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THE BEST DAY OUT.. Rollercoaster history but modern take ensures ring stays popular.

Byline: Beverley Lyons

IT'S been dragged through the sawdust and been a whipping boy for animal rights activists but the draw of the circus is proving hard to resist.

Thanks to TV talent shows and parents looking for family-friendly days, the circus is back, bigger and better.

Tickets are selling fast in some of Scotland's big tops and even Edinburgh Festival is getting in on the act, hosting their first International Circus Festival.

Travelling shows under legends such as PT Barnum and Billy Smart have always been magnets for fun-seekers around the world, but their reputation was tarnished and their existence threatened by political correctness, bureaucracy and animal rights activists.

According to Norman Barrett, aka The World's Greatest Ringmaster, who has worked with Blackpool Tower Circus, Robert Brothers Circus and now Zippos Circus, the struggle is nothing new.

Norman, 77, said: "Circuses have always led a rollercoaster existence.

"When my dad started his circus in the 20s they were right at the top, then they went down when movies started.

"They dipped further when TV came to the fore but are experiencing a resurgence through the popularity of shows like Cirque du Soleil and Britain's Got Talent. Young people and teenagers come along realising it's good, clean family entertainment, not childish."

Norman entered the ring in 1948 and, while some circuses still employ animal acts, Zippos only has domestic animals - horses, ponies and budgies.

Norman said: "Circuses have changed to fit in with modern expectations. The seating is better, the lighting is better, the sound is improved and we have heaters and a cooling system in the tent. We are proud of how we look after our animals here.

"You have an easier life if you are an acrobat or juggler than if you are looking after any type of animal. "You've b.lyons@dailyrecord.co.uk got to be there 24/7 because the horse has to be given proper attention, for example.

"We've been inspected and checked by the Scottish SPCA and tick all the boxes.

"It has also been proven any animal that has its brain developed will live a more fulfilled life."

Most circuses in Britain have changed for the better and audience numbers are up.

The Edinburgh Festival boasts numerous circus acts - Chaz Royal's Sexy Circus Sideshow, the Flea Circus Open Slam and Peter Antoniou's Psychic Circus.

The Association of Circus Proprietors are the only professional circus member society in the UK. They represent major circuses including the Moscow State Circus, Netherlands National Circus, Zippos, the Gandey Organisation and smaller circuses such as Planet Circus and John Lawson's Circus.

Their spokesman said: "The whole Xbox generation is starting to get out of their armchairs and into the circus. It is the only place you can take the whole family and everybody gets something out of it. People still like watching heart-in-the-mouth daredevil acts that make them squirm in their seats.

"We do live in a thrilling generation and everything is in your face and online. It's very important to have death-defying acts and high-wire acts, where people put their life on the line to entertain. When you see it on the telly it's not as edgy as it is when it's 10 feet in front of you."

When it comes to daring, the goosebumps come out for acts such as Brazilian motorcyclists Lucius and the Zulu Warriors from Kenya, who both perform with Zippos.

Lucius said: "A lot of people come to forget their problems and have fun. Our act is dangerous and we know it is but we cannot have fear."

The Zulu Warriors thrill with their acrobatics, dance and fireplay. Having performed for the last five years with the circus, they said: "Here in Scotland, people appreciate what we do. It's like living in the movies."

Jackie Armstrong, 28, a restaurant manager turned aerialist, is one of the new wave. She believes pop acts have contributed to the upsurge in interest.

Jackie, from Kent, said: "A lot of pop stars use circus acts in videos, and programmes like Cirque de Celebrite with celebrities doing circus acts have renewed interest.

"When Take That and Britney Spears named their albums Circus it helped, and Pink did a whole circus tour too."

She added: "I have a degree in theatre studies and I like theatre but it's all a bit posh and snobby. Circus life is relaxed. We are one big family. We work and live together. We move around for 11 months. Every week you go shopping in a new place."

Lions and tigers and bears may be out of the ring, but with so much more to entertain, titillate and thrill, the circus isn't about to up sticks and leave - only to the next town.

As Lord of the Ring Norman sums up: "You're never too old. You're never too young. You're never too cool to go to the circus."

SEE ZIPPOS You're never too cool to go to the circus."

SEE ZIPPOS At Falkirk Stadium July 3-8, Stirling's Strathallan Games Park July 9-11, Peterhead's West Links July 13-16, Stonehaven's Baird Park July 18-20, Banchory's Milton Events Field July 21-23, Kirkcaldy's Fife Ice Arena July 25-29, Crieff's Braidhaugh Park July 30-August 1, Kirkintilloch's Woodhead Park August 3-5, Kilmarnock's Scott Ellis Playing Fields August 6-9. Info and advance tickets from www.zipposcircus.co.uk The Edinburgh International Circus Festival takes place at Ocean Terminal Big Top, Edinburgh, on August 3-26. www.edinburghcircusfestival.co.uk. For other shows, visit www.edinburghfestivals.co.uk IT ALL ADDS UP The Zippos Big Top seats 1100 and is 38 metres in diameter, pinned down by 75 stakes.

There are about 70 people on the payroll - 25 performers, 40 riggers and crew, office staff and PR people. 35 vehicles run on chip fat.

Seven horses, 14 budgies, three motorbikes, two quad bikes and 40 juggling clubs travel with the show. 560 low-energy bulbs are used.

JNEW LAWS AHEAD Wild animals will soon be banned from all UK after a Government circus performances on the use of animals in the ring.

Jim Paice told MPs minister crackdown in Environment he hoped the laws would be brought before the end of the Parliament in 2015. Until the Bill is passed, a scheme is in circus licensing place to ensure decent for wild animals in conditions travelling circuses.

THRILLS J Trapeze artist Jackie Louise

CAPTION(S):

GOOSEBUMPS J Brazilian motorcyclists Lucius Team add a modern thrill to the circus UP FOR A LAUGH J Clowns remain an ever-popular part of the circus for young and old alike OLD MASTER n Ringmaster Norman Barrett is a legend in the circus world
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 2, 2012
Words:1107
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