Keeping it in the Family
Billy Smart Circus arrives in Folkestone after a long journey, one that started in the 40’s. Founded by Billy Smart in 1946 it was a family affair. Now one of Billy’s grandchildren has returned to England after an award winning career of her own to resume her old role as ring mistress after 20 years.
Born into the quite closed environment of the circus, Yasmine Smart’s mother was a high wire artist and her father was the circus director. Was it inevitable that she would stay in the family business?
“I’d always have a low wire outside my caravan and from the age of three or four my mother would put us on it but I had a passion for horses. I only wanted to work with horses and I started to really seriously work with them when I was eleven. It was a feeling I had. My parents thought I would grow out of it but I didn’t.”
As one of five, Yasmine is the only child to have remained in the circus: “I’m the only crazy one. My other sisters and brother married normal people, with normal jobs” she says, laughing.
Billy Smarts Clown - Jonny Bogino
The Flying Aces
Despite becoming the ring mistress at only 15-years-old, Yasmine’s has worked all over the world with her horses and gone on to win many awards: “With my horses I have probably won the most prizes in the world.”
To add to the family tradition she has recently been inducted to America’s Circus Hall of Fame, as her grandfather Billy Smart was back in 1970.
She was also the first British artist to win an award at the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo, created by Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1974. The festival is the equivalent to the film world’s Oscars. Invited by a committee and judged by a jury, it was in 1985 that Yasmine took home the Silver Clown award and made British history.
The highlight for Billy Smart’s granddaughter has been a little closer to home, working in front of the Queen at her Silver Jubilee celebrations and presenting alongside Bruce Forsyth.
Another highlight for Yasmine is from back at Monte-Carlo for the 50th year of the rein of Prince Rainier III, where they had a big horse show which was nothing to do with circus. “They wanted to give Prince Rainier a gift and because he loved circus so much they invited me to perform with my horses.”
Sadly Yasmine does not perform with them in this circus, but there is a great variety of acts during the course of the show.
The Flying Aces’, a trapeze act gets a loud applause after their performance and after seeing the show it is almost as though they need more height, regularly touching the ceiling of the tent during their performance.
Not surprisingly one of the Aces’ Craig Litherland learnt gymnastics when he was a child, what is surprising is the career path he had before joining the circus, back in his home country Australia: “When I was a lot younger I did gymnastics for a couple of years, I probably did it seriously for a total of four. I then had a big break, I went into the workforce and I was an accountant but then needed something to do, which was then when I found the recreational theatre. I already had a bit of a background because of the gymnastics so it probably made me learn a little quicker than some, but when I got my first contract I obviously wasn’t up to the standards yet of those in the circus for say six years.”
Craig did join up to recreational circus classes, quite late compared to most people who are usually raised in the circus and taught by their parents. After two years he got his first contract, a stark contrast compared to his job as an accountant where the only physical risks are possible wrist strain from all that number crunching: “We’ve had a few accidents, we perform at about 30 foot and all we have is a small net to save us, things happen, there are five of us and we need to work hard to make sure things go right.
“My worst accident was a couple of years ago, I was catching a double layout and I ended up over rotating and coming out, landing on my shoulder upside down. I severed one of my tendons and it took me about four months to recover.”
Billy Smarts Circus is a multinational affair with acts from around the world.
For Yasmine, what is it like to be back in the family business? “To tell you the truth, the minute I walked into the ring and said welcome to Billy Smarts Circus I was home, so it does feel like that.
“There’s no show at all like circus, circus is for all ages”
Billy Smarts will be in Folkestone from Tuesday 29 July – Saturday 3 August.
The Multi-national cast of Billy Smarts