NEWCASTLE can boast many things, but this one is probably one of our more unusual claims to fame.
It belongs to circus performer Simon Tarrant, 33, who in November set two world records.
His first effort saw him successfully create the world record for 52 rotations of a hula hoop on a beard, set with the help of his friend Ian who held his chin bush while the feat was underway.
The second record saw him catch and spin 18 hula hoops on his body, without lifting his feet from the floor.
Tarrant is a seasoned performer with Circus Avalon, but he wasn’t always drawn to the physical realm. In childhood he tried to rustle up enthusiasm for cricket, soccer and swimming club.
“I never really found anything. Nothing really stuck,” he said.
But then he went along to a workshop at Circus Avalon.
“I realised I wanted to do this every week,” he said. “At first I just wanted to do juggling or fire twirling.
“But I was looking at all these people who were climbing the ropes or on trapeze.
“I was quite unfit at the time. I was about 115kg (188cm tall), and sedentary.
“I wanted to give it a go, but then I realised people like me were not all that aerodynamic.”
He started with the rope because he could not hold himself on the trapeze.
“I didn’t have that weight-to-strength ratio, but little by little I built that up.”
One day he saw a circus mate using the hula hoop. He thought it looked easy.
“I had a go. I started spinning it around my waist and I liked it,” he said.
“We had guest trainers who came in and did intensives with us, and hula hoop became my speciality, my bag, my jam.”
Tarrant had always loved performance, he came from a theatre background.
“It was a natural transition from going into plays to this psychical performance,” he said.
“It was amazing. It gave me more confidence and dramatically increased my fitness.”
Tarrant is now lean and fit, and that transformation occurred within the first couple of years in the circus.
“It became an absolute lifestyle,” he said.
Tarrant has toured his hula hoop act with Weber Circus.
“I can have a hoop on the ground and just using my feet to kick it up. I can bring it to my neck without using my hands,” Tarrant said.
“I decided to try my beard and it actually worked. It always gets a good reaction from the crowd because it’s so ridiculous and bizarre.”