Newcastle-under-Lyme’s Fred and Connie Van Buren awarded at the highest level…
A husband and wife duo who entertained audiences all over the world for more than 40 years with their magnificent magic and illusion performances have achieved their latest amazing feat – securing the Council’s highest honour.
Fred and Connie Van Buren, from Silverdale, are receiving the honorary Freedom of the Borough from the Council in appreciation of their long service and instrumental role in raising the profile of Philip Astley and his historic links to the borough.
Councillors unanimously supported the recommendation, proposed by Council Leader Simon Tagg, at a Full Council meeting.
Fred, who showed a keen interest in the circus and Philip Astley from a young age, presented his own shows in the early days and made his own props alongside his apprenticeship job as a cabinetmaker and French polisher.
Originally working in Gandeys circus, the showman met Constance Greta in 1955 and she became part of the act known as Van Buren and Greta, focusing on creating magic and illusions that they could perform anywhere. Marrying in 1961, Fred and Greta toured the world’s largest theatres, made numerous television appearances and performed for royalty.
One of Van Buren’s most famous illusions involved making a motorcycle and rider vanish, the only one in the world performed completely surrounded by the audience, which now features as a part of son Andrew’s shows.
The captivating couple came up with the idea of staging show-stopping circus performances, as part of events in Newcastle in 1982, to promote the little known Philip Astley – he was born in the town in 1742 and is widely regarded as the original ringmaster and father of the modern circus.
Fred and Connie retired in 1996 and in 2009, Andrew took his parents’ Astley efforts one step further by creating the hugely successful Philip Astley Project which co-ordinated a large programme of circus-themed entertainment, monuments and activities leading up to 2018, and beyond, to mark the 250th anniversary of Philip’s world famous invention.
Fred, aged 86, said: “We’re over the moon to receive the Freedom of the Borough. We can’t believe it but think it’s absolutely wonderful. I’m gobsmacked – you don’t expect it when you get to our age. It’s a great feeling after all these years. We’ve had a fantastic life in show business, travelled the world and met lots of celebrities. Now our son is carrying on our legacy which is fantastic.”
Fred adds: “I remember reading about Philip Astley when I was little – I was fascinated by him and couldn’t believe that he was born in Newcastle. At one point no one had heard of him or assumed he came from London. But that has definitely changed in recent years and that’s brilliant because without him we wouldn’t have shows like Cirque du Soleil or films like the Greatest Showman. We wanted to put Astley on a global stage and promote Newcastle-under-Lyme where we’ve lived for 52 years.”
Son Andrew said: “Astley is to Newcastle what Shakespeare is to Stratford-upon-Avon. In a world where retail is changing, tourism still has the power to pull in huge crowds and the Philip Astley Project has proved that.”
Freedom of the Borough is the highest award the Council can bestow on a valued member of the community. It’s awarded on rare occasions and was last received by the late Gordon Banks OBE.
Council Leader Simon Tagg added: “Fred is regarded as one of the world’s finest and most original illusionists and his spectacular acts, involving Connie, have been described as a 21st century miracle. They’ve also done so much work to showcase the borough as Philip Astley’s birthplace. It gave me great pleasure to recommend them for Freedom of the Borough. It’s richly deserved.”
A formal presentation will take place in the near future.
**Read more about the Philip Astley Project on Baba here.