Newcastle escapologist Chris Cross shuns doctors' warnings
PUBLISHED: 08:33 19 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:50 20 February 2013
Young Tyneside escapologist Chris Cross has been dubbed the Ozzy Osbourne of cabaret because of his crazy death-defying stunts. He talks to Michael Hamilton about his rare talent
How did you first get into escapology?
How did I get out of it you mean! Sorry bad joke. It all started at school really where I learned my first magic trick at the age of 10. I grew up in Fenham, Newcastle, and went to Stocksfield Avenue Primary School and then Ryton Comprehensive. But I was also fascinated by escapology and I found at an early age I could dislocate my shoulder at will. I would show the kids at school weird tricks with my body in PE or in the changing rooms and it developed from there.
My act usually starts with a few freaky contortion tricks to warm up my body then I work up to a big finale which can be escaping from 10 metres of chains and handcuffs, or getting out of 50 metres of Clingfilm wrapped head to toe, or wriggling out of a straitjacket upside down suspended from a crane high above a river.
You must have had some hairy moments. What was the worst?
The worst was in Torquay when I was doing a street show act right by the sea. I like to be a bit cheeky with the crowd and there was this bloke who was very drunk and shouting and wouldnt shut up. So I said: Kids, dont do drugs or youll end up like him actually hes my boyfriend and he follows me everywhere.
At that point he went crazy, picked me up - he was a very big bloke - and hurled me into the sea in my straitjacket. I still had to get out of the jacket quickly otherwise I would have drowned. When I escaped the crowd went wild.
You must be in danger of doing permanent damage to your body?
I was told to stop years ago but Ive no plans to quit. Each time I do these crazy stunts I cause more damage. The straitjacket escape, for example, entails a double dislocation. Its not a magic trick - its real escapology. I already suffer from arthritis.
Ive been advised by doctors many times to stop the act but I could be knocked over by a bus tomorrow. Youve got to live your life. Im 21 now and Id like to think I will still be doing this when Im 30. Im a magician too so when my body cant cope with this any more, Ive always got that to fall back on.
What does your family make of your career?
My dad was Australian and he left before I was born. My mam married again and I dont get on with my stepfather so I was brought up by my grandparents. They looked after me through my childhood, took me to school and everything and I still live with them in Fenham now. My nana is Dorothy and she is 79 and granddad Alfred is 80. Im really proud of them and love them to bits. I wouldnt be where I am today without them. I just hope Im as cool as they are if I even get to 80. Ive just bought the semi next to theirs so now we have the whole house.
Who else has been an influence?
My friend Rob Roy Collins helped me in the early days. Youve probably seen his street show in Northumberland Street in Newcastle getting out of chains. When I was a kid I would stop and watch his show. He became a bit of a mentor. In terms of heroes I love Michael Jackson - undoubtedly the greatest performer in the world. Charlie Chaplin is another hero - Modern Times is my favourite movie. And Harry Houdini was the greatest escapologist who ever lived. His name has become synonymous with escapology.
Do you ever get fed up with the rocknroll lifestyle?
Ive been travelling doing cabaret and stuff since I was 16. I would do all the holiday parks and travel around myself by train. The booze was always free and they didnt know how old I was. Ive always looked older than I am anyway. So I would get drunk, go to parties afterwards and hang out with the girls. There were always drugs around too. The next day you would be hung-over so you needed more booze to pick you up for the next gig. I fell into a bad pattern for a few years. I was addicted to it. I had steady girlfriends but always cheated on them with plenty of one-night stands. I had to snap myself out of it.
It all came to a head when I did a gig at the Newcastle Arena with the Arctic Monkeys. I know the guys and they asked me to do some cabaret stuff backstage. I drank a litre of rum in one night and the next day I just couldnt remember the night before. I didnt like that so I decided to sort myself out. Im back on track and my life is back in control. Ive got a steady girlfriend - shes a burlesque dancer from Manchester called Amelia Valentine.
Ive never fancied the nine to five routine. Ive never really had a proper job and I dont intend to.
Now that Im driving to all my shows it helps keep me off the booze too.
Whats been the highlight of your career so far?
This whole year has been amazing. In January I was invited to perform at the most prestigious street-performing festival in the world in New Zealand. Some of the streets acts were getting crowds of 2,000. In March I entertained the Prince in Bahrain at the Formula One event. In April I was on TV in Greeces Got Talent and got through to the semi-final. In May I went gigging to New York and LA. I loved America - I definitely want to go back there again. Im at the Edinburgh Festival until August 27 then Im doing an interview for a TV documentary. For Halloween I want to do an upside down straitjacket escape at the London Dungeon - in memory of Houdini who died on Halloween in 1926.
And whats your big ambition?
Well, Im already fulfilling one ambition, which is to travel the world. My other ambition is to have a nice big house. Id love to have one of those 5million castles in Northumberland. Then I would probably become a recluse and retire away from it all. Its nice to be recognised and stopped in the street and I enjoy the attention but Im quite a private person really and it would be
nice to be able to escape from it all -
no pun intended!