I have learnt from the circus that If you want to get good at something, you have to practise every day. That sounds like such a simple thing but actually the repeating of something to achieve something, means you will get better at it. If you work hard at it, you will begin to embody your medium and that’s really special.- Nell Gifford

In tribute to Nell Gifford 1973 – 2019

Nell Gifford graduated with a degree in English Literature from New College, Oxford. She began her career at Circus Flora in the USA and worked on Santus Circus, Chinese State Circus, Bobby Roberts Super Circus and Circus Roncalli in Germany under Yasmine Smart.

Nell set up her own circus ‘Giffords’ with her then husband Toti Gifford in 2000. Giffords mirrored a traditional 1930’s village green circus, an enchanting and surprising spectacle to grace the counties of England on tour throughout the summer months. With Nell’s creative energy, a love of literature and an eye costume, colour and glamour, Nell and her circus family created a truly magical, home-made, circus experience. Audiences are invited to witness jaw-dropping acrobatics, aerialist and trapeze artistes, gypsy violinists, tight-rope walkers, stunt riders, opera singers, dancers, clowns and illusionists. Since Giffords first season in a small tent with a host of friends and family who doubled as the musicians and ushers, Giffords has grown in strength, style and number, entertaining and delighting tens of thousands of people each year, mesmerising audiences of international celebrities and little children alike.

Nell wrote a number of books about her experience of the Circus; ‘Josser, the secret life of a circus girl’ (Little Brown) 2000, ‘A Children’s biography on the inventor of the circus, Phillip Astley’ (The Short Book Company), ‘Giffords Circus – the first ten years’ (The History Press) 2014, ‘Nell and the Circus of Dreams’ 2019 and ‘The Gifford Circus Cookbook’ published 2020.

In 2007, Nell was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Gloucestershire, and in 2010 was presented with the inaugural ‘Maverick Award’ by the Groucho Club, London. In 2016, Nell was proud to become an Honorary Fellow at Hereford College of Arts. Despite undergoing treatment for cancer at the time, it was clear that Nell was in her element when touring the workshops and studio spaces at our Folly Lane and College Road Campuses, thrilled to explore the playground of opportunity that HCA has on offer for its students. During her illness, Nell explained to students that Art had been her only source of genuine enrichment, passionately believing that making art is a route to wholeness and healing. Nell’s advice to graduating students in 2016 professed that “In order to make, to design, to create and to succeed, you need to give all of yourself; your nationality, your gender, you faith, your sexuality, your values, your heart.. if you just give a bit, it’s not enough.. it’s not enough to make you stand out”.

Nell died in December 2019 at the age of 46. Nell’s legacy lives on through all that she created, shared and inspired. Nell was a huge inspiration and her fellowship remains of great value to the students and staff at Hereford College of Arts.