Big red nose and floppy shoes. That’s what I’m prepared for as I arrive at the Big Top, set up in People’s Park in St Helier. But that’s not Billy Smart’s Circus’ style. Oh no - this is a show that prides itself on top class performances, so there’s not much clowning around.
That’s until I show up. As I enter the tent, I bounce and hop with excitement so much, I look like I’m auditioning to be Jonny Bogino’s sidekick (he’s the twenty-first century ‘fool’ of the show who brings in big laughs). I’m not sure what it is about the circus, but just seeing the lights,the stage and the performers, it has the power to regress any self-respecting adult, no matter what age/gender/profession, into a giddy youngster.
It’s that showstopping magic that’s kept this art form wowing crowds for centuries. The Circus as we know it was invented in London in 1768. Armed with just an elephant, a horse and a pony, showman Billy Smart started his Circus in 1946. It has since grown and modernised (they’ve ditched the animals) and is now arguably Britain’s largest and most famous circus.
So no pressure – but I have the almost-impossible task of trying to woo these professionals (including Billy Smart’s granddaughter and ring mistress, Yasmine Smart) with my embarrassing attempt at circus skills.
Eagerly and ambitiously, I eye up the trapeze raised about 15 metres from the ground. “Maybe we should start with the basics first,” Yasmine calmly explains, pointing towards the juggling balls. Probably for the best, I doubt the newsroom would be impressed if I call in sick with a broken ankle.
But I shouldn’t roll my eyes. This was not as easy as I originally thought. Juggling with your hands is for the amateurs apparently (I won’t tell them I still haven’t mastered that). Instead, I’m going straight to foot juggling. Yes, that’s right.
Germaine, the show’s foot juggler, lies on the back of a motorbike and glamorously keeps five footballs circling in the air. Me? Well, I’m successfully upside down on the motorbike (thank god I’m not wearing a skirt), but one ball is proving to be a struggle. I blame my size three feet. But she’s only a size five. Damn.
So that’s not quite my ball game. I’ll give trampolining a go instead.
The acrobatic team, known as Fonz, tells me all I need to do is jump and tuck. Do I move forward? No. Do I move my hands? No. Do I need to think about anything at all? No. Simple enough. And yet with each bounce, I become less co-ordinated. And even though my brain understands what a tuck is,my body is clearly incapable of doing it.
The artists make even the basic skills look effortless. Yet they still take years to master. After my poor performance, I’m clearly not ready to run off and join the circus just yet. Instead, I’ll leave the daredevil stunts to the experts. And for me, perhaps it’s wiser if I invest in the red nose and floppy shoes.