This week, we were lucky enough to interview the inspirational circus ring-mistress Nell Gifford, founder of 1930’s-style Giffords Circus. Nell lives with her husband Toti and their twins Red and Cecil in Gloucestershire. Giffords Circus has just opened this month with dates throughout the summer.
Is it true you ran away to the circus? Tell a bit about your background?
I joined Circus Flora in the US when I was 18 years old, through my brother’s wife, Camilla. It was my gap year. I then went on to study English at Oxford, but after that, my heart was always with the circus.
Living the circus life must be a dream for your children, how do they feel about it?
I think they like it – they find it great fun; they have a really strong emotional connection with performers that have been with us for a long time, it’s a bit like having lots of aunties and uncles.
What is your children’s favourite circus act?
It’s definitely Tweedy the clown – they think he’s funny, which he is, of course! He’s very sweet and spends lots of time with the kids.
You founded Gifford’s Circus in 2000, what’s been the highlight so far?
There have been many highlights since 2000. Having my children was definitely the biggest highlight! Vivienne Westwood coming to see the show and meeting her was a huge deal. We found a brass band on a street corner in Paris; the travelling we’ve done around Eastern Europe have been really exciting… Having performers leave us, but then come back to the circus is always amazing.
How do you juggle (excuse the pun) life at the circus with family life?
I have a lot of help. We have a full-time nanny called Daniella who is absolutely wonderful. She loves the children and looks after all of us. There’s also a girl who comes to teach my children French – we’re basically a great team with everyone pulling together.
Describe a typical family day for you, when you’re not performing.
We take the ponies for a ride, the kids enjoy swimming and playing in the garden. I also enjoy a bit of gardening.
What’s in the pipeline?
Our new show has just opened which is really exciting. I’m writing a book about the circus, which is due to come out next year. We have another new show lined up for next year, and at the moment, we’re lining the tents, which will completely change the light and atmosphere, it doesn’t sound very exciting, but technically it’s quite a challenge!
What baby product can’t you live without?
I would have to say without a doubt, nit combs.
Your sister is Emma Bridgewater famous for her wonderful ceramics; you sure are a creative family, are you all close?
We’re all really close, we see a lot of each other.
How would you sum yourself up in one sentence?
I really don’t know! It would really depend on what mood I’m in!