LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Zippos Circus Girl in Circus Picture of the Year!

Nicky de Neumann
Putting the circus back in the circus
- Roman style

Here’s a picture that puts the circus in the circus for me - Nicky de Neumann riding three horses Roman style in the Zippos big top. At a time when the traditional circus is in retreat and animals have all but disappeared from the British big top, Nicky’s equestrian daredevilry recalls the spirit of the circus as it was invented by British trick rider Philip Astley in 1768 and, indeed, the thunderous arenas of ancient Roman from which circus takes its name.

In an interview that originally appeared in The Stage, I asked her how a girl from Croydon became a star of the sawdust circle.

How long have you been interested in horses?

“The first time I encountered a horse was when I was four or five. I went to see a friend’s horse and from the moment I set eyes on it I was smitten. I started saving up for my own pony when I was seven. By the time I was 11, I had £500 and my grandfather was so impressed he doubled it and I bought my first pony.”

"When you're a kid
you're fearless."
When did you start trick-riding?

“When I was 14 I had to do work experience at school. They wanted me to go to a solicitor’s office and I was like, ‘No way, that’s not for me!’ So I found a guy called Rodeo Dave and did my work experience in his shows at county fairs - throwing myself on and off, up and down and underneath horses, going as fast as possible!”

Sounds dangerous...

“It is. But when you’re a young kid you’re fearless. I loved it. I then went on to work with racehorses and train young thoroughbreds for about 13 years.”

You also took a drama degree at Italia Conti. Were your ambitions in the theatre or the horse world at that point?

“I wanted to do both and everyone said couldn’t. At drama school they wanted me to get rid of my horses, because it was such a big distraction. Everyone in the horse world said I should forget about acting. But I was determined to do both, and I have. I’ve done a lot of fringe theatre, singing and cabaret. But I always seem to be called for more horse work. I worked for Euro Disney for five years as Annie Oakley. I did a couple of years in Giffords Circus. I also created my own all-girl stunt team and toured the country.”

Nicky de Neumann
- the horse whisperer of Zippos turns rescue horses
into circus circuses
Does it take a special kind of horse to do the work you do?

“They need vast amounts of training, but you can train any horse if you spend enough time. I have two rescue horses, one of which was going to be shot because he was deemed un-ride-able and out of control. I took him on with no idea I’d even attempt to get him to be a stunt horse. I just wanted to save his life. But now I’ve got him working and he’s terribly sweet. So it’s about getting to know their personality and working with their strengths. Horses are like kids. They’re not inherently bad and if they display bad behaviour there’s usually a reason. If you become their friend, they want to please you.”

How have you taken to life in a travelling circus?

“It’s lovely, because I get to be with my horses 24/7. I live in the lorry, which is attached to the stables, so we’re all together. They get loads of attention and fuss and I’m there constantly, as opposed to someone who sees their horse once a day and pays someone else to feed them while they’re at work.”

Read more about:

- Animal training in the circus...

- Backstage life at Zippos and other circuses...

- Britain’s oldest circus family...

- The history of the circus...

Backstage at Zippos
Circus Mania
takes you there
In Circus Mania! - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus.

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon

Or buy direct from Peter Owen Publishers for just £10 including post and packing in the UK (add £2.75 postage rest of world). Send cheques to:

Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

See also: An interview with Zippos owner Martin Burton.

"Circus Mania is a brilliant
account of a vanishing
art form."
- Mail on Sunday

And may all your days... be circus days!

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