Meet Southend's Enigmatic Icon
For almost 15 years Salvo the Clown has delighted children on Southend High Street with his plate-spinning and balloon animals. Charles Thomson provides a rare glimpse at the man behind the make-up.
Weds 29th Feb 2012, Yellow Advertiser
SALVO the Clown is an enigma. He won’t tell me his real name. Hardly anybody knows it, he says. Even his bank account is in the name Salvo the Clown. He won’t tell me his real age either. He says he doesn’t want anyone trying to force him into retirement.
I ask him why he became a clown and he says he doesn’t like to talk about it. Besides, in the winter of 1973/74 he had a ‘very bad motorbike smash’.
“A lot of my past has disappeared since the accident,” he says.
He does remember that he first became a professional clown in 1968. He used to tour with circuses but says he’s too old for it now.
Since 1998 he has been part of the scenery on Southend High Street, where he performs for passers-by.
He gets the bus to Southend most days in full costume. He used to use his motorbike but says nowadays it’s too dangerous.
“I fall asleep too often,” he tells me. “I went on a two-mile drive a few years ago and nearly went to sleep three times. I had to keep shaking my head to stay awake. My friend said the bike was wobbling. That was the last time I rode the motorbike.”
On Southend High Street he makes balloon animals and performs tricks, including his speciality – spinning six plates in one hand at the same time. His act hasn’t changed much over the years, although he can’t wear his giant clown shoes anymore, thanks to a bad back.
The money passers-by drop at his feet now constitutes almost all of his income, which has suffered significantly since the recession.
“The majority of my income used to come from private bookings,” he says. “But last year you could count my private bookings on your hands and feet. This year I’ve had two bookings since the beginning of the year. It’s tight but I manage to survive. I don’t have to pay fantastic rents like some people do.”
Salvo lives on a caravan park in Thundersley, where he says he is currently embroiled in a dispute with the site owner about decorating his caravan.
“I’m living on borrowed time,” he tells me.
I ask him if he thinks the recession is putting clowns out of business.
“Yes, I know quite a few,” he replies. “They’ve gone into shops, warehouses, all sorts. But I’m not willing to do that.”
He recalls a disastrous trip to the job centre.
“One question was what sort of jobs you can do. The lady went down my form and said, ‘All these jobs are in the entertainment field’. I said, ‘Yes, I’m an entertainer’.
“She said I had to be prepared to do other work. I said that’s okay, but if I got home and found a booking on my answer phone, I’d be going there instead. She said that’d be a refusal to work. All my benefits were stopped.
“I don’t mind. I’d rather have the freedom. The good thing about my job is that I’ve not got to answer to any pen-pushers trying to tell me what to do.”
The last time Salvo had an ordinary job was more than 20 years ago.
“I felt like I had a tonne of bricks on my shoulders,” he says. “I had to get out.”
An ordinary job isn’t all Salvo has rejected in his quest for freedom.
“I haven’t had a girlfriend since 1974,” he tells me. “There are two reasons I wish to remain a free man. The first is that the type of work I do doesn’t yield a great deal of money, so I’d never be able to support someone. The other is that I like to be able to get up in the morning, go out at night, do whatever I want, with nobody to answer to.”
Salvo says it’s not just girlfriends he doesn’t care for, but friends generally.
“I don’t like male or female people as real strong friends,” he says. “I’ve got a number of associates. For instance, I go to bible study group and there are men and women there that I know.”
Salvo converted to Christianity in 1974 but says that isn’t why he chooses to be single.
“As the Cliff Richard song goes,” he says, “I want to stay a bachelor boy.”
So how does Salvo pass his time?
“Play computer games, watch TV, go to church. I visit lonely and elderly people. I got into that through church.”
I ask him how much time he spends doing that. He replies: “Time is immaterial to me.”
“It’s God-given, He can call me home any time He likes. While I’ve got breath in me, I just want to make people laugh and bring them some happiness.
“I’d like to do a Tommy Cooper. I’d like to die on stage, doing a job I thoroughly enjoy. It’d be unpleasant for the people I was performing for, but people remember Tommy for his humour, not for how he died.”
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