Circus ringleader's tearful reunion

It is every youngster's dream - to run away from home and lead the romantic life of a circus child. But even wandering spirits need to return home every so often - and one Yarmouth girl was yesterday marking a tearful reunion with her family 14 years after leaving town.

It is many a youngster's dream - to run away from home and lead the romantic life of a circus child.

But even wandering spirits need to return home every so often - and one Yarmouth girl was yesterday marking a tearful reunion with her family, 14 years after leaving town.

Aged 16, Petra Jackson exchanged Oriel High School in Gorleston for the big top, leaving her family and friends behind for a life on the road with tigers, elephants and horses.

This week she set up tent for two weeks in Burgh Castle, just miles from Southtown which she once called home, and reunited with family she had not seen for years.

When Ms Jackson, now 30, left all those years ago, she was a humble stable hand, but having worked her way through the ranks, she will be proudly showing off to former school friends as the whip-cracking ringmistress of Circus Mondao.

Yesterday, she said she had been destined for the circus ever since she was born.

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"I was named Petra after the Blue Peter dog," she said. "In a way, it seemed that this job was written in the stars. I was riding from a young age and always skipped school to look after my horse.

"I quit before my exams to join the Hippodrome circus as a groom and when they invited me to tour with them at the end of the season, it seemed like the right thing to do. My mum banned me from going - so I just ran away."

After a tour with the Roberts circus in 1992, Ms Jackson joined a series of other troupes, learning skills such as trapeze and magic acts, and touring mainly round Scotland, Wales and the West Country.

Then the chance came up to join the newly-formed Circus Mondao at the beginning of the year, working as a ringmistress - with the highlight being a summer season near home.

Ms Jackson will be performing with stallion Platinum and introducing all the acts in the ring for the next week-and-a-half in Burgh Castle, before spending August performing near Sheringham.

There may not be elephants and tigers this time round, but in the fields off Market Road yesterday, zebras, stallions, Shetland ponies, mules and goats were getting set to perform.

And in the middle, the ringmistress was basking in the love of animals great and small.

"I don't regret for one second the decision I made," she said. "There are 22 of us here, along with the animals, and this is my family - it's like a friendly little village.

"But it feels wonderful to be back. I've got two brothers in Lowestoft who have never seen me perform, and I get to visit my nan, my uncles and my cousins who I never get to see.

"I've been driving around recognising old places I remember from my time here, seeing how much has changed. It's lovely to be back but I could never consider staying. This is the life I love - I couldn't ever imagine doing anything else."

Performances are twice daily until July 30, except Thursday and Monday: weekdays, 5pm and 7.30pm; weekends, 2pm and 5pm.

For information, call 07722 791777.