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London Street Performers Share The Strangest Experiences They’ve Had With The Public

“You get absolutely everything on the street.”

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We asked street performers at Southbank Centre and Covent Garden to tell us about their most unusual experiences with the public. From drunken hecklers to amorous admirers, here are their stories.

As well as drawing in crowds of gleefully perplexed children (and completely baffled parents), Cat Man told us he also attracts the occasional unwanted suitor. “A man tried to kiss me once,” he said. “He leaned down and I was like, ‘Whoa, no!’”

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Pickett: “I was about to do my finale when a really drunk man comes up and walks through the show. He started fiddling with bits of my unicycle… He then, after the show – drunk out of his face – came up and asked me for £2! He started asking me if I could loan him some money after he’d made me lose money, I couldn’t believe it!”

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Yank: “Our act is traditional African acrobatics... We do contortion, juggling, man in a bowl, fire stuff, limbo, all that… Some people, they don’t want to look at certain things. They feel it’s too strange: How can a human being twist themselves like that? But it’s all part of it! Some will love it, and some will say, ‘I can’t even watch this!'”

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Malinowski: “I’ve had various different responses over the years; I’ve had people walking across the pitch and trying to grab my ladder while I’m standing on top of it, which is really quite scary… Once, a drunk man grabbed the ladder; that time I managed to stay up, and just shouted at him quite a bit as he walked away. Another time a kid tried to climb the ladder; I had to come off that time as I was worried about him getting hurt.”

The finale of Malinowski's act involves juggling clubs at the top of a ladder. To get the clubs, he asks a child volunteer from the audience to come out and throw them up to him. When we asked Malinowski if he’d ever fallen from the ladder, he told us this story:

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Roberts: “I had a group of 35 men dressed as Oompa Loompas walk through my show. ... I sang a song at them: ‘Fiddle de dum, fiddle dee dee, you’ve walked through my show and ruined it for me.’ But that’s about as crazy as it gets!”

Roberts said that when it comes to the public and the way they react to him, he’s been very lucky. “It’s the one thing that keeps you going on the hard days," he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it for 40 people or 300; you’ve made someone laugh, you’ve changed their day.”

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Campbell: “A man proposed to his girlfriend right next to me... I played ‘Make You Feel My Love’ for them as an engagement present.”

Campbell said that there’s a nice community among the Southbank Centre street performers, and they’re all quite good friends. She laughed as she remembered a time they decided to go to the cafe together during a rainy shift. “We were walking down the road and everyone was looking,” she says. “I thought, ‘Why is everybody looking?’ Then I realised I’m walking down the road with Charlie Chaplin and a load of other people… You sort of forget that they’re all in costume!”

Johnny Silver: “People react like ‘Wow’, and then they start to laugh. After they see the clothes, and my cables, they start to give me compliments... Some people ask if I’m real, which is strange to me. Adult people!”

West: “A cyclist literally rode his bike into my collection tray... He got very irate and said, ‘What right have you got to perform down here?’”

Apart from the occasional angry cyclist and drunken heckler, though, West said, the public usually react very well to him. “I always get lots of laughs,” he said. “And I always have people hugging me, which is a really nice touch!”

Dufek: “Sometimes you can get drunk people coming to your spot... I try to improvise all the time – sometimes you just have to wait for them to leave, but other times you can make a joke out of it; it depends on who the people are and how they act!”

Spikey Will: “My act is a danger show, so it’s juggling meat cleavers and then I perform my bed-of-nails sandwich, which is me lying between two beds of nails and a big guy from the audience standing on top... I had a lady come up and ask me if my body was real the other day.”

Aside from the occasional tale of an unexpected encounter, though, all the performers we met were incredibly positive about their relationship with the public. Charlie Chaplin summed things up pretty well:

Komninos: “I’m in love with my job. My job is my life... Of course, it’s my job and I need to make money, but it isn’t all the money. When I go to sleep I’m happy, because I’ve changed many people’s moods.”

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