One-legged acrobat was world famous
Polio robbed Bill Wareham of his right leg but also made him into a one-legged acrobat whose name was splashed over billboards across the world.
The Whangarei resident has just turned 90 and is looking back on his colourful life as the "Balancing Buccaneer."
That was his stage name during a career that included his appearance in a special television show to honour the Queen's Coronation.
Wareham was born in Auckland in 1924 and contracted the infectious disease polio as a baby.
The condition left him with little strength in half his body and a right leg 8cm shorter than his left.
Society didn't know how to handle "crippled kiddies" when he was a young boy, he says.
"There was no social welfare and no-one to turn to. People like myself were kept in the background."
But that didn't stop him.
"I involved myself in weightlifting, surf life saving and spent lots of time hand-to-hand balancing.
"Nobody knows why but one day I just started standing on my hands."
Wareham had surgery to lengthen his right leg by 4cm and rid him of his limp when he was 12. But it was not successful and he had his leg amputated when he was 27.
"I was one of the first polio victims to lose a limb. I felt lost and thought having no leg would mean no more surf club, no more weight training and no more hand-to-hand balancing. I didn't know which way to turn."
But it was just the beginning for Wareham who went to the UK in hope of finding an artificial leg.
It took two years to find the perfect fit and during that time he lifted weights and practised his acrobatics at the YMCA in central London.
"One day a TV scout spotted me and told me he was determined to get me on the box.
"He organised me an interview and by the time it was over, it was decided. I would wear a peg leg and dress as a pirate in a special television show to honour the Queen's Coronation."
Wareham says the act brought a whole new element to his acrobatics and he had to learn to balance on his legs, something he was only accustomed to doing on his hands.
Agents who saw the show phoned him saying they'd never seen anything like it and booked him immediately, he says. And from there the "balancing buccaneer" was born.
"If the TV scout hadn't seen me at the gym that day, my life may have slowed down right there."
Wareham celebrated his birthday with a party but followed medical advice to resist getting up to his old tricks.
"I balanced on my hands at my 80th birthday but I'm not as fresh as I used to be," he says.
- North Shore Times