AT the age of 16 Philip Hanson climbed out of his bedroom window and ran away with the circus.
Now at 56 he is returning to Hartlepool next week for only the second time in 40 years as the ringmaster of Vegas Circus.
Philip’s colourful life has seen him train bears and elephants, perform with snakes and crocodiles and travel all over Britain while picking up skills including fire eating and stilt-walking.
He even met his wife 22 years ago in the circus.
Dad-of-four Philip said: “I love the circus. It’s not work, but a way of life and has given me all the things I need.
“I’m really excited about coming back to Hartlepool. It’s been a long, long time.”
Philip, whose family lived in Milbank Road, Hartlepool, finished at the town’s Dyke House School when he was 15 and did a bit of work on a farm near Hart Village.
“There wasn’t much in Hartlepool then,” said Philip. “There weren’t many jobs and I got into the kind of trouble that a lot of lads do.
“I wanted to change things and work for a living.”
The Circus Americano had arrived on the Headland in 1971 and Philip was quickly over to ask about a job.
He said: “I thought joining the circus would help me see things I wouldn’t have otherwise a chance to. It seemed perfect.
“I told my family and they said it was ok, but then my sister got married on June 5 and they suddenly said I couldn’t go.
“I climbed out the window the next day and ran away. Two weeks later the police tracked me down, but after talking about what happened I was able to stay with the circus and never looked back.”
He left Circus Americano only months after joining and started travelling with Duffy Circus in Ireland.
Philip said: “I have an Irish accent now and that’s because there was still a lot of trouble back then. I was told that the Geordie accent I had wasn’t a good idea and should change it quickly.”
Philip came back to England in the 1980s before spending a year at a circus in Greece.
His wife Audrey, 50, and their children, Tacita, 19, Jordan, 16, and eight-year-old twins Devin and Zahra, live in Dublin, which Philip counts as home.
He said: “The children travelled with us, the older two were actually born in the circus, but it was hard for them to arrange their education. They would end up just plonked in the corner of classrooms so we decided to change it.
“I would like to think they would do the circus one day, but it’s up to them. As long as they get their education.”
The only time Philip returned to Hartlepool was for the funeral of his mum Lorna, who was a widow to Peter, around 25 years ago.
Philip, who has three sisters and four brothers, is hoping to see his remaining family next week after years apart.
He said: “I hope they will be delighted. I have nephews and nieces I have never known. Hopefully they will come and see what I do but then I’ll be off again.
“I’m part of the circus now and always will be.”
Vegas Circus will be in Seaton Carew from Wednesday to Sunday next week.