Businessman Garry Stevenson is returning to Gandeys Circus this month, 30 years on from starring in their daring productions across Europe as a clown.
The juggler-turned-joinery director is reuniting with his former employers and circus directors Phillip and Carol Gandey to watch their latest production, The Greatest Show Tour, when it comes to Penrith next weekend.
Garry, now aged 62, was born into circus life – his dad Ernie Stevenson was famous clown Noe Noe – and he began learning acrobatics at 13-years-old before getting hooked on juggling.
The grandad-of-five said: “This was one of my main passions when growing up and later became one of the main acts that dad and I did. The traveling meant that I had very little formal schooling and the only things I was good at when I was at school was P.E. and joinery. When it came to leaving school at 15 my choice was either a joinery apprenticeship or to join dad, and the circus life was too big a draw for me!”
In 1984, Phillip Gandey asked the father and son to join Gandeys Circus for four weeks in Lowther Park.
Garry said: “This was the first time that dad had worked for Phillip and we had a great time with everyone in the show, all in the beautiful surroundings of Lowther Park.
“Three years later we joined Gandeys again when Phillip and Carol took a huge chance when they took a big top circus and all the necessary crew to Madeira for a month over Christmas. This had to be a huge financial risk for the Gandey organisation with all the transport costs along with the artists and staff to pay. They put a very good show together with top line acts, great band and lighting, and the show was a great success, they even had an extra show just after the new year had been seen in due to popular demand.
“At this time my brother had joined dad and I in our acts. It was a very happy time and I remember feeling sad when it came to an end and we all had to return home. The Gandey organisation continued to flourish year on year with ever popular shows both in the UK and abroad.”
Ernie and Garry continued performing in Lowther Park with their own production, Stevenson’s Crown Circus, from 1985 to 2000, until Ernie retired and Garry decided to pursue his already developed Penrith-based Alpaca Centre, now known as the Alpaca Clothing Co, with wife Joy.
“For the first time we had grown roots, and from the same property we developed a new business, G&S Specialist Timber in Stainton, established as hardwood timber merchants, to include joinery manufacturing, mouldings, flooring and joinery and craft tools,” Garry said.
“Like the circus, it is very much a family business with seven family members working together on site. We are fortunate to have great people working with us in both businesses and Joy and I are happy with our achievements.
“This is not to say that I don’t miss the circus life, the roar of the audiences and the friends we once knew from all over Europe and beyond. I still have romantic notions of running away with the circus and performing in the circus ring again.
“Strangely enough when we came out of the park in 2000, I didn’t go to any circuses for years. It’s only been in the last year or two I’ve started to go back. Circus is still as it always has been, wonderful entertainment for all the family. They have always been well received in the Penrith area and Gandeys have frequented Penrith many times over the years and always delighted the crowds. I look forward to seeing their show next weekend, particularly the clowning, and I am sure they will delight the audience as they always do.
“Circus has continued to change throughout the many years but it has kept its appeal with the impressive circus big top, the smell of the sawdust and the wonderful variety of acts who bring daredevil excitement laughter and skills there is something for everyone to enjoy.
“To me Gandeys still feels like a traditional circus with that original magic, the get-up-and-go, the razzmatazz. Long may that last.”
Gandeys Circus will be at Frenchfield Sports Centre in Penrith from Friday 26 to Monday 29 April 2019. All tickets on opening night, at 6.30pm, are £7.99. For full show dates and times, and to book, visit gandeyscircus.com/tour-dates or call 0871 705 5507*.
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