What’s it Like to Work at a Travelling Circus?

Ever wondered what life is like working in a traveling circus? My wonderful friend Eleanor has been kind enough to give us a glimpse into what life is like under the big top! I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed interviewing her! ?

What is it like being a Ring Mistress for a traditional Irish Circus?

Most people think that the Ring Master/Mistress just announces the show, the artists, and their acts but it is actually a much bigger responsibility than that. You are literally in charge of the circus ring which means you have to be alert with eyes open the whole time; covering pauses in the show whilst props are being set, encouraging the audience to ‘make some noise’ if they are feeling a little self-conscious, giving important safety announcements before dangerous acts, checking to make sure any especially enthusiastic children don’t run into the ring, and most importantly keeping the clowns in order!

circus performance

How & why did you get into circus life?

I have my friend and previous dance teacher to thank for that. She was commissioned to choreograph for an English show and unfortunately, one of her dancers fell ill and had to drop out. She needed someone she knew wasn’t afraid of a challenge to come in and learn the show in a day and a half and luckily I was available. The show was a flop but the management invited me back for their new show which was where I met my fiancé who showed me how to develop my dance background into circus artist and the rest, as they say, is history!

What is your average routine?

On average the show moves town every two to three days so that it can cover as much of Ireland and reach as many people as possible before closing for the winter. It’s a lot of work building up and taking down the tent but everyone pitches in and it generally runs like clockwork.

What advice would you give someone thinking of joining a circus?

One concept people have of the circus is that it is a very romantic lifestyle, and yes it can be, but it is mainly made up of a lot of hard graft and physical work. My advice would be that if you are not adaptable, able to endure long nights or afraid of physical work then the circus is not for you.

If it’s such hard work then why do you do it?

When you enter the ring you leave everything behind and all that matters is what happens right there in the moment. It’s a live performance and on paper the same show every day but in reality, each show is different, each audience is different and anything can happen.

What are the best 3 things about circus life?

Travelling, hearing the laughter you know you helped create and getting the chance every night to start anew.

circus performer

Where does everyone live who is working for the circus?

All established artists and those from circus families have their own caravans and transport but shows do provide caravans and bunk wagons with a communal kitchen for visiting artists or troupes.

Do you have a makeup artist? And who provides your costumes?

Each artist does their own makeup and provides their own costumes as it is a mark of their personality. However, if there is a certain look or production piece shows are known to provide costumes.

All the costumes I own are made specifically for me in Mexico, I know that no one will have the same costume and I can design them however I like.

Do you have an understudy?

I don’t have an understudy and it is rare for someone to miss a show for illness. However, on the rare occasion that anyone has to miss a show, circus artists are very versatile and work together to cover for each other to make sure the public get the high-class entertainment they are expecting and have paid for.

How many shows do you do a week?

On a build up day we have one show and the subsequent day two, so on average about 11 shows a week from February to late October/early November depending on the weather. If it’s too cold even the heaters struggle to heat the big top and if it’s too windy it’s not safe to have the big top up.

Has anyone ever got injured whilst performing?

Yes! Including myself. You have to remember that this is a live performance and full of high-risk acts although everybody works hard to avoid any accidents or mistakes that could lead to injury.

Do you get unlimited popcorn and candy floss?

Yes, but I do a gag with one of the clowns which ends with him throwing popcorn in my face. It kind of puts you off it after a while.

circus mistress

Do you see yourself working in the circus as a long-term career?

I will never forget my first job working in Just Books, Ilkley and have always imagined myself eventually working with books but I think I will save that dream for when my body can’t keep up anymore.

Do you have to spend Christmas working or do you get to come home?

After spending nine months out of twelve on the road you tend to get fidgety when the season ends so I like to spend the Christmas Season working. Fortunately for the last 2 years I have been in England and able to spend Christmas Day with my family.

Do you get homesick?

There isn’t much time to get homesick, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t on occasion. Especially for our family cats (love you too Debneys) that live at home. Some people do have pets on the road but it would be unfair to take my cats now after they have been brought up in a house.

Name three comforts you like to travel with;

  • A bottle of Molton Brown shower gel
  • Yorkshire Tea
  • My feather pillow… It’s the little things that count!

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done whilst working at the circus?

I would say performing the Wheel of Death with my fiancé and two others for a publicity stunt. A nearby circus was advertising four people on the Wheel where the norm is to have two so as not to be bested we rose up to the challenge!

wheel of death

Have you had to conquer any fears to become a Ring Mistress?

Yes, the greatest of them being public speaking! I was always a very quiet kid, good with words on paper but if I was asked to give a presentation it would take a lot of effort not to trip up on words let alone project without choking. Even after three years, there are days I want the ground to open up and swallow me whole but the majority of the time I can relax and enjoy myself now.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

That is a very difficult question. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of visiting Mexico which was so beautiful and full of colour so that would definitely be in the running. However over the past 3 years I have also fallen in love with the West Coast of Ireland, the people are so friendly and the scenery is spectacular. And then there’s Ilkley of course, I think a part of my heart will always feel the moors and the heather calling, plus there is something about the air that is so sweet and refreshing. In short, I don’t think I’m ready to settle just yet and I’m sure there is much more of the world to see before I make a decision.

Do you think joining the circus has changed you as a person?

I wouldn’t say that the circus has changed my personality but that it has made me more secure in who I am and trust in my judgement and intuition. In the performing industry you are taught, subconsciously, to compare yourself to others and that you must have a ‘big personality’. However, speaking from personal experience all this effort results in is a false personality and losing who you are. A false personality leads to a false performance, a false performance is a weak performance, a weak performance equals a bad reaction which leads to all kinds of self-doubt, questioning and so on. But the circus doesn’t allow for that, artists are their own person and only a true performance when you allow yourself to shine through creates the magic moments and ultimately defines you as an artist. You are completely exposed, it is liberating and terrifying at the same time but it only lasts for a few minutes. I guess I could say the circus has made me braver, more confident and have a greater understanding of myself.

“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself” – Coco Chanel.

Any final words?

Three years ago just the thought of speaking in front of people rendered me tongue tied and uncomfortable but now I’m bantering with clowns, improvising to cover gaps and probably talking too much! The point is, never put yourself in a box because you never know where a sequence of events will take you. Adventure is out there!

I’d like to thank Eleanor so much for allowing me to share her story with you, if you have any questions for her, please do comment below.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, why not check out what life is like teaching English in Queenstown,New Zealand.

Teaching English in Queenstown

After leaving Yorkshire and moving 11,523 miles away to live in New Zealand, my good friend Becca fills us in on what life is like living in Queenstown teaching English in a night school. 

So this is your second trip to NZ… what inspired you to go there in the first place?

Initially, I came here to visit my friend for a holiday… she was coming back for a second season and I fell in love with the atmosphere of Queenstown life, and decided to throw caution to the wind and get a working holiday visa to come here. I’d never lived away from the UK and I think, for me, it was a push outside of my comfort zone and an opportunity to develop myself and redevelop my life. I left to come home in December 2016 and literally one week went by and I knew I needed to get my second working holiday visa and come back. The thought of missing out on living in Queenstown for one more year broke my heart, so here I am again!

What course did you have to do to teach English in New Zealand? 

To teach English as a foreign language in any commonwealth country (NZ, Australia, Canada and UK) you need a full CELTA qualification.

What is the CELTA course like? 

I did the 15 week online part-time CELTA course. It’s very intense and requires a lot of motivation and hard work!

Are there many other English people teaching with you in Queenstown? 

In my college there are 4 other native English teachers. The rest are Kiwi, Czech, and Brasilian.

What are the students like? 

The students are mainly Latin-American and they are the reason I teach. Their personalities are amazing, their drive to learn natural English is admirable, and watching them develop and use the language properly after they have tried hard to learn it is my drug: teaching is so rewarding when you do it right.

