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Why I love The Grimaldi Service, London’s emotional gathering of professional clowns
Photograph: Simone Lavagna

Why I love The Grimaldi Service, London’s emotional gathering of professional clowns

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Professional clown Smartii Pants (aka Ian Williams) tells us why Hackney’s annual tribute to original clown Joseph Grimaldi is more than a laughing matter

It looks back at the roots of clowning

‘Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) didn’t invent clowning, but he was the first to paint his face and wear vibrant costumes. He performed in pantomimes, which back then were like variety shows. The service started so traditional circus players could get together off-season, it was a big social event. It’s still full of hundreds of clowns and there’s a real camaraderie. ’

It shows how diverse clowning can be

‘Everyone has an idea in their head of what a clown is – the guy who makes balloons or wears a red nose and big shoes. We want people to see there are lots of different styles and it’s not always what you’d think of. We have circus clowns, people who studied under Jacques Lecoq [founder of Lecoq physical theatre school] in Paris, and performers who are more burlesque-leaning.’

Photograph: David Tett

It’s a time of reflection

‘My father was a clown, that’s how I got into it. He first put make-up on me when I was eight. We lost him in November 2018, so last year was very special for me because I carried a candle for him to the altar [at the service] and I felt a real connection. It’s sombre when you hear names of people you knew that have been taken too soon, but it means you want to put your heart and soul into your performances.’

It’s full of community spirit

‘This year we’ll be performing short comedy scenes from Shakespeare and characters from the commedia dell’arte, as well as hymns, readings and soul songs during the service. The party goes on for a while because there are musicians, magicians and entertainers. People choose to be clowns because they want to make other people happy, so it’s a great group to be around.’ 

Interview by Alexandra Sims

The Grimaldi Service will take place at All Saints Haggerston. Haggerston Overground. Sun Feb 2. Starts around 3pm. Free, just turn up.

If this service sounds like your worst nightmare, don’t worry. Find something something completely clown-free to do this Sunday right here

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