Nell Gifford, founder of Giffords Circus, on the appeal of her show, which today sets up in Oxford’s University Parks

Circus ought to make you cry with joy. It must cast a spell.

Giffords Circus is a magical circus, it tours Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds each summer with its big top and village of vintage-style burgundy painted wagons.

I first joined the circus when I was 18 – 10 months after my mother’s riding accident that abruptly ended family life as we knew it.

I was in my gap year between school and starting at university.

Graduating from New College, Oxford, I had dreamt of creating a circus of my own and following stints selling popcorn at the Chinese State Circus, being a ring mistress at Santus Circus in France and equestrienne in Circus Roncalli in Germany, I started Giffords Circus with my husband Toti Gifford.

Putting together Giffords Circus was like looking for a lost childhood – fragments, old toys, broken books, a fancy-dress parade.

Everything was and mainly still is handmade – the costumes, the posters and the set. Even the original front of house costumes were made from my mother-in-law’s old burgundy curtains.

Giffords Circus is different from other UK circuses, but still references traditional circus elements fusing them together our design, craft and vision and theatrical performance from our acclaimed director Cal McCrystal.

Cal is now in his seventh year working with Giffords and he brings with him such a creativity and energy to the show. We start with an idea and a range of circus acts and Cal weaves it all together to create the most amazing shows.

It’s another way that Giffords differs from other circuses as we look at the whole experience and don’t just present individual acts. The performers don’t just come on and do their act, they help introduce acts, maybe get involved in one of the comedy routines and everyone takes part in the finale when we invite the audience to get up and dance with us in the ring.

The circus rolls in to Oxford University Parks today with a brand-new tent and freshly painted burgundy vintage style wagons. The wagons have been painted using traditional coach painting techniques by hand, this is testament to our aesthetic and desire to do everything properly. We researched traditional methods such as signwriting and employed traditional craftspeople to create the most beautiful designs.

This year Giffords Circus celebrates the birth of circus, which happened 250 years ago, near Westminster bridge in London in 1768, and is perhaps one of the most bonkers art forms there is.

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Photographic image of life under the big top:

Peter Lavery's lavish 50 Years of Circus Portraits is a 300 page book of photographs of life in the big top taken between 1968 and 2018, and includes most of the striking images used in our gallery above.

It is published by Handheld Image, £60, and is available from the photographer’s website