So glad you are loving your job! How did you go about getting it? 

I already had a job at my previous place of work in retail, which I arranged prior to coming out here again. Once I was settled I went to the college and enquired about teaching and got my job pretty much immediately.

If someone was thinking of going to teach English in NZ what advice would you have for them? 

Definitely get a full CELTA qualification and make sure that teaching is what you want to do. I spend 5 hours a day getting paid to teach… but I spend at least 2 unpaid hours researching grammar, planning writing comprehension, grading language, and compiling grammatical structures for my students to use.

How easy was the visa process? 

For UK residents, getting a working holiday visa is easy, you just apply online.

queenstown scenic

How do you get around Queenstown? What’s the public transport like?

I have a car here, which is really useful. Otherwise, I walk…. But that’s a huge effort considering everything’s up a hill! There are no trains in the south island of NZ so there are buses here around town but they are infrequent and rather expensive. If I need to go more than 5k away, I hitchhike, which is very common in Queenstown.

How did you go about finding accommodation in Queenstown?

Our accommodation is through an estate agent. It is the same price as living/renting in a city in the UK. Travellers looking to live in QT should arrive ahead of the seasons, though, because QT is a tourist focussed and therefore seasonal town and so accommodation fills up fast in the winter and summer months.

What’s the cost of living like in Queenstown? 

It is expensive because it a tourist town. We do have locals discounts pretty much everywhere though, and you just have to know where to go at what time to get the deals! Our equivalent of ALDI is Pac n’ Save which is awesome.

yoga queenstown

What is an average day like in your life?

I go to the gym, get coffee (NZ do Flat Whites like they should be done, not like the excuse for a flat white we get in the UK!) and spend a couple hours planning lessons. I’ll maybe meet a friend for food in town or walk up a hill.  I teach every weekday evening.

What do they have in NZ that they don’t have in the UK, and vice versa?

Here, everyone is active. It’s normal to go out in your activewear, usually because you’ve either just been to the gym, or probably you’ll end up unintentionally hiking up some mountains or walking by the lakefront. There are a lot of raw food, organic cafés because energy-filled fresh food is what’s preferred here. Anything goes- there’s no need or pressure to impress people or show off your new flashy car… because no one bothers with that here. The ‘flashy cars’ are massive new Hilux’s that will make it up the mountains with no chains. So, in essence, what they have here is more freedom to just be whoever, and do whatever, you like.

What have been the 3 main highlights of living in Queenstown so far?

  • The natural beauty
  • The coffee and the variety of cuisines
  • It’s not overcrowded and full of idiots

Is Queenstown a big enough place to not get bored?

Queenstown is all about the active outdoor life, but it can be pretty expensive. I love hiking, so for me the walks up to the gondola and being able to drive to nearby glaciers is the best thing.

Have you been able to explore other areas of NZ? 

So far I’ve been working every single day… so my aim is to travel more when I get time off!

The south west coast, however, is beautiful. It’s called the fjordlands and is surrounded by mountains. There are no towns, no villages, for miles and miles, and when you do pass a ‘town’ it is almost like a hamlet- blink and you miss it. The trips to Mackenzie, Routeburn, and Milford tracks are said to be incredible and well worth the trek. If you’re doing any serious walking or hiking, make sure you research the best crampons and microspikes before you go so that you’re safe on your adventures!

new zealand

Do you know what you’ll do when you return to the UK?

If and when I return to the UK I will teach at an English school. The good thing about teaching here is that this is the career path I want to invest in, this is what I want to do with my life, and CELTA means that I can do that anywhere in the world.

Whats your favourite shop in Queenstown?

Definitely Bespoke Café, so much fresh yummy great food!

Is Queenstown good for vegetarians? 

It’s excellent for any dietary requirements.

Have you got a New Zealand accent? 

