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Edinburgh Festival 99 Tuesday, 17 August, 1999, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Jim Rose: The shocking truth
Jim Rose: Face down in his fear of broken glass
Jim Rose Circus is world famous for shocking acts of depravation and chainsaw mayhem. But the man himself tells BBC News Online's Edinburgh Festival correspondent Matt Grant he is just an ordinary guy.

"It's time to get out of politics and back into showbusiness," says Jim Rose when I finally tracked him down.

No, he is not thinking of following Jerry Springer and trying to win a place in the Senate. The reason Rose has been so hard to pin down in recent days is that he has become embroiled in a row over Edinburgh City Council's decision to force all street performers to take out £250 public indemnity insurance.

The Amazing Mr Lifto: Battery charged
Rose first came to the festival as a busker and has wasted no time expressing his outrage, staging a chainsaw protest in which he carved the word 'No' into an apple in someone's mouth in the High Street.

When I met him, he had spent the afternoon in discussions with festival organisers who have apparently agreed to reflect on his concerns.

For good measure, he is also holding a boxing match with one of the councillors on Thursday evening, with proceeds towards a fund for street performers.

All this activity has left Rose with little time to promote his circus, showing at the 600-seat Palladium, which has been less than half full in the past week.

'Audiences have a laugh'

Edinburgh Festival 1999
He is also concerned about the coverage he does get in the United Kingdom.

"I just think that due to the tabloid media in this country, people think of me as a weirdo and they don't realise I'm an actor and I just play my part," he says. "I do such a good job of selling my character that people tend to believe it."

Jim Rose: Childhood anguish
The shocking truth is this: Rose is a 42-year-old entertainer from Seattle, who does not take drugs or drink, is deeply in love with his French wife, Bébé, and has just bought a house in Hawaii.

He insists his circus act is intended to be more amusing than shocking: "If you see the show, people have a laugh," he says.

And it is true. Rose is funny. But he is also seriously gross. He still has a few bad habits, such as sticking spoon handles up his nose and putting his wife in a plastic bag in order to suck the air out with a vacuum (he hasn't quit smoking yet either).

People see Jim Rose Circus to be repulsed and tell their friends about it. Other highlights include The Amazing Mr Lifto Man, who has worked with Rose for years and is his best friend.

Mr Lifto holds a Guinness record for lifting weights attached to piercings on all parts of his body. He then swings the objects around the stage, keeping the audience transfixed until they force themselves to look away.

John Wayne Bobbitt briefly worked for the circus, but was given the chop when the troupe realised his appeal was fairly limited. "I don't even want to go there again," Rose says, when the name is mentioned now.

Film of the autobiography

This year, Rose says his show is about empowering people and a "psychological exploration of human behaviour". He says he wants to expose charlatans by showing the circus members facing up to their fears.

In Rose's case, this involves lying face down in a pile of broken glass and getting a member of the audience to stand on his head. "Ever since I was a little kid I knew I shouldn't put my face in glass and especially I shouldn't then have somebody jump on my head," he jokes.

Mr Lifto performs the Dolly Parton
But he claims he has only been seriously hurt once in nearly two decades of putting on his freak show.

"I attempted to jump 27 dead cows at a meat processing plant in Belgium on a motorcycle as part of a vegan photo-shoot. I cleared the cows but landed wobbly and hurt my back. That was in '98."

He missed putting on a show in Edinburgh that year, but came to the city anyway and herded a flock of sheep up and down the old market area.

In his new show, Rose talks on stage for the first time about his early childhood. He suffered horrendous bullying at school because of a severe squint. He went for corrective surgery aged 12 and boasted to the other school kids that he would beat them up when his eyes had been fixed. But the operation failed and he had to wait another year - a lifetime for a young boy - before the doctors could try again.

"That's the short version, but it's all true," he says. "It's a tough part of the show for me."

In his autobiography, Rose offers the full version. He wrote the book for a six-figure advance and says it is now about to begin filming with a big name actor in the lead, although he will not disclose the name.

But it is clear his success in the United States means he no longer has to return to Edinburgh each year. Yet, he promises he will keep coming back as long as the good people of the city continue to have him. "All my best friends are here," he says. "It's a great place to do something."

See also:

13 Aug 99 | Edinburgh Festival 99
13 Aug 99 | Edinburgh Festival 99
13 Aug 99 | Edinburgh Festival 99
16 Aug 99 | Edinburgh Festival 99
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