Nell Gifford's home is full of circus charm
If Nell Gifford was ever to appear on Through the Keyhole, there'd be a good chance she'd be rumbled pretty quickly.
As soon as you walk into Nell's home, a farmhouse in Bourton-on-the-Water, everything about it screams circus – the kind of ultra-stylish, boutique circus you associate her with.
Nell started Giffords Circus with her husband Toti in 2001, their vision of a miniature village green circus a million miles away from the big, gaudy productions that usually spring to mind when you think of the genre.
In the years since, Nell's name has become synonymous with a unique bohemian style, showcased to perfection in the productions and clearly evident everywhere you look in the family home.
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"Every circus person can't help but collect memorabilia and I'm no exception," said Nell, who lives with Toti and their two-year-
old twins Red and Cecil.
"At first, the house was full of stuff from other circuses, but as time has gone on and I've got more confidence in what we're doing, it's gradually become more about Giffords.
"I love what we do and I'm passionate about it, so it's only natural that it would extend into our home."
From the pictures on the kitchen cupboards to the masks, banners and exquisite drawings on the walls, there's no doubt Nell is a showgirl through and through.
Nell and Toti built the house and its surrounding buildings from scratch with just one consideration – storage, and plenty of it.
"It's one of life's great headaches for anyone involved with a circus," said Nell.
"Each show produces so much stuff, from costumes to artwork and, of course, the wagons.
"We needed somewhere to keep it all, so the outbuildings were almost as important to us as the house.
"If the wagons were exposed to the elements all winter, the repairing and repainting would just get too much.
"And the costumes and banners would get damp if they weren't kept somewhere warm, so there's a practical side to displaying such a lot of it in the house, as well as an aesthetic element."
At this time of year, when the summer show has ended, the horses are out in the field and the performers have moved on, an air of peace descends on the farm.
But it's not always like this.
In the summer months, it's a hive of activity, with acrobats, jugglers, musicians and dancers taking over the garden in their caravans, and rehearsing their routines in the barn.
"The barn is one of the most important spaces in the house," said Nell. "It's where everything happens. I love it when it's full of people, all busy putting the show together."
For someone who spends half their life on the road, touring the Cotswolds with the show each summer, it's no surprise that home takes on a special significance.
"The kitchen is another really important room in the house," said Nell.
"I grew up with the kitchen as the hub of the house and it's no different here.
"We do tend to use it for meetings so there are days when it's full of people and noise and it's really quite chaotic, but circus people also know to respect each other's space.
"The performers would never just walk in here, just as I'd never just walk into their caravans.
"Because we live in draughty caravans for half the year, warmth is really important to me. I like my house to feel cosy.
"It can get so cold up here that the house often feels like a ski chalet, especially as we're only here in the winter.
"I want the children to grow up knowing we move around a lot, but home is where we keep our special things."
Nell's focus is now on the next Giffords' production, a series of Christmas film nights reliving the memories of past shows over mulled wine and mince pies at Notgrove Village Hall, where many of the circus rehearsals take place.
For more information and tickets, call 0845 459 7469.