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
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
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

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas