Nell Gifford, the founder, producer and artistic director of the much-loved Gifford’s Circus, has announced that doctors have told her she has a year to live. The inspirational leader of the circus, which recently completed its second stint in the gardens of Chiswick House, has spent the last four years fighting breast cancer. Last year, when the circus first performed in Chiswick, she was in remission, but she has recently been told that the disease has now spread to her bones and lymph nodes.
She told Evening Standard reporter Susannah Butter: “I have a poor outlook. I’ve been diagnosed with a year to live … I can hardly remember the feeling of being without cancer. But I’m having loads of treatment under an incredible oncologist, ducking and diving through the NHS and private system”.
Nell, who is still performing an equestrian act in the circus, has been dividing her time between hospital and the circus. She has started a video diary because she says: “It’s not the end of the world when you have chemotherapy, you can still enjoy yourself and still live your most creative life.” Nell has twins Red, who joined her mother for the first time this year in the circus ring, and Cecil, who are ten. They live at Fennell’s Farm in Stroud, in Gloucestershire, which is also the base for the circus. She ‘ran away with the circus’ when she was eighteen ‘and fell instantly in love with this forgotten art form’. Nell read English at New College, Oxford and then ‘joined the first circus that came to town’. She set up Gifford’s Circus with her then fiance Toti, a farmer’s son from Cheltenham.