Caring for those in Need

The Magic of Cillian!

Cillian O’Connor is a 15-year-old magician from County Meath, Ireland, who amazed judges and audiences on TV’s Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent. During one of his auditions, Cillian explained that he enjoys performing magic not only because it makes people happy, but because it also helps him overcome the social awkwardness that comes with his autism. I spoke to Cillian recently about his personal challenges and his remarkable abilities

BY Interview by Faye Simon, Editor In Chief | April 2024 | Category: Autism Awareness

The Magic of Cillian!

Faye Simon: Hi Cillian. It is so nice to meet you. Let’s start with when you were younger. What are some of the difficulties you had to deal with?

Cillian O’Connor: Because of my autism: one of the difficulties was my social skills. I wasn’t the best at talking. I knew what to say, but I didn't know how to say it. I didn’t fit in. Also, my fine motor skills due to dyspraxia, I had to go to occupational therapy and that really improved my fine motor skills. Another thing was loud noises. I was definitely not the biggest fan of them. On Halloween or New Year’s Eve, if I were to hear a firework or hear a balloon pop, I would run as far away as I could. I struggled a lot in my childhood, but the magic has helped me overcome that.

Faye: In school, when you were struggling with your social skills, how did the kids react to you?

Cillian: The kids were nice about the autism. There’d be the odd time where trouble would happen, but most of the time it was a friendly environment. In primary school it felt like I was on the outside looking in, but after learning the magic, I was on the inside looking out.

Faye: How did you get the idea to try magic?

Cillian: I would say there were two main factors that led to my interest in magic. The first one was a relative of mine who showed me a trick where he took his thumb and he split it in half. The second factor would’ve happened in 2017. There was this magician named Issy Simpson. She performed on Britain’s Got Talent [BGT] and made it all the way to second place in the final. I kept bugging my parents, saying “I want to go meet her.” They explained to me that I was living in Ireland, she was living in England and that it wouldn’t be possible. But a relative of hers got in touch with us.

Cillian’s Mom, Elaine, added: After Cillian kept asking us over and over, I said I would send a message on Facebook, and I asked if she was performing anywhere, and would it be okay to meet up after. To our surprise, her grandfather (Russ Stevens) replied and said that they live in Blackpool and that if we could bring Cillian to them, they would make the meeting happen. Blackpool is in England and we live in Ireland, so we had to take a plane. This meeting took place in August 2017 and in Cillian’s words “was the best day of his life.” Cillian and Issy are now really close, as are our families.

Cillian: Seeing Issy perform on Britain’s Got Talent was a big factor, which led to me meeting her, which led to me finding out about the biggest magic convention in the world, the Blackpool Magic Convention, and seven years later, here I am.

Faye: How did you learn magic?

Cillian: I learned some of the tricks from social media. I learned some of them from books. I would often learn from other magicians. In 2018, I joined a local magic society, the Society of Irish Magicians. They meet up every month and they really help with improving your current magic, but also teach you new magic. I am the youngest member to join that society of all time.

Faye: How old were you when you joined?

Cillian: I was eight or nine when I joined, so very young. I was told that the minimum age was 13, so it was an honor to become the youngest member.

Faye: How old are you now?

Cillian: I’m 15.

Faye: Did you have to try out and do tricks for them to accept you?

Cillian: Before I was a member, they had told my dad that they wanted to see me go up on stage and perform something. The first meeting I went to, I was going around doing magic to the other people there, not on stage. They just decided “this kid is brilliant; we want him in”.

Faye: When was the first time that you went on a stage?

Cillian: The Blackpool Magic Convention. In 2020, they did an interview with a few kids, and I was one of them. The first time that I performed on a stage would’ve been at the Blackpool Magic Convention in 2022. The newspaper trick that I performed in the final of Britain’s Got Talent, I performed there. Another trick was where I poured water into a glass, turned it over, water stays in, and then snap, it all falls out. That was the first time I had performed on a stage.

Faye: Did you feel your autism had any impact on how you felt when you got on your first stage?

Cillian: The autism definitely had an impact. There’s a clip of me on my Instagram around the time that I did the performance. I was getting prepared to walk on, waiting for them to call me. At the side of the stage, I was doing this little dance: coming back and forth with my feet. I was nervous before I was going on. When I was on the stage, I wasn’t nervous. That first time, I feel like I should have been nervous performing magic in front of 3000 magicians, but for some reason I wasn’t, and I can’t explain why. With the BGT audition, I was nervous before going on the stage and I was nervous on the stage. If you watch my BGT audition, you can see that I’m nervous the whole way through. Being face to face with Simon Cowell, you can see I’m taking deep breaths while going through the routine. Being able to overcome the nerves and complete the performance, I was so happy at the end. The tears you saw, they were happy tears.

