The Magic Ball Man: From glass bottle washer to glass ball juggler

Posted on February 22, 2012


Written by Verity MacGregor

“When people watch my performance they gasp with amazement and sigh with relief, part of the love for my career is watching other’s reactions. That’s not something you get from your typical 9-5.”

Walk through the streets of York and it won’t be long before you find yourself amongst the crowds of tourists clapping and cheering at one of the many street entertainers.

‘The Magic Ball Man’ as he is known by his fans, or Steve Bullen to his friends, is one of the more recognisable of York’s performers and can usually be found outside Café Rouge doing amazing things with clear transparent balls of glass.

“People usually see my ginger dreadlocks poking out of my top hat and my whacky waistcoats before they see my act!”

Steve’s love of Bob Marley has resulted in him not cutting his hair in 20 years. “I suppose it’s my one similarity to him, it’s a bit of a trademark.”

The Magic Ball Man’s signature look.

For many, street entertainment is usually a hobby on the side to gain extra money. For the magic ball man it is his way of life, his love of the job which gives him the drive in the cold winter months to perform to the people of York.

“The look of surprise and bewilderment on people’s faces when I’m performing makes my job seem worthwhile. I love the shock factor.”

What the Magic Ball Man does is known as ‘contact juggling’. The ball is always in touch with some part of his body: the palm of his hand, the tips of his fingers, and the outstretched underside of his arm.

He is also constantly in motion and after years of practice he has perfected the art of ‘rolling’. This is when his arms, palms or the backs of his hands run smoothly beneath the ball, leaving it apparently hanging in space while he dances around it.

“It’s all about timing,” he says. “And when I’m doing it well, it is almost like meditation. You become one with the ball: it is almost as though it is floating itself. It is a truly magical act, although there is no true magic involved. It involves a lot of balance and hours of practice!”

However his life has not always been this way. He was born and bred in York where he worked at a garden centre before moving from job to job as a welder, a blacksmith, a plumber, a chef and a bottle-washer.

“None of them were careers,” he says. “They were all dead-end jobs.”

Steve has always been somewhat of a free spirit and in his earlier years he was never keen on staying in one place. He spent time in Holland and France, he then moved to Sheffield for six years doing agency work before heading for the Lake District for several more years.

He encountered contact juggling first whilst travelling in Barcelona and had previously performed as a regular juggler and unicyclist, but had never before seen one of the glass balls before he bought one for himself.

“If you’ve only got one ball, and you’re used to doing juggling it’s difficult! For months I couldn’t figure out what to do with it!”

“I went through many balls over the years I was practicing and there is the occasional gasp when I stumble during a performance!  ”

Three years after leaving Barcelona to return to York he felt ready to perform to the public and he stepped out in his unique look of waistcoat, tall hat and ginger dreadlocks to begin his career as a street entertainer.

The Magic Ball Man entertaining the streets

However since marrying a year ago he admits he’s trying to look a bit smarter.

“That’s why I wear a nice waistcoat; it’s my excuse to look messy everywhere else!”

Although his pay is largely dependent on the tips he gets from his audience, Steven says he would not go back to a normal 9-5 job anymore.

“After performing all over the country and being my own boss, doing something I’m truly passionate about is something I’m used to. I’m happy I’ve ditched the office and taken to the streets.”

You can hire The Magic Ball Man for weddings, parties and corporate events.

He can also regularly be found on Low Petergate, York.

Visit his website at:

Twitter: @TheMagicBallman

Posted in: Alternative Work