Ladies and gentlemen! Tonight and for the bank holiday weekend, Circus Fantasia is in town! Rosy Moorhead hangs around with tightwire walker and trapeze artist Simon Deville and chats to him about growing up in the circus and the time he was taken to hospital with an injury from a 6ft pole.
Is being in the circus like it is in the films?
It is! Although I suppose the films show you all the glitz and glamour and not so much when it’s raining and windy and you’ve got to put the tent up and down and winch all the lorries out of the mud. But it’s all good fun, I’ve done it all my life – I’m a fourth generation circus performer.
Tell me about your family
My mum, Celine, was a knife-thrower, whip-cracker and also did the lasso and trained ponies. She got that from my Nana, Rosina, who I take after, with the tight-wire. So I was born into it. Mum carried on travelling when she had me.
What’s a childhood in the circus like?
We used to go to school every week, wherever we would be we’d go to the school. Sometimes it used to be for just one day and then we’d be off to the next place. In some places where we couldn’t get to school, we used to have these education packs and send our schoolwork off, and when I was in the Robert Brothers Circus, in the ‘80s, there were about 20-odd of us kids and they used to have their own school in the back of a big lorry.
What was the first act you did in the circus, as a child?
I was six years old and I was a clown. Do you want to know my name? Bonko the Clown! I used to go in and open the show, the ring master would introduce it, the music would come on and I used to walk around the audience shaking people’s hands and saying hello, and then I would do a little comedy routine with a bottle and a stick – I used to balance the bottle on the stick but it would fall off and I’d blame people in the audience, blame the ring master, a very old-fashioned circus comedy thing. And then the ring master would kick me out and the show would start.
When did you first get on a trapeze?
It must have been when I was about ten years old. I only sat on it! But, 20 years later, I’m doing a full act.
What do you do in Circus Fantasia?
I do knife-throwing, whip-cracking, lasso ropes, and I’m doing the swing cloud where you’re swinging in the tent on a big loop of rope. This is my first year with them.
What tricks are you working on at the moment?
A trapeze act, which not many people are doing – the dental spin, where you hang by your teeth and spin. It takes quite a lot of training, you have to put yourself through a certain pain barrier and you have to do it every day, three, four, five times a day, five minutes, little by little, of putting pressure on your teeth. It took me about three weeks before I could let go with my hands and support my whole body with my teeth. And it took a good three months to get a nice spin.
Have you ever been badly injured?
Not badly, but I did have one when I was 15 or 16. I used to do a china plate-spinning act and on top of the sticks there used to be nails sticking out that the plates used to spin on. And the nail went right through my thumb – I had to go to the hospital with a six-foot pole stuck to me!
Do you still get a thrill out of performing, after all these years?
Oh, every show, absolutely. It doesn’t matter how many people are in the audience, whether it’s a full house or half-full, it’s still magical. I think the day you lose your magic is the day you should stop doing it. But it’s been in my blood for four generations and I’ve done it all my life, so I think there’s something in me. I still get nervous, you get the butterflies and you get the buzz and then once you’re up in the air and swinging about, it’s the greatest feeling.
Circus Fantasia is in the Circus Field, Hunton Bridge until Monday, August 25. Details: facebook.com/circusfantasiauk