Many years ago when I was a Showman and street performing stand up comedian on the streets of Cardiff, I was playing with fire to a small crowd, perhaps 50 people or so. A young heckler called out:
Shove it in your gob!
I swaggered over to him and told him to shove it in his gob. He stepped forward, took the fire brand from my hand, knelt, tipped his head back and slowly lowered the fiercely burning stick into his mouth. He was right underneath me and I could see down his throat. I watched the flames lick around his palate and then his lips pursed with a kissing noise and the fire was swallowed. At the end of the show I made a very large hat. I offered the heckler some of it but he declined.
That made me realise I needed to become a fire-eater. Immediately I went to the park in Cardiff and found a quiet spot in the trees, far away from anyone. Although comfortable with fire, I found it difficult to co-ordinate lowering it into my mouth from above. The first few times I pushed it into my cheeks. My hand which held the fire got burnt from above. Eventually I tried to lower it into my mouth. It was far too hot to contemplate going any further and I burnt my lips horribly.
A couple of even younger voices started shouting at me. Some children had found me and they shouted abuse:
Why don’t you do it properly?
Why don’t you learn how to do it from a book?
You don’t know how to do it!
I couldn’t get them to leave and I couldn’t concentrate on what was already quite a challenging new experience with them shouting at me. After twenty minutes I gave up and went back to the street. Having gathered another crowd, another heckler called out:
In a quiet rage I swaggered over to him, too sore to answer back, tipped my neck back so that my mouth was underneath his face, as had been done to me earlier and, very slowly, lowered the burning stick into my mouth and ate the fire. I felt no pain but afterwards it hurt like hell. I made a very large hat.
Over the years I have been asked many times how to eat fire. The best advice is don’t. If you must do, remember it is a young man’s game. I last breathed fire (the opposite to eating it) on top of a hill on a windy night wearing a beard – schoolboy errors – having drunk a pint of whiskey on a stag do. Unsurprisingly I set my face on fire. My face now seems to have a permanent skin problem, hidden by my beard. One watcher that night commented later that I had incredible presence of mind to be able to fall over with my face on fire but never allow the full pint glass of paraffin to tip out of the vertical, then to put it down somewhere safe and away from my burning stick and face, before extinguishing myself. Stupidly, I committed self-immolation twice that night, demonstrating that presence of mind on both occasions. Shows my mastery of the craft. I have done it whilst stoned on cannabis and strongly tripping on magic mushrooms but I had the accidents on alcohol. Hmm. In the end it gave me pleurisy. That’s when I quit.
If you’re still reading, I think you deserve to be let in on the secret. There is no secret. Neither milk nor anything else can protect you from the horrors. Do start with a wet mouth though. If you have a beard, shave it off. Keep out the wind. Take a deep breath. Use a wick which you can comfortably put completely into your mouth when unlit. Lower it past your lips quickly whilst gently exhaling, to try to keep the fire away from the sides of your mouth. Practise to see how long you can hold it before your lips blister. When you’ve had enough, kiss the stick behind the wick – that bit always messes you up – and swiftly pull the smoking remnant out of your mouth with a flourish of the hand and a cheer from the crowd. There’s nothing more to it. It hurts a lot. I used to eat salty chips afterwards to cure the injuries.
When I first saw the picture above I thought it was a fake. The flames look wrong. Perhaps it is a HD shot. They weren’t around in my day. I’ll post pictures of me doing it soon.