Freedom of the Borough for Fred and Greta Van Buren

Inspirational Van Buren’s Under Spotlight for Lifetime Achievement – Freedom of the Borough for Fred and Connie Greta.

A husband and wife duo who entertained audiences all over the world for more than four decades with their magnificent magic and illusion performances have achieved their latest amazing feat – securing the Council’s highest honour.

Fred and Connie Greta Van Buren last night officially received in front of 50 special guests the honorary Freedom of the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme from Mayor Gill Heesom in appreciation of their long service and instrumental role in raising the profile of Philip Astley and his historic links to the borough.

Originally working in Gandeys circus, Fred met Constance Greta in 1955 and she became part of the act known as Van Buren and Greta, focusing on creating magic and illusions that they could perform anywhere. Marrying in 1961, Fred and Greta toured the world’s largest theatres, made numerous television appearances and performed for royalty.

One of Van Buren’s most famous illusions involved making a motorcycle and rider vanish, the only one in the world performed completely surrounded by the audience, which now features as a part of some of son Andrew’s shows that he tours around the world.

The captivating couple came up with the idea of staging show-stopping circus performances, as part of events in Newcastle in 1982, to promote the little known Philip Astley – he was born in the town in 1742 and is widely regarded as the original ringmaster and father of the modern circus.

Andrew with his father worked hard to promote Astley again in 1992 for the 250th Anniversary of Astley’s Birth.

Fred and Connie retired from performing in 1996, however in 2009, Andrew took the Astley efforts one step further by once again raising Astley’s Profile and co-creating the hugely successful Philip Astley Project which co-ordinated a large programme of circus-themed entertainment, the creation of a number of monuments and activities leading up to, during 2018, and beyond, to mark the 250th anniversary of Philip’s world famous invention.

Fred, aged 86, said: “We’re absolutely over the moon to receive the Freedom of the Borough. We really enjoyed the ceremony – it was very touching and a bit emotional at times but you’ve just got to keep it back. There comes a time when words can’t express how you feel.

“Our life has been like a jigsaw puzzle where one piece has linked into another. It’s nice to know we’re respected in our business by so many people.

“Philip Astley has been in my head and heart since I was 10-years-old when I read about him in a book. I couldn’t believe the entertainment I loved – the circus – was created by a man from Newcastle-under-Lyme. We’ve lived in Silverdale for 52 years and during that time we have as a family pushed for recognition for him but been knocked back several times. At long last things have moved in the right direction. It’s a great thing for the area.”

Connie, 83, added: “Last night was fantastic. I can’t believe we’ve received this honour but we are very proud. We’ve enjoyed an incredible life – I am a farmer’s daughter so it was all very strange in the beginning. Philip Astley was born in Newcastle and that is a good thing for the town. People come from all over to see the various statues of him.”

Freedom of the Borough is the highest award the Council can bestow on a valued member of the community who has given outstanding services to the area. It’s awarded on rare occasions and was last received by the late Gordon Banks OBE in February 2018.

Councillors unanimously supported the recommendation, proposed by Council Leader Simon Tagg, at a recent Full Council meeting.

Council Leader Simon Tagg added: “Fred is regarded as one of the world’s finest and most original illusionists and his spectacular acts, involving Connie, have been described as a 21st century miracle. They’ve also done so much work to showcase the borough as Philip Astley’s birthplace. It gave me great pleasure to recommend them for Freedom of the Borough. It’s richly deserved.”

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