On tour

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The Independent Culture
I fell in love with the circus at the age of four. Apparently I watched Billy Smart's on the BBC and told my mother I was going to be a ringmaster. Funnily enough at the age of 35 I'm involved in getting them back on the road after 21 years. I walked rather than ran away to Chipperfield's circus when I was 16 and have been travelling ever since. Once the sawdust is in your shoes you can't really shake it out.

There is something very magical about circus life - when you arrive in a town in the early hours of the morning with the sun coming up and you start to erect the tent. My greatest memory is when we staged an old-fashioned parade a mile long in the centre of Southampton on a Sunday morning and literally the whole town came out to follow us back to the circus. Ireland is another good place - the Irish are wonderful circus people.

Doing the show is the easy bit. The things most people take for granted are the hardest to sort out. Your trailer arrives in a muddy field in Birmingham and you've got to install an electricity and water supply. I'll go back to my flat in Brighton at the end of the season and flush the toilet repeatedly, just for the novelty. People sitting in a warm tent don't know that it's pouring with rain outside and that the artists are wading through a field of mud in their glittering costumes. Somehow they manage to get to the ring and walk in looking like the Queen of Sheba.

David Hibling is ringmaster of Billy Smart's at Richmond Old Deer Park til 7 Nov (081-332 2323)

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