Town’s living statue was ‘left for dead’ before inspiring famous Puppet Man’s act
- Credit: Archant
For over 30 years Ant Arnold has worked as a performer entertaining crowds from Norwich to New York, and enjoying the buzz of the street.
His popular characters have included a robot clad in plastic armour and a living Charlie Chaplin statue, doffing his trademark hat at passers-by who appreciate his art and throw money at his plinth.
“I inspired the puppet man in 1985,” he claims, harking back to when it all began.
“Back then in Norwich it was all a bit chummy and all the buskers used to have lunch together.
“Then the head busker left and it kind of fell apart.
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“There was this strange little man who used to blow in and out of a harmonica, who we now know as The Puppet Man.
“When I came along with my robot he realised he could do something different and started playing music and waving his puppets.
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“And he has admitted that to me.
“Out of all of those buskers there is only me and him left.”
Both have now migrated to Great Yarmouth and, Ant 52, loves it.
The question he gets asked the most is how he manages to stand still all day - which bemuses him.
“I must be one of the most active human statues on the block. I twiddle the stick and do a fair bit of moving about,” he said.
Trying to convince people he was a statue, creating the illusion of having stood stock still, but adopting the mannerisms of his character was all part of the skill.
“I love the feedback from everyone.
“It’s a shame I have not been able to get Charlie out because of lockdown.”
He hopes to return to his pitch at the top of Regent Road soon, having managed one two-hour stint since lockdown was eased which left him with aching muscles after so long away from the demands of performing.
It will be a bit longer before he can appear as his other creation, Admiral Lord Nelson, seen by hundreds of delegates from all over the world at the Painted Hall in Greenwich in one of his most high-profile bookings.
But it is not qualms about the seafaring hero’s questionable attitude towards slavery that is putting him off, but simply that he can no long fit into the costume.
“It’s a bit stiffer that one,” he says.
“It has a coat of emulsion, there’s no give in it at all.
“I am working on doing a lot of crunches.”
For the street performer, a move to Albion Road in Great Yarmouth has been positive.
“It’s much more fun in Yarmouth,” he said.
Having looked longingly at the street and thinking he might like to live there, it turned out both he and his wife Gill were looking at the same property.
When they looked round there was a picture of him on the wall, snapped while he was performing for crowds in the town, proving to him it was meant to be.
Although it looks like a long job he says it only takes him about 20 minutes to get ready for his performances, a tribute to Charlie Chaplin and his type of mime, which he can do as part of his act on the street.
Mainly it involves slapping on special make-up, although they don’t do the one he likes anymore and he has to add glitter to get the required metallic sheen.
Ant, who hails from Essex, suffers from epilepsy which gives him minor seizures all day long, and big ones every few weeks.
He says he was left with the condition after suffering a serious head injury when, aged 14, he was hit by a car and dragged along the road.
Having found a love of performing as a five-year-old he said he was lucky to have his talent to fall back on.
“I was left for dead for four hours and have an imprint of an exhaust pipe on my back,” he added.
“The best way I can deal with it is to stay on a high all the time and keep smiling.”
Of performing in Yarmouth he said: “I love it, people are so nice.”