Trumpeting elephants, snarling lions, parading camels and prancing horses were amongst the attractions of the circus in the years before wild animals were banned from the ring.
A visit to the Big Top, with its sawdusty floor, dazzling lights and a blaring, trumpet-heavy band, was a family treat for many years – and the Royal family was included in that.
It was at one particular circus graced by Royalty in 1949 that Richard Ford, now 84, of Narberth first set his eyes on the young woman who would become Queen Elizabeth II. And he can remember the moment as if it were yesterday.
“I was only a little boy, about 10 or 11, but I thought how beautiful she was,” he said this week. “And I’ve been intrigued by her all my life.”
Richard and his parents had travelled in a taxi from their home in Essex to Olympia, London in 1949 for one of the Christmas performances of the legendary Bertram Mills Circus.
“As we pulled up, I noticed a Daimler in front of us and somebody shouted out ‘it’s the Princesses," he told the Western Telegraph.
“Sure enough, it was Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret and they were also going to the circus.
“I ran over to the car, tapped on the window and said ‘hello Princess Margaret, how are you’, which I suppose was a bit of a cheek.
“When we got into the circus I couldn’t believe it, the Princesses were sitting dead opposite us.”
Princess Elizabeth, then 23, had made the outing without her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, who she had married two years previously, and her baby son Prince Charles, who was born in 1948.
And she was thoroughly enjoying the spectacle of the circus, said Richard, who went on to become a manager in the NHS and an author.
“Princess Elizabeth was really interested in the animals and really animated as she watched,” he said “I didn’t see a single one of the circus acts – I just spent the whole of the time staring at her. She was beautiful, very good-looking.”
It was a different story for Princess Margaret, then 19.
Richard recalled: “She was in a mood and didn’t enjoy herself at all.”
The circus story is one of Richard’s happy memories of Queen Elizabeth II spanning the years, when he was able to see her on two more occasions.
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“I had hoped she would be like her mother and live to over 100, but it was not to be,” he said sadly. “I was very emotional when I heard she had died. She has been a wonderful Queen.”