Self-confessed professional fool from Fenland to visit survivors of Russian atrocity for fourth time

HE’S a self-confessed professional fool - but Peter Simms will visit Russia next month in his quest to bring joy to survivors of one of the country’s greatest atrocities.

Mr Simms first visited Beslan in 2005, almost a year after armed Chechen militants held more than 1,200 people hostage at the town’s School Number One for three days. In total 340 people died, including more than 180 children.

The 48-year-old, who performs under the stage name of DevilStick Peat, will return in January to display his vast array of skills which include juggling, magic, comedy, puppetry and medieval reinactment. It will be his fourth visit to the area.

“I still get scared out of my tree,” said Mr Simms, of Chatteris.

“But when you see children laugh from the bottom of their bellies it’s worth the danger.

“The survivors are still traumatised so we’ll go there and teach circus skills to try and take their minds off things.

“One of the side effects of post-traumatic stress for children is they can’t concentrate. We will try to help them re-learn the skill. It may be the difference in later life between sweeping streets or being a doctor.”

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Mr Simms became hooked on visiting survivors of conflict zones after a trip to Kosovo in 1999. He has since travelled to Palestine, Albania and Iraq.

This trip is being funded by the Anne Harris Children’s Fund after an unknown man donated �2,000 to the charity. He had contacted Mr Simms anonymously asking whether he knew “any clowns that were prepared to work for free somewhere dangerous”.

Mr Simms and the group, which includes two Spanish clowns and a translator, will spend eight days in Beslan.

The eccentric performer once served in the army for the Queen’s Regiment. He said: “I got very drunk one night when I was in the army and borrowed a small tank. I smuggled three golf balls in with me when I got locked up and I learned to juggle.”

Mr Simms now runs The Phoneix Circus School, which teaches circus skills to groups across Cambridgeshire. He is also available for hire at a host of different events.

He said: “I love my job, I’m a professional fool, and I get paid for being one.

“I’ll never be rich and afford to retire in luxury but there’s more than one sort of richness in this world. The memories I’m going to have will be awesome.”

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