Published: 06:00, 05 August 2020
| Updated: 08:15, 05 August 2020
Roll up, roll up - the circus is back in town. After four months of being marooned in a field next to the A2 near Sittingbourne, Santus Circus is on the road again.
A fleet of lorries began leaving a meadow at Bapchild on Friday on their way to Sheppey for their first post-coronavirus show since lockdown. It opens todayat Barton's Point Coastal Park, Sheerness.
French-born ringmaster Ernest Santus, 72, said: "All we need now is for people to come to see us."
For the first time, he will be running the show on his own as his brother and co-owner Roger is still in Medway Maritime Hospital.
Roger, 62, is seriously ill after being hit by a car as he cycled along the A2 London Road on June 20 to get supplies.He suffered multiple injuries and brain damage. Although doctors have brought him out of an induced coma he is still unable to talk.
The family can only see him via a video link from the ward.
His wife Annemarie, 57, said: "We are all devastated. He is a major part of the circus."
It is unclear exactly what happened but it is believed he fell into the path of a car.
Mrs Santus said: "They had to perform surgery on the road before he was taken to King’s College Hospital otherwise he wouldn’t have made it.”
Despite the tragedy, the family is determined to restart the tour.
The couple's daughter Ruby, who performs a foot-juggling act in the ring and was born in Sittingbourne, said: "My dad has always been the heart of the family. But we know he would want the show to go on now the government has allowed us to re-open."
The family has been battling to keep the circus afloat after their 2020 tour, which started in Sittingbourne in March, was cancelled at the start of lockdown.
Ruby's brother Lucien, who doubles as a clown and acrobat, recalled: "We opened on the Wednesday but people were already getting frightened about Covid-19 and not coming. On the Friday we heard all shows had to stop."
Some circuses returned to winter quarters to sit and wait but Santus don't have that luxury. So with the permission of Farmer Doubleday they hunkered down.
Ruby, 25, said: "We thought we would be eligible for government help but we weren't."
Foreign acts like Portuguese Sergio Silva, who had just bought a £15,700 state-of-the-art wheel of death for the tour, and Mongolian gymnast Aggii ended up trapped in their caravans, too.
Sergio, who also performs a spectacular laser show when not firing deadly crossbow bolts at his long-suffering partner Jennifer, said: "I couldn't go back to Portugal. I couldn't claim any financial help here or at home."
The couple struggled on, continuing to rehearse and also school their eight-year-old son Dastan. They met in the circus as their fathers worked together on the flying trapeze.
Jennifer added: "We both had to go to a special school to learn how to use the crossbow because we didn't want to kill each other.Apart from that, we learn from our mistakes."
Ruby, 25, said: "People have been so kind. They have donated money to keep us going and have even dropped off food, meals and diesel for our electricity generator. We are so grateful.”
Lucien added: "One of our friends got some of us temporary labouring work with a company called Family Homes. That really helped us out. But then someone also ripped out two heavy duty batteries from our lorries worth £600 while they were parked in the field."
Ernest Santus and his niece Ruby Santus
Ernest added: "We have to get back on the road as we have no money coming in. We have to start again. I have been in a circus all my life but this coronavirus pandemic is the worst thing to ever happen to us."
His son, clown Sacha, Ernest's son, set up a gofundme.com page to get the show on the road. It has raised £6,560 of its £10,000 target.
He said: "We have survived with the little savings we had as we were not included in the government rescue package and therefore do not have enough left to open our show.
"We have already been shown great acts of kindness from residents and the council with offers and contributions of food and fuel. While we are forever grateful for your help, we seriously need the funds to open again so we can continue to entertain our much-loved public and support ourselves and staff."
The money will be used for insurance, rent, fuel, gas, PPE, tax, staff and additional costs for social distancing measures.
Trucks getting ready to roll
The Santus family will be joined by an international cast of French, Swiss and British acts including a woman who fires a bow and arrow with her feet, clowns and aerial performers for an all-human traditional show under the Big Top.
After Sheppey, the show switches to Swalecliffe, Whitstable.
Circus and coronavirus
Circuses can now open with strict social distancing and hygiene measures.
After buying tickets, visitors will enter the Big Top one at a time and be asked to sanitise their hands then give their name, address and contact number as part of the NHS Track and Trace regulations.
They will be shown to their seats. Certain parts of the raked seating will be taped off and every other ringside box will be out of bounds. Front of house staff will be wearing face masks and trained to advise visitors.
Seating will be cleaned after every show. Ruby Santus said: "It's a lot of extra work and cost but it is the only way we can make it happen."
To help get keep the show on the road, visit www.gofundme.com/f/save-santus-circus to donate.
Tickets start from £10 but performances on Wednesdays and Thursdays feature all seats at £8 on a first-come-first-served basis. Family tickets are £45 (£60 ringside).To book, call 07843 884787 or 07952 418487. To view dates and times visit www.santuscircus.com