Extraordinary life of ‘Houdini’ who astounded world leaders
- Credit: Archant
You might not think it to look at him now, but 83-year-old Dani Almond could once perform a motorcycle stunt known as the Wall of Death.
The extraordinary life of Dani, who lives in Haydon Road, Dagenham, which saw him perform for the likes of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, India’s first prime minister, Pandit Nerhu and Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, will be the subject of a talk at Havering Museum in December.
Dani was born in Kanpur, India, into a family who moved there from England with the first East India Company.
As a boy he joined the circus after being attracted by the breathtaking feats and tricks of its performers.
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“I was just mad about beds of nails and fire eating and all that,” he says. “I was crazy for it.”
He began by cleaning motorcycles and watching the performers do their stunts. He soon learned to perform tricks himself, including fire eating, sawing a woman in half and the terrifying Wall of Death, where motorcyclists perform stunts on the walls of a 20ft wooden cylinder.
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After the partition of India, Dani fled his country for Britain in 1956, as his white complexion made it dangerous for him to stay there – such was the anger against British colonial rule.
“If you were white skinned you would have had it,” he explained. “My dad said: ‘You either go to America or you go to England.’”
Arriving in London aged 26, Dani was surprised at how early the restaurants and bars closed.
“I remember walking the streets in the rain crying,” he said. “It was the worst time of my life.”
He began working at Wood Grange Park station, in Manor Park, where he said his station manager was a “very good” person to work for.
But his unique talents were soon discovered after a co-worker bet him his wage packet he could not light a fire with his mouth.
The press got wind of the stunt and the next day they surrounded the station wanting to talk to him.
“From there everything escalated,” he says. “I played everywhere.”
Shortly afterwards Dani was featured on a television series and then toured the country, appearing in places such as Manchester and Blackpool and later at The Dorchester hotel, in London.
He once performed a Houdini-like escape from a pair of handcuffs for an audience of police officers.
After the event he says the police commissioner told him to stay away from his jail.
Dani went on to a career in films, featuring alongside stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Bob Hope and The Beatles as a stuntman and performer.
Despite being immersed in the world of showbiz, Dani says he was able to resist the usual trappings of such a lifestyle.
He said: “I never smoked, I never drank and I would never touch drugs. The big stars didn’t like me for it, but I could not care less.”
Dani has seven children, including three girls and one boy who were born in England.
Looking back on his life, he says it was an honour to meet with the likes of Gandhi and perform for heads of state.
“I’ve had a good life,” he says. “I don’t think about it now. I just took it day to day and that was it. It just came naturally to me.”