Faye: For some people I know that have autism, lights can be a problem. Was that a problem for you on the stage?

Cillian: I feel I wouldn’t really be affected by light with my autism. It’s mainly just loud noises that would affect me. If there was something that was happening that you just couldn’t cope with, BGT had a room in the back that you could go into. It was noise proof. When BGT was recording the auditions there was a band on stage and they had drums, and they were going boom! boom! boom! That would’ve been a case where I had to go into that room to keep away from the noise.

Faye: What is it about magic that you love?

Cillian: What I love about magic, it’s how I can inspire others. It’s how I was able to improve a lot of the things I struggle with, having autism. Social skills and dyspraxia would be two of the biggest things. I also love that whenever I go to perform magic for people, it makes them happy. When I first started magic, whenever I learned new tricks, I would only perform it to my family and friends. Then as time went on, I realized that more people wanted to see magic, so I started to perform magic if I would go out, anywhere. Another thing was, I let the magic do the talking for me. Whenever I’m performing magic for people, I know what I’m going to say to them, and then after I finish all the magic and they have anything else they want to say, I am able to talk to them without using magic. I’m just able to make conversation with them.

Faye: Do you think the magic is an icebreaker for you, because you are comfortable with it, and you feel like you’re communicating with people? Then when it’s done, the ice is broken, and you feel more comfortable with them?

Cillian: Yeah. Around 2020, COVID time, in the summer I would go to the end of my driveway in the afternoon with a table full of magic. For anyone that was passing by, I would ask if they’d like to see some magic, and I would do magic for them. That was one of the first things that helped me interact with people, because I wouldn’t just stop friends that I see coming by, I would ask anyone if they like to see magic. That played a big part in me being able to talk face to face with people. I feel like the experience I had with BGT, America’s Got Talent and other TV shows, I’ve grown more confident to not only be using my magic to talk, but talking just in person. The questions after a while start to feel familiar, like you’ve been asked that question before. I’m able to use previous answers to answer those questions. Even if it’s a new question, I can take parts from previous questions and answer it.

Faye: Was it a different experience on America’s Got Talent than on Britain’s Got Talent?

Cillian: I would say that AGT was more relaxed. Now, I’m not saying my time with Britain's Got Talent was bad, but they were definitely more rushed with everything than America’s Got Talent. With America’s Got Talent, there weren’t as many people working each day. There were still a lot of people, but not as many as in Britain’s Got Talent. For both Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent, I had a mentor. The selection process for AGT Fantasy League, sixty acts from Got Talents all around the world were nominated, with the American audience choosing 40 of them to go into the show. For AGT, each judge had a team of 10 acts, and I was selected for Simon’s team. The judges would call the acts that they had chosen for their dream team. When I got the call from Simon, he told me that he had selected me for his son, Eric. He told me that I was one of Eric’s favorite acts on Britain’s Got Talent. For the video of the judges picking the acts, he says, “Eric, this one’s for you.” Then he picks up my card. Simon acted as a mentor for everyone in the team, and he was very supportive. He said that I should tell a story and I should also use great music for my performance.

Faye: Did you find the kids in school, the teachers, acting differently towards you after BGT and AGT?

Cillian: In the semi-final of BGT, I mentioned the name of one of my teachers, Ms. Kieran, who at the time was my math teacher. I linked her to the quote “if you truly believe, then anything is possible” because on one of the doors in her math room, there was a quote very similar to that. That was the main reason I picked her to be the teacher named – no offense to any of the other teachers that teach me. For my summer exams that year, I was only able to do a few of them, but Math was one of them. I scored the highest in Math, but I got an 83% from the teacher that I had mentioned in the semi-final and final of Britain’s Got Talent. I thought I should have gotten 100%. Can you blame me?

Faye: [laughed] Is Math your favorite subject?

Cillian: Math is second favorite subject behind geography. Also, vexillology, the study of flags, specifically world flags. Over the course of the summer of 2022, I taught myself the flag of every single country. It was very hard considering some flags are incredibly similar to each other. One example would be Romania and Chad – I still have trouble telling which is which.

Faye: Did you miss school because of the different shows?

Cillian: No, all the homework was uploaded onto Google Classroom, and in America you had to do three hours of school a day. For America, I had to do homework, but not for Britain’s Got Talent, because I was on holiday, summer vacation. In America, when I wasn’t performing, I was doing homework. In Britain, I was just relaxing if I wasn’t performing.

