In the United Kingdom, the album was released in direct (albeit unintentional) competition to Britney Spears' sixth album, also titled Circus, released on the same day. Take That's manager said the album's title choice was a coincidence, and that the band had worked 'months in advance' and would not be changing the title.
BBC Music said: "A stunning album, Take That are the vintage champagne of pop fizzing with playful bubbles and happily maturing with age". The Daily Mirror stated that "they bring a fallible human quality to an album which is all about gilding their strong bond with their original fans." The Sunday Mercury said: "Like its predecessor, The Circus boasts one killer track. Hit single Greatest Day is as pop-perfect now as Patience was back in 2006."Yahoo! Music UK stated that "as with its predecessor Beautiful World, The Circus possesses well crafted pop songs, with faultless production".
The Sunday Times stated that "The Circus will, no doubt, achieve similar sales, with songs as propulsive and swollen with giant choruses as The Garden, Greatest Day, Said It All and the apparently Amy Winehouse-referencing "How Did It Come to This".The Times said "Take That's return is the gold standard: a hugely successful second coming from a band determined not to fritter away their reserves of goodwill."
Following the release of the album, Take That announced plans for a stadium tour titled "Take That Present: The Circus Live" in 2009. The tour became the fastest selling tour in UK history selling £35m of tickets in one day (600,000 in less than 5 hours), beating the previous record set by Michael Jackson for his Bad World Tour in 1987 (though Jackson reclaimed the record soon after when he announced his residency at the O2 Arena in London shortly before his death).The Script acted as special guests at their performance at Croke Park. Take That also presented their own TV show Take That Come To Town, a variety show where they performed some of their biggest hits and new material from The Circus, which aired on 7 December 2008 on ITV.
To launch the album's release in Paris, the band performed at a lavish nightclub exclusively for the first time in 12 years in the city on 2 December 2008. The performance included acrobats, trapeze artists, stilt-walkers and jugglers, all in keeping with the circus theme.
Prior to the official release of The Circus it was revealed that the album had broken all preorder records and had become the most pre-ordered album of all time.
The album reached number one in Ireland and the UK with The Circus selling 133,000 copies on its first day of release in the UK. In the United Kingdom, the album sold 306,000 copies (going platinum) in the first four days of release, making The Circus the fastest-selling album of the year. The album reached the top of the UK album charts on 7 December 2008 with total first-week sales of 432,490, the third highest opening sales week in UK history. The album debuted at #3 on the Irish Albums Chart and a week later rose to number one. On Friday 19 December 2008, the album had sold 1 million copies sold by its 19th day in UK shops, making it the second fastest album in the UK to reach 1 million copies, behind Oasis's Be Here Now in 1997.
The album stayed on top of the UK Albums Chart for five weeks and became one of the biggest selling albums of 2008 in the UK. The album has been certified double platinum in Europe (including the UK and Ireland) for sales in excess of two million copies, and was the 27th best-selling album worldwide in 2008 according to the IFPI. Since its release in December 2008, the album has spent 73 weeks (one year, five months and one week) in the top 100 of the UK Albums Chart.