Why we're loving: Richard Young

Campaign loves Richard Young, magician. Here's why.

How did you get involved in the campaign? Crimestoppers got in touch with my friend, a magician called Rob James. He thought my experience as a former pickpocket would be useful. We had to get permission to carry out the activity and have a police presence in case anyone thought we were genuinely trying to steal from people.

What happened on the day? The first day was in a market in Bristol. We worked with a production company to film it. For the iPad-sized cards, Rob and I worked together: I would distract people by asking for directions while Rob would slip something into their rucksack. No-one caught us.

When were you a pickpocket? I was very interested in magic when I was a kid. The techniques of a pickpocket are similar to a magician’s – sleight of hand, misdirection. I grew up in a dodgy part of the world and had an opportunity to integrate with a group of pickpockets when I was 13. There were six of us who worked together; they were all older.

It’s not as glamorous as people think it is. It’s often just grabbing and running away with stuff.

My mum and dad brought me up well. I justified my behaviour by thinking it was research for being a magician. But when the group was given a caution from the police, I decided to stop. We all did stupid things when we were teenagers, but I really regret it. Now I try to help people by educating them on how pickpockets work.

How do pickpockets work? You watch where people buy things – a burger van, a market stall – to see where they put their wallet. The idea that pickpockets target train stations is a myth. They tend to go for somewhere where people are relaxing, where their guard is down.  

How can people avoid becoming a victim? Men should not put their wallets in their back pockets. It’s so easy to steal them – I could teach someone to do it in five minutes. Women should carry a bag with a shorter strap and keep the bag between their body and arm. Don’t let it hang behind you. And keep it zipped up.

What do you do now? I make a living as a magician as part of a double act called Young & Strange. We play at the Edinburgh Festival every year, and do a stage show and corporate events.

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