Faye: When you’re at shows, do they give you time to practice?

Cillian: They do. For the live shows on Britain’s Got Talent, the semi-final and final, they had the dress rehearsal beforehand, so you got to practice your act in full, in front of nobody. You would practice everything in dress rehearsal: your entrance at the start, your act and the result at the end. In the dress rehearsal, they made up the results. They decided let’s make Cillian the winner, so technically I won Britain’s Got Talent.

Faye: How long were you in America?

Cillian: I was in America for a couple of weeks. It was my first time in America.

Faye: Did you get to see any of America, or were you always at the show or the hotel?

Cillian: It was recorded in Los Angeles, California, so I was able to go around Los Angeles. I was quite close to the Hollywood sign and also where all the celebrity’s houses are. Also, I went to Santa Monica Pier, which was very nice. On the day that I was leaving America to go back to Ireland, we were waiting in the lobby for our taxi, and this car pulled into our hotel and the license plate read Magic JT. I was thinking, that can’t be a coincidence. That has to be some magician. This man and his wife got out and entered the hotel, and I decided to walk over to them. I was talking to his wife when the man came back over. I asked, was he a magician? He said yes,  and I said, “Well, I think then me and you have something in common.” I talked to him a bit and I found out that the Magic Castle was a few minutes away. He was the vice president. He said that if or when I was ever back in Los Angeles, he would invite me to the Magic Castle. It’s very rare to get into the Magic Castle, and most of the time you have to become a member, but you can also get invited.

Another story from when I was in America; while I was on the studio where AGT was being filmed, the man behind the magic, Russ Stevens, told me to close my eyes and sit down. So, I did. Then, I put my hands out and he gave me something. I opened my eyes and I saw it was the Marvin’s Magic Rising Star Awards, which is awarded to an upcoming magician every year. I was awarded it in 2023.

Faye: How would you describe the impact of magic for you?

Cillian: It definitely has had an impact. Being on both Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent, it’s made me more popular with the audiences of both countries. It’s also spread across more nations – since then, I’ve done a TV show in Scotland called Saturday Mash-Up. Also, on YouTube, my acts combined have 500 million views. There was also a performance in Monte Carlo. So, it's definitely spread from those nations into different parts. In Ireland. I’ve become an advocate for autism. The first time that I demonstrated that was at a TEDx event. There was a Ted Talk near me, back in 2023. That would’ve been a time when I was an advocate for autism. Other times would’ve included: a Zoom call for Stanford University, and an event for “AsIAm.” Their goal is to spread awareness of autism across Ireland.

I want to inspire others and one of the ways I would like to do that is to bring a magic program into schools as therapy for children with special needs, such as me. I feel that would be a great way to inspire others. Being able to bring it into schools would also be fun for me, as I’m able to teach people younger than me how to talk socially, magic, and all that. It would be a fun therapy, not like the occupational therapy.

Faye: What advice would you give other kids that have been diagnosed with autism?

Cillian: I would say to focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do and you can use a special interest. For me, it’s magic, but for other kids with autism, it could be a variety of other things.

Faye: That’s great advice. Do you have any tips for the parents of children with autism on how they could help them? How did your parents help you?

Cillian: They brought me to occupational therapy and speech and language therapy. Speech and language therapy helped with my social skills, and occupational therapy helped with my dyspraxia. Other ways that they’ve helped is they’ve taught me to face my fears.

Faye: Well, I have to tell you, it is really hard for me to imagine you as a little boy that didn’t talk and didn’t interact with people. You are amazing. You’re a great conversationalist. You’ve got a wonderful personality. Your story will absolutely inspire our readers. It is so refreshing for people like you and others that I’ve interviewed to be able to say, “I have autism, and look at what I can do.” That’s what you’re doing, and I thank you for that, Cillian. You said you are an advocate for autism. What are some of the messages you’re trying to get out?

Cillian: There is one message that I mainly stick by, and that is:

            Don’t give up on your dreams;

            Only you can create your story; and

            Go the distance.

I feel that those three letters, DOG, in itself can tell a great story on what you can do. It links back to what I mentioned earlier: what you can do versus what you can’t do and special interests.

Faye: Beautiful. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Cillian: This summer I’m going to be having a tour across the UK and Ireland. You can find the dates and locations on my website at For those of you who are reading this, if you watched my performances on Britain’s Got Talent and/or America’s Got Talent, you’re going to love my tour!   

Read the article here.