GIFFORDS CIRCUS: The greatest show on earth

Giffords Circus - The First Ten Years, by Nell Gifford

Giffords Circus - The First Ten Years, by Nell Gifford - Credit: Archant

Every summer since 2000, Giffords Circus has brought its glamorous 1930s-style entertainment to villages across the South West, says Candia McKormack

Nell Gifford performs in The Thunders

Nell Gifford performs in The Thunders - Credit: © Thousand Word Media

There can be few of us in the Cotswolds, and beyond, who have not experienced the thrill of being ringside at a Giffords Circus show. And those who haven’t must promise themselves the treat of doing so in the not-too-distant future.

Tweedy the Clown

Tweedy the Clown - Credit: © Thousand Word Media

I can remember my first Giffords – about 10 years ago, in the not-so-big top on the village green at Frampton on Severn. I was mesmerised before the music even started, before the first performer appeared.

You’ll know when Giffords Circus is in town by the canvas big top, assortment of traditional 1930s-style maroon wagons and horses grazing, gypsy style, on fields, common land and greens across Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. The magic they spread across rural communities every summer season is one that endures, so that when they pack up to leave for the next village, the temptation to follow is a very hard one to fight.

And now, the woman who made it all happen, Nell Gifford, has brought together her story in a beautiful new hardbound book called Giffords Circus: The First Ten Years.

Started in 2000 by Nell, an Oxford graduate, and her landscape designer husband, Toti, with no money, equipment or backing, Giffords Circus emerged from a garden shed and an ex-hire white tent from an advert in the local paper. The first ten years – the highs and the lows – is shared by Nell in beautiful prose and vibrant behind-the-scenes photos.

“Over this time we have entertained over 200,000 people,” says Nell. “We have travelled the world in search of artistes, musicians and directors – Budapest, Bucharest, Moscow, Paris – we have watched thousands of hours of circus, rehearsals and training. We have lived and worked with Parisian musicians, Ossetian horsemen, Hungarian farmers, Romanian artisans, Ethiopian brothers, runaways and rebels.”

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? Giffords Circus: The First Ten Years by Nell Gifford, £25, published by The History Press,

? For more information on Giffords Circus, including summer 2014 tour dates of their latest show The Thunders, visit


GIFFORDS CIRCUS book signings

Nell Gifford will be signing copies of her new book Giffords Circus: The First Ten Years at the following venues throughout the summer months:

• Friday, May 30, Waterstones, Cheltenham - 11am-12.30pm

• Tuesday, June 3, Woodstock Methodist Church, Woodstock - From 7pm

• Friday, June 6, Jaffé and Neale Bookshop & Café, Chipping Norton - From 11am

• Friday, June 20, Waterperry Garden Centre, Mrs H’s Tea Rooms, Nr Wheatley – From 11am

• Friday, July 4, Blackwells Bookshop, Oxford - From 11am

• Friday, July 18, Madhatter Bookshop, Burford - From 11am

• Friday, July 25, Borzoi Bookshop, Stow- On-The-Wold - From 11am

• Friday, August 1, Highfield Garden World, Whitminster - From 11am

• Friday, August 8, Hobbs House Bakery, Nailsworth - From 11am

• Friday, August 15, Stroud Bookshop, Stroud - From 11 am

• Thursday, August 21, Toppings & Company, Bath - From 11am

• Friday, September 5, Octavia’s Bookshop, Cirencester - From 11am