GARY and Paul, Paul and Gary... they share a surname, Hardy-Brown, and a good deal more besides.
GARY and Paul, Paul and Gary... they share a surname, Hardy-Brown, and a good deal more besides. Over a coffee at the Theatre Royal, the special effects wizards are explaining some of the implications of being identical twins.
“I’ve just had a small child and my DNA is exactly the same as Paul’s,” says Gary.
“If you did a paternity test, you couldn’t categorically say who was the father.”
This potentially devastating assertion clearly fascinates the pair of them – likewise the theoretical situation that if one of them committed murder, either of them could be the culprit.
Their appearance, of course, is a recipe for confusion wherever they go.
At the moment they are whizzing around theatres the length and breadth of the land, checking out the “wow” moment special effects they have created for pantomimes.
Paul says he went to Bradford the other day and was greeted in exuberant fashion by a succession of theatre staff who he’d never seen in his life.
Only when he explained that he was Paul and not Gary, who had in fact been working with the Bradford staff, did the penny drop.
Ah, said the bunch of strangers. So that was why he’d looked a bit bemused at their enthusiastic greetings. Well, at least they didn’t curse and throw popcorn at him.
Now “coming up to 39”, the pair have had plenty of time to get used to every facet of twinhood.
“We’ve had a few tests for various researchers,” says Gary. “The one we really wanted to do was for Nasa – for six months.
“They wanted to put us through various tests on how the body reacts to weightlessness.”
The idea was that one of them would go up in the plane that simulates the conditions of space while the other remained on the ground. Comparisons would then be made.
To their dismay a job came up that they reckoned they couldn’t afford to refuse – a two-year contract to work on a show at the “massive” Benidorm Palace.
Today, as Twins Worldwide Ltd, the pair are hugely in demand and exceptionally busy.
Currently contracted to panto producers Qdos, they have contributed to the last three pantos at the Theatre Royal, including this year’s. The stunning ‘flying’ car and the giant spider are products of their special effects workshop in Wareham, Dorset, where they both live and where they grew up.
They take me right back to where it all began – a hospital maternity ward.
“Our first magic trick was when my mother went for her scan and they told her there was one child in the womb,” says Gary. “In the delivery room she had me and was being wheeled away when she said, ‘I think there might be some complications because there’s still a lot of pain’. Twenty minutes later, out came Paul.”
It was a good trick. According to the pair of them, the monitor picked up only one heartbeat because the second was concealed behind a skull.
It strikes me that you don’t wear your brother’s hairstyle if you hate his guts and it turns out that Paul and Gary do indeed share a barber. Their hair sticks up and they stick up for each other too.
“We still fight like cats and dogs, but you can never really separate us. At school, if there was ever a fight in the playground and one of us was being picked on, we’d always help each other. We argue but we work well together.”
The DNA, it seems, works like glue, even if it confuses Gary’s baby boy, Sam. “You should see the look on his face,” says his proud dad. “Not only do me and Paul look the same, but we smell the same.”
Their mum was a teacher and their dad a maintenance engineer down in Dorset. “They encouraged us as much as you can but like all parents were keen for us to get a proper job.”
Paul recalls a session with his school careers adviser. “I wanted to be a stunt man, but I knew it would be a difficult thing to get into so I said I wanted to be an actor. I was told I would never get my Equity card.
“Then I said I was really good at art so wanted to be a scenic artist who did theatre backdrops. My careers adviser said I should be thinking of applying to Tesco.”
Gary fancied getting into drama or becoming a cameraman. But he did join Tesco, having been accepted onto its management training scheme after A-levels.
“Then Paul decided to join Pontins as a bluecoat and when I found out how good it was I jacked in Tesco.”
Pontins took the pair of them to Southport, Prestatyn and other holiday camps around the British Isles where they cut their teeth in the entertainment industry.
One day they met an illusionist who had a trick to sell.
“We were always interested in magic,” says Paul. “Our parents got us a Paul Daniels magic set when we were eight years old and we were always performing for the local kids.”
As the proud possessors of the second hand Scimitar Sword Suspense trick, in which a girl is seemingly left lying on the point of a sword, the seed of what would become Twins Worldwide Ltd was planted.
Their CV is mightily impressive. From being out-and-out performers – their appeal enhanced by their identical looks – they moved into invention and are now responsible for what they call the “wow moments” of some 30 shows, including Qdos pantomimes.
They describe a whirligig lifestyle, flying from Glasgow to Birmingham to Northampton and back to Newcastle. Their pledge is that if any problem arises, they will be on the scene pronto to put it right.
Of course, it helps that there are two of them and they are on the same wavelength as only identical twins can be.
While they have no desire to leave beautiful Dorset, it clearly helps Gary that his wife, Anna, comes from Darlington where she and baby Sam were staying over Christmas. It means he can whizz through their lives en route from north to south or east to west.
One minute they can be testing a flying car in Newcastle, the next they can be making an elephant disappear in India.
Indeed, one of their recent engagements was at a £4.5m wedding in India with 6,000 guests who needed to be entertained.
They have worked with Paul O’Grady, making his dream of wanting to be sawn in half come true, and were voted “series of series” champions of TV children’s variety show The Slammer.
They look worn out, to be frank. But they stress that they are more than happy to be doing what they do, inducing audiences to say: “Wow!”
And Paul, whose experience with the careers adviser still rankles, says: “If someone wants to do something, I think it’s worth a try. You can always try something else if it doesn’t work out. But what’s wrong with having a go?”
This year’s panto, Sleeping Beauty, is at the Theatre Royal until January 21. Box office: 08448 112121.