We’re not running away to the circus... we’re running it!

CIRCUS STARS Peter Arnett and his sister Grace.  Picture: Steve Reid (120891-861)
CIRCUS STARS Peter Arnett and his sister Grace. Picture: Steve Reid (120891-861)
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There’s no need for Grace and Peter Arnett to run away to join the circus.

They are preparing to swap the home comforts of a house for the more cramped confines of a caravan.

SPOTLIGHT Grace Arnett performing in the big top when she was about five.

SPOTLIGHT Grace Arnett performing in the big top when she was about five.

But as they get ready to head out on the open road, they know they’ve got the full blessing of their family.

Plenty of people dream about exchanging a humdrum life to live and work under the spotlights of the big top.

Yet this brother and sister are a little different from most of the artists who take their place in the ring to entertain. They’re not just joining the circus – they’re running the show.

Sixteen-year-old Grace and Peter, 27, are less than a week away from opening night and the start of a packed circus season that will take them to 70 venues over the next seven months.

They’ll be out on the road until mid-October, sharing the new caravan they clubbed together to buy and over-seeing the day-to-day running of their very own circus.

Having spent much of their childhood around circus sites, it’s a chance to do something they’ve always dreamed about.

Their father Pip once owned the UK’s largest private collection of circus memorabilia and their grandfather, Peter snr, was the man behind the Crown Bingo halls and a legendary Portsmouth showman.

When the children were young they would spend summer holidays with their circus friends and even stepped inside the ring to perform themselves.

‘We’ve always been into circuses,’ explains Peter.

‘With my father and grandfather we used to spend a lot of time visiting friends at their shows. We were brought up around it.

‘I used to do a couple of tricks in the ring when I was about five. But we lived at home and did the normal school and college thing.

‘This will be the first time we’ve actually lived on site.’

Peter’s put his own performing days behind him and prefers to concentrate on the business side of things now. But aspiring hula hoop artist Grace hopes to combine her role as director with performing. She’ll spend this summer learning the art of foot juggling so that she’s ready for future seasons.

The Meoncross School pupil also has another hurdle to overcome. She’ll sit her GCSEs this year and is already juggling her studies around running the business.

The pair decided to set up Circus Wonderland two years ago and have been busy working on their master plan ever since.

Much of that time was spent getting planning permission to create space to store their gear in at the family home in Wickham during the off-season.

But once they’d got that sorted, they and co-directors Paul Carpenter and Kriss Freear began to tackle the logistics of taking a travelling company of performers – and all the equipment that goes with them – out on the road.

Seven lorries are needed to transport the 400-seater big top, box office and other temporary buildings to venues. As directors, Peter and Grace are responsible for the health and safety of the company’s travelling workforce of around 20.

Pip’s given them his backing but the pair have also had to put in their own money as well.

And while Grace takes charge of the cafe and mans the box office, Peter has to make sure they’ve got all the diesel and other supplies they need to travel.

Once they’re open for business they’ll travel across the south of England, moving sites every couple of days. The big top takes a couple of hours to erect and the show must go on despite any bad weather that they encounter.

Now that the distinctive yellow and red big top is up, the seating has gone in and the Hungarian troupe of performers are on their way, the Arnetts’ dream is about to become a reality.

‘It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,’ says Grace. ‘We thought we’d just give it a go. Even before we had the idea of running our own I’d always said I was going to join the circus.’

Peter adds: ‘For me it’s just something different. I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work but the more we put in, the more we’ll get out of it.’

He and Grace can’t wait to get started.

For Grace, it’s the way of life she’s always longed for. She says: ‘When we stayed with friends I never wanted to leave. That’s when I realised it’s what I really want to do. There’s a really nice family atmosphere.’

Setting up their own business obviously doesn’t come without risk and the pair have seen other circuses fold. But they’re certain it’s a risk they’re willing to take.

‘You can always find reasons not to do something,’ explains Peter.

‘But then no-one would ever take a chance and try something new. My father and my grandfather both had a passion for circus that is now being carried on by my sister and myself.’


Like most modern-day circuses, Peter and Grace don’t keep any animals. At the beginning of the month MPs voted to bring in a ban on wild animals being used at the circus.

Irrespective of the change in legislation, Peter and Grace had already taken the decision to keep it an all-human operation.

Instead, the public can expect to see a variety of acts including acrobats, jugglers, trapeze artists and a man who fires arrows around his wife’s unshielded body.

Paul Carpenter and Kriss Freear also take a starring role in the show as award-winning musical clowns The Popolinos.

‘We’ve tried to take it back to the old-style circus with lots of glitz and glamour and sparkles and sequins,’ says Paul.

‘It will be full of magic and fantasy. We’ve concentrated on making it a quality show.

‘We’re putting on two hours of quality entertainment for an affordable price.

It is difficult because a lot of people are feeling the pinch. They do want to see bargains.

‘But I do think we’ve got a strong show. There’s something different for everyone.’

At the moment they’re feeling a mix of excitement and nerves as they get ready for their first show on Wednesday.

Circus Wonderland will stay at its current site in Stubbington’s Titchfield Road until Sunday March 25 before moving on to Bursledon and then Hedge End.

· For venue details and dates log on to circuswonderland.co.uk