This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
It’s a freezing cold February afternoon in Regent's Park and, somewhat peculiarly, a teenager in a Stüssy hoodie and beanie hat is sat opposite me shuffling cards. “Shall I show you a trick?", he asks. I write my name on a card (10 of hearts), place it back in the deck, and watch as he somehow manages to turn the entire deck -- 10 of hearts aside -- totally translucent. “You can keep that,” he says, handing me the card bearing my signature.
At 16, Billy Menezes is still in full-time education and, by law, has to be accompanied by a legal guardian when we meet. His mum, sat a couple benches over from us, waits patiently while we chat. But Billy isn't letting his age stop him from becoming London's most popular magician. And if his Instagram is anything to go by, he's much more likely to found at a trendy London fashion event than a sixth form house party, anyway.
It was Billy's mum that set him on the path to making magic. “She owned a children’s cafe, so she used to do my birthday parties,” he says. “When I was seven I had a Harry Potter themed birthday with a Daniel Radcliffe lookalike. Apparently, I said to him: ‘Are you not going home on your broom?’ because I saw him get into his car at the end of the day!”
Everyone went home with a party bag full of “crappy magic tricks”, like one that would make a coin vanish. He remembered wanting it, and being curious to know how it worked. That, he reckons, is the moment the seed for his future career was planted. A few years later he began googling card tricks, and not long after -- having finessed the finer details -- it became his new hobby.
By the time he was 14, now old enough to leave the house and meet new mates around London, word spread of the teenage lad with a knack for illusions and hand trickery. Billy stood out, I suggest, because he was doing something that few teenagers in the 2010s paid attention to. In an age of digital trickery and deepfakes, he’s managed to dedicate his free time to an art form most young people don’t care for.
But then generation Z are, after all, the masters of reinvention. In the last five years, hobbies like book clubs, rock-climbing, ceramics have lost their associations with musty old baby boomers. It's happening in fashion, too, with kids taking practical kit once considered uncool -- big trainers, utility trousers, fleeces -- and reimagining them for consumers who’d sooner shop on Depop than in a branch of Millets.
In fact, Billy's big break came in the fashion sphere: by rocking up to parties he, at first, wasn’t invited to, and swindling his way in. “I’m sort of ratting myself out but I think I was, like, 14,” he says of the first time he snuck into a party, showing off tricks to Skepta and his mates. The bouncers refused to let him in, so he snuck around the back door of the venue and claimed he was a performer: “‘You don’t have a wristband’ the bouncer said, so I told him I’d show him a trick to prove it. I basically spent an hour trying to get in that way.” It’s only when the security guards switched shifts and he showed the next guard a good enough trick that he finally made it inside the event. “After I did it, he took me straight to the VIP bit and I just started showing off!” he grins.
His encounter with A$AP Mob’s Twelvyy and his mates was far more spontaneous. In New York during the summer, he spotted Twelvyy walking down the street from the window of a taxi. He asked the driver to stop, jumped out and approached him on the street. “I was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna see some magic?’. That was super weird.”
Kate Moss, who’d already bagged a dozen i-D covers by the time Billy was born, was another recent admirer of his work. “That one didn’t really hit me until after, when people told me I’d just done magic for Kate Moss,” he shrugs. Catch Dua Lipa and Rita Ora on his Instagram, too.
But if you’re quick to dismiss Billy as a byproduct of our generation managing to find fame in anything, know that he respects his forefathers. His childhood hero Dynamo used to drive past his school when he was a kid. “I used to wait at the gate and hope he’d wave at me,” he says. “Now he does!” He’s humble too, and his family are also incredibly proud of him. “My mum really likes it, and she’s very supportive,” he says. ”We’re like best friends and get along so well,” he says. A recent interview online made his grandmother cry with joy. And the coterie of celebrities he finds himself rubbing shoulders with hasn't inflated his ego. “I try and keep a couple close friends around me, and they tell me if something I do is rubbish,” he says. “I think it’s good to have open friendships, and not too many people around.”
Following in the footsteps of his idols, Billy is starting to look beyond college and the tricks he’s performing right now, towards television: “I don’t know if I’m a weird person but, on my desk, I just write everything I want to do, and then cross it off once it’s done!" But until then, he's happy to just see where magic takes him (and which parties it gets him into, too).
Photography Tom Emmerson