Ring-mistress of the
Great British Circus
where the idea for
My fascination with circus began after meeting aerial silks artiste Eva Garcia, just days before she fell to her death during a performance at Britain’s oldest circus building, the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome.
From there, I embarked on a journey into the circus world, taking every opportunity to review shows and interview performers. But it was not until my visit to the Great British Circus in 2009 that the idea for a book, Circus Mania, fully formed in my mind.
Having before that seen only all-human shows, it was sitting ringside in a proper big top, watching parading horses, camels, elephants and the tigers in their big cage that I caught a true glimpse into the deep history and rich tradition of an art form that began in the UK almost 250 years ago.
Ironically, it was the media storm kicked up by animal rights protestors over the Great British Circus’ reintroduction of elephants to a British circus ring after a ten-year absence that alerted me to the GBC’s existence.
The picture above, of ring-mistress Sophie Coles, is from the souvenir programme that I picked up on that day. Sadly, that programme, and the record of my visit in Circus Mania is now all that remains, the Great British Circus having closed last year, ahead of a new licensing regime and proposed ban on wild animals in circus in 2015. Read the story of my visit in this extract from Circus Mania.
But the GBC was not the only circus with animals soldiering on in the face of protests. A week after my visit, I chanced upon Circus Mondao, a new circus run by two sisters descended from probably Britain’s oldest circus family, with roots in the sawdust circle dating back to the early 1800s. From the Circus Mondao progamme is this picture of ring-mistress Petra Jackson.
Circus Mondao is still on the road, and one of the last places where you can see circus as it used to be. I urge you to go if you get the chance and, whatever your preconceived ideas about animals in circus, defy you not to be moved by the sight of their spotted horses entering the sawdust ring. You can read the story of the company, and my investigation into the truth about animals in circus, in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book for Anyone who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.
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And, as they say in the traditional big top: May all your days, be circus days!