Newcastle celebrity Neil “Nello” Baldwin pulled in a host of household names as they watched the former circus clown being honoured with the Freedom of the Borough.
Nello, who’s amazing story featured in the award-winning film Marvellous, brought laughter to the crowd at Keele University where Mayor of Newcastle under Lyme Cllr Sandra Hambleton presented him with his award.
Lou Macari, former manager of Stoke City, signed Neil as a kit man in the early ‘90s.
Macari said: “He was loyal to me and I never regretted taking him on.
“We needed a bit of a lift and I thought he was the man to do it and he certainly delivered.
“As I said in the film, he was my best signing ever!”
Terry Conroy, former Stoke City player, first met Neil when he moved to Stoke-on-Trent in 1967 after being snapped up by the Potters.
He said: “Now, 48 years later, we’re still friends and what has happened to him in the last few years is nothing short of amazing.”
Terry has watched “Marvellous” several times and said it is typical of Neil to find another way to make people laugh.
“It just sums Neil up. It’s amazing at this part of his life, coming up to 70, he has found a new audience.
“He’s the most positive individual I have ever met and that runs off him and that’s why he’s so popular.”
Mayor of Newcastle under Lyme Cllr Hambleton said Neil deserved to have the council’s highest honour bestowed on him as he has inspired and helped countless people in the area.
She said: “He is an inspiration and shows everything can be overcome if you try hard enough.
“He is also a God-fearing man with Christian beliefs and I think that is why he is so happy.
“He looks after the students and he passes his Christian beliefs on.
“Everybody knows him and if he walked down the street you’d see people shouting ‘Hi Nello’.”
Neil told Staffslive it was “a great honour” to receive the Freedom of the Borough and explained why he has greeted new students at Keele University since 1960.
He said: “Keele University is my second home and it will always be.
“I want to meet students because when they leave home for the first time it is difficult.
“The film won two BAFTAs. That was great and I was really happy.”
The night also saw the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Sergeant Watchman V, who is mascot for the Staffordshire Regiment, receive the Freedom of the Borough.
His handler, Warrant Officer Greg Hedges said: “It is an extreme honour and a double honour because Neil got his award at the same time and he is a hell of a character.
“My only disappointment is that he didn’t wear his red clown suit so that we could both be dressed in red!”
(Additional reporting by Robert Smith)