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Life of the travelling Zippos Circus performers

Zippos Circus has a rich history of entertaining people in Kent and across the country.

The acts might be familiar, but do we know what life is actually like for the people who perform tirelessly day-in day-out? Our reporter Oliver Kemp went to find out.

Lots of preparation and practice is done in between performances
Lots of preparation and practice is done in between performances

An assault of high-wire stunts and heart-stopping tricks awaited spectators under the bright lights of the circus tent top.

From the globe of death to a Cuban jump-roping human pyramid, audiences descended on the Zippos Circus as it pitched up for a week at Jackson's Field, Rochester.

As a travelling circus with no fixed home, the troupe are used to settling in new places.

Some performers have come from as far as South America to be part of Zippos, whereas others find themselves much closer to their birth place.

Jackie-Louise Armstrong, 35, grew up in Kent before joining the circus.

After finishing as a student of theatre studies at Christchurch University in Canterbury, Jackie-Louise joined the team as an aerialist.

In 2011 she met Valter, 33, one of the motorcyclists who joined Zippos as part of the globe of death act - motorbikes zoom around a spherical cage while a daring performer stands in the centre.

The two fell in love and now have a baby together.

Lexie just turned one and has already settled into the circus life.

"If I'm in the ring one of the dancers will have Lexie backstage," Jackie-Louise said. "Or if me and Valter want to go out on a date night you've got five other people who will look after Lexie.

Zippos regularly performs in Kent
Zippos regularly performs in Kent

"So it's not just us in our family, it's everyone."

Jackie-Louise has no doubt her daughter will end up performing, and is considering schooling her on the road so she can travel with her mother and father.

She said: "I think I can do homeschooling for primary school level.

"When it gets to secondary school that's 14 years down the line and we'll think about it then.

"She's definitely going to be in the ring, but only if she wants to. I'm not going to force her to do it."

Jackie-Louise performing her aerialist routine
Jackie-Louise performing her aerialist routine

The troupe celebrates its diversity, with performers from Brazil, France and Cuba.

Paulo Dos Santos, 35, grew up in Brazil with a passion for Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian combination of martial arts, dance and acrobatics.

Described as 'talented' by his teacher, the other students in the class would make fun of Paulo's height.

He said: "I am 3ft 6in. And people were looking at me saying, 'what are you doing here?'"

After proving them wrong and triumphantly winning first place at a local Capoeira competition, Paulo left to perform all over the world before landing at Zippos.

Paulo Dos Santos grew up in Brazil and refused to be defined by his height
Paulo Dos Santos grew up in Brazil and refused to be defined by his height

He travels back to Brazil between show runs to see his family.

"I have one month to see my family and then come back to do the show again," he said. "I love the UK people. The respect for me is different."

While on tour, some performers stay in caravans on site and others are put up in local hotels by the company.

The circus only takes short breaks, but when they do all the equipment and caravans are stored at the Zippos HQ - a working farm owned by director Martin Burton.

Despite his age, Norman Barrett prefers to stay in a small caravan close to the tent top.

At 83 he is the Guinness World Record holder for the longest-serving ringmaster.

"I first went in the ring when I was 10," he said.

"I was made into a clown, and I hated being a clown but I had to do it. I was the world's worst clown, I don't mind admitting it."

His father was an animal trainer, so became used to life in the circus quickly.

Norman is frequently asked when he might retire, a suggestion he laughed at the prospect of.

The acts vary from the skillful to the death-defying
The acts vary from the skillful to the death-defying

"This is what I do. This is my life, my wife's life.

"I dread the day when it comes along that I can't do it. I don't know what I would do."

When the circus takes a break he drives the caravan back up to his native Blackpool with his wife Sally, 80, where they have a family home.

Germain Delbosq, 41, was born in England but grew up in France as the 9th generation of a circus family.

She said: "I was born into circus and travelled all over the world with my parents to South Africa, New Zealand, all over Europe. Yeah, it's been a long journey."

Germaine Delbosq is a 9th generation circus performer
Germaine Delbosq is a 9th generation circus performer

Germaine's act involves foot juggling on a motorbike, which requires incredibly good balance and a calm head.

Her colourful childhood across the world mean she is fluent in five languages, and sees the circus as a tightly-knit community all of its own.

She said: "It's like a massive town that travels from town to town.

"It's a big family, we're together 24/7 and we all look after each other, which is very important."

For more quirky and unusual stories, click here

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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