A DISTINGUISHED acrobat who has travelled the world showing off his skills was performing death-defying stunts without realising his vision was seriously impaired.

Since the age of 15, Colin Stewart toured the world despite being ten times more short-sighted than the average person.

But now, aged 78, a double cataract operation at Nuffield Health Tees Hospital, Norton , has given him the eyesight he never realised he could have.

Born into a theatrical dynasty, he is a descendant of the world-famous Hutchinson family, which included his Uncle Johnny - better known in the industry as Johnny Hutch, one of the world’s best Arabian tumblers and a regular on The Benny Hill Show.

The Middlesbrough-born acrobat toured the world with his family comedy acrobatic act The Herculeans - originally called The Volants – which included Uncle Johnny.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

The Volants in Paris

When performing on stage, Colin used the earliest form of contact lenses - but that was in the 1960s, when the technology was in its infancy and they were so uncomfortable, he’d only wear them on stage.

The widower, who has three daughters and is a granddad and great-grandad 20 times over, toured Australia with a dancer named Helen – who went on to become his wife.

His general eyesight was so poor, he had to buy postcards of key landmarks just to see where he had visited.

However, specialist eye surgery has now transformed his life.

He said: “Before I had the operation my eyes were dreadful, I couldn’t see a thing. Even to read the newspaper or do my favourite crossword I had to press it up against my nose.

"I often wondered how I bundled my way through life with the eyesight I had. For years I used to just aim for the shapes and vivid colours on stage and hope for the best.”

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Colin with his wife Helen

Speaking of one of his globetrotting adventures to South Africa, he said: “When we performed in Zimbabwe, we went sightseeing like any other tourist but when we visited the spectacular Victoria Falls, I could hear the cascading roar of the water but I couldn’t actually see anything.”

The pensioner was advised a referral to see a specialist at Nuffield Health Tees Hospital - and that’s where consultant opthalmic surgeon Qasim Mansoor performed Colin’s life-transforming operation, transplanting two new lenses and giving him 20:20 vision.

Mr Mansoor, consultant ophthalmic surgeon, said: “Mr Stewart’s eyes were complex because they were significantly short-sighted. The cataracts were quite dense so there was a lot of risk involved with doing the surgery."

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Mr Stewart with his collection of posters from when he was performing

Speaking after his surgery, Mr Stewart said: “The operation was just like a trip to the dentist. I didn’t feel a thing. After the surgery I couldn’t believe what I could see. I was dumbfounded.

"I could read car number plates, gaze up at the stars and watch birds in the trees. I’d always been able to hear them but never in my lifetime had I ever seen a bird before. It was truly amazing.

“My whole life has been completely altered as my vision is superb. I have been given a new lease of life at nearly 80 years old. I wish I’d had this operation done as a little kid as I couldn’t even see the blackboard at school.

“Your eyesight is the most important and beautiful thing in the world and the most wonderful thing you’ve been blessed with so cherish every day.”