he says to two police officers as they pass us, "when you go out, and you're both wearing the same thing?"

They giggle. One reaches for his handcuffs. I hope he's not going to put them on me. I haven't learned how to get out of them yet.

"I was working clubs and strip joints when I was 13," Chris tells me. "I'd go in, ask to see the manager, say I'm really good. I've seen me before. You should book me. And then I'd do a few tricks. That would hook them in. By the time I was 16 I was making enough to leave school."

"I've done magic for Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Dizzee Rascal and the cast of Geordie Shore."

The trick, I'm learning, to street performing is to make your presence felt. "It's a hard life," says Chris. "What you get in your hat is all you're taking home that day. The trick is to muster a crowd, get them round you, get some noise going, make other people think they're missing something. If you're good, you can start with three people and end with 300. The way I see it, every single one of those people has my money in their pockets. I just have to work out how to get them to give it to me."

He sits me down and pulls out the handcuffs. "Now then," he says, fixing me with a penetrating stare, "I'm going to teach you the secrets of magic. You have to promise never to tell." I promise I never will, ever, and Chris inaugurates me into the swirling mysteries of escapology.

We've moved down to the South Bank and it's swarming with tourists but to get them to stop and form an audience is another matter. Chris, wide-eyed and enthusiastic, leaps in front of four women with buggies and orders them to form a front line "We're about to do a show!" he yells, gleefully. "I can do weird tricks with my body!"

Within moments there's a crowd of more than 100. Chris puts me in the handcuffs. Flimflam and hooha follow, small children, faces covered with ice-cream, stand and stare and, with a not inconsiderable flourish, I escape right in front of their disbelieving eyes.

"How much did we get?" I ask Chris, once his hat has gone round.

"?12.81," he tells me, with a shrug. "That's rubbish. I should have put you in a straitjacket."

A sentiment that needs no further comment …

• Emma's day with Chris was provided by the Blink Collective (blinkcollective.com) and costs ?250pp. You can also book Chris at chriscrossentertainment.co.uk

Follow Emma Kennedy on Twitter @Emma67

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