A dad of three is saddling up for a cycle ride across one of the world's most volatile countries... dressed as a clown.

Richard Pantlin is going to Zimbabwe to raise money for charity, but also believes it can help change people's perception of the trouble-hit corner of Africa.

Mr Pantlin, 49, from Hurst Street, East Oxford, first visited the country on a month-long holiday in 1987 and remembers its people as full of pride and confidence.

But he was saddened to see the current conditions in the country and felt compelled to do something to help.

His idea of donning a clown costume does, however, fly in the face of Foreign Office advice that UK citizens should avoid the area and, if they must travel, keep a low profile.

Mr Pantlin is planning a 10-day bike ride from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, to Harare its capital - aiming to raise about £3,000.

He plans to tackle the 600km journey next March wearing a red nose, and wants others to join him.

Mr Pantlin said: "Things are in a terrible state in Zimbabwe at the moment.

"I've got some personal connections with some family friends living out there. My god-daughter is half-Zimbabwean too, but lives in this country."

Mr Pantlin hopes to help two charities - Zimbabwe: A National Emergency and Help Zimbabwe.

He said: "I went to Zimbabwe in 1987 and at that time it was a proud country, proud of its independence.

"The music scene was buzzing in Harare. It was at the time of the Bhundu Boys who made it big in England thanks to John Peel."

International criticism of Zimbabwe has been growing since the re-election of President Robert Mugabe in a run-off boycotted by the opposition.

On Friday, a UN Security Council resolution to impose new sanctions on the country's leaders failed after being vetoed by Russia and China.

Mr Pantlin said: "The idea is to say it's OK for a white Englishman to go to Zimbabwe and to get some positive publicity for the country.

"I will be seen as a crazy white Englishman and that's fine - so all Zimbabweans do not think, as Robert Mugabe says, that the English are trying to take over the country.

"I'm hoping that I'll ride into small towns and put on my clown's nose and maybe have some balloons and some music and bring a sense of fun. I'm sure all the kids will come out running."

Mr Pantlin said his partner had concerns about the trip, but was very supportive.

Edwin Mandaza, spokesman for the Zimbabwean Embassy in London, said the trip sounded like a good idea and urged Mr Pantlin to contact embassy officials to see if they could help him.

To sponsor Mr Pantlin, see www.funzimride.co.uk