5 days in the life of ... Gerry Cottle

The lions and tigers might have gone, but a circus boss's life is never dull

MONDAY: Every week is different, but this morning I was helping to supervise at the Moscow State Circus at Barking Park in east London. A big group of 50 Russians has only just arrived. When you put a tent up, 30-odd people all get involved somewhere. It's very, very big and seats nearly 2,000, with the latest state-of-the-art middle poles. I'm not very old - 53 - but I made a vow when I was 45 that I wouldn't be putting up tents for the rest of my life. Everybody thinks circus bosses don't do that.

I ran Gerry Cottle's circus until 1992, but found it was getting more and more difficult. We still had the lions and tigers and I got fed up with the anti-animal rent-a-mob spitting at us. I franchised it out and thought I'd try a travelling theme park, but I didn't like the people it attracted. So I said to my girls - Sarah, 28, April, 25, and Polly, 21 - "I'm giving this up", and they set up Cottle Sisters Circus.

TUESDAY: Back at home at my farm near Chertsey, with my wife of 30 years, Betty. She comes from a real old English circus family, the Fossetts, and wherever you arrive in the world there's always a relative. There's three of us work in the office, and Anne, my assistant, has been with us for 15 years; she's marvellous. Everybody thinks that Gerry Cottle's is an old family circus, but my father was a stockbroker.

The Bertram Mills circus at Olympia used to be a 6,000-seater for six weeks over Christmas, and my father used to bring back these marvellous leaflets. I saw them and said, "I'm going to be a circus boss". My parents took me when I was eight, and the next day I got my mates together and we formed our own circus. As a kid, I helped at Chessington Zoo in the school holidays, and went and saw Billy Smart's. When I was 16, I ran away from school and went to join the circus.

WEDNESDAY: This week's a funny week. I was at the farm again, looking over the tent for the Circus of Horrors. We've had it for two-and-a-half years, and it's rock 'n' roll, very radical, with a little bit of nudity; it's the only circus in the world not for kids, with an age limit of 14. Last year we spent four months with it in South America, and this winter it's been in Camden at The Roundhouse. Now we're making it all fit back in a bigger tent, which we're getting ready for opening on 1 May at Brighton.

THURSDAY: In Chiswick, setting up the publicity for the Moscow State Circus. The Easter dates are so important, and it's a fabulous position, a prime site right in the middle of Chiswick High Street. The council was so worried about upsetting the neighbours that they sent an environmental health officer round, asking, "Do you think you could try and make the audience not clap so loudly?".

I do miss having the animals: I've always liked the horses. You used to have 24 of them, beautifully groomed, with feathers on their backs. Now, everything is celebrities, but in those days, everyone in London used to go to the circus. It was big business.

FRIDAY: It's the beginning of the year and I'm exceptionally busy. I've never had a week like it. I don't like working where I have to be in six places at once, but when they're all rolling it won't be a problem - and I don't have to be there when it's muddy and raining.

I go and see 50 different circuses a year, and still enjoy it. They have a tremendous atmosphere. I'm not a circus fanatic - and there are some really crap ones, little family shows where the kids haven't got any talent. Some of them think it's their birthright. My daughters are all good performers and we have worked hard as a family. Circus is starting to take off again - this year I have got alternative cabaret and a guy on a pogo stick who can turn three somersaults.

Interview by Rachelle Thackray

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Cumberbatch spectacularly photobombs U2 at the Oscars
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

Will menus with calorie counts really deter junk-food addicts from eating junk?
Today's Liverpool Echo back page
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
Life and Style

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    2nd Line server support - Microsoft certified

    £25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large organisa...

    Reception Teacher required in Cardiff

    £100 - £105 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The...

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, Adobe, ...

    Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?