No, but occasionally I use the phrasal verbs and idioms they have here: sweet as to mean good stuff, how you going to mean how are you, and yea nah to mean no I disagree.

Whats the nightlife like in Queenstown?

There are no nightclubs here, the town has loads of bars and pubs though. You can dress up (in QT style that means a decent dress with tights, chunky boots, good makeup and an oversized coat or jacket) and no way would I ever fake tan, get my heels on and wear a tight skirt. It’s just so chilled and friendly, you can’t help but have a good time!

Do you think your time in NZ has changed you as a person? 

I hope that it has made me more aware of, and accepting of, other cultures and other people. It’s certainly given me connections to people and other countries that I’d never ever have made in the UK. I think I’ve become more welcoming in inviting people into my life- I’ve realised that it doesn’t make sense to feel like you have to own everything, when really sharing everything you have is a much better use of your possessions. Sharing your home, your car, your food, means that everyone comes together so much more. I used to care a lot about having material things- and I of course own things that I love and mean a lot to me like my grandmas jewellery- but other things, like your home, I now feel more comfortable sharing. In the UK I would never invite a stranger to crash at my house if they needed a place to stay. Here, I do. I picked up a hitcher from the airport last month and he thought he couldn’t get into a hostel. I have a spare sofa and a duvet. So I said he could stay at our house, and here that’s normal and accepted.

living in queenstown

Thank you so much to my good friend for allowing me to share this with you. If you’ve been to Queenstown or have any questions do feel free to leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.

If you’ve enjoyed this then you’ll love finding out what it’s like to work in the circus!

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Alphabetical Date Ideas – Yorkshire

Alphabetical dates are such a lovely idea, not only is it a great way to schedule time together, but it is also a great way to try out new things, get creative and break away from your usual routine.

How Do Alphabetical Dates Work?

Basically, you reserve a day or evening a week, or fortnight (or whenever is convenient for you), and on those days or nights, you do activities beginning with every letter of the alphabet. So 26 letters = 26 date nights! Here are some ideas of things to do at home and around Yorkshire with your loved one!


Go abseiling at How Stean Gorge
Try your hand at archery
Get in touch with nature at The Yorkshire Arboretum
Play at the arcade

The Yorkshire Arboretum


Take Ballroom dancing lessons at Yorkshire Dance
Rent a boat in York
Go to the beach
Go to a Build-a-Bear Workshop
Explore Brimham Rocks


Take cooking lessons
Make candles
Play Crash Bandicoot
Visit the National Coal Mining Museum
Drop into Ilkley’s Clip n Climb
Go to Ilkley Cinema
Eat cheese at The Courtyard Dairy 


Dine at your favourite restaurant
Play a game of dominoes
Go to The Deep Aquarium
Eat Domino’s Pizza

the deep


Learn all the lyrics to an Eminem song
Watch an educational documentary together


Have a film night
Make a duvet fort
Explore Fountains Abbey
Eat french fries
Watch funny films
Go to a football match together


Sip Slingsby Gin
Play your favourite board games
Walk around Gledhow Valley Woods
Go for a gamble at Grosvenor

slingsby gin


Go on a hike
Ride in a hot air balloon
Go horse riding
Plan a holiday


Eat Italian food
Make ice cream
Walk the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail
Go ice skating


Get healthy at a juice bar
Listen to Jazz at Leeds Jazz Club
Have jelly & ice cream
Play Jenga
Tell each other jokes



Walk around Kirkstall Abbey
Play laser tag at Kirkstall’s Cardigan Fields


Learn something new at the Science & Media Museum
Walk around Lake Semerwater.
Play with the Nidderdale Llamas


Play Monopoly
Listen to music
Take a stroll around Malham Tarn
Learn something new at a museum
Go mountain biking on Ilkley Moor

mountain biking ilkley moor


Go for a night out in Harrogate
Snuggle up for a night in


Eat chocolate orange ?
Go orienteering


Play a game of pool
Go paintballing
See a play at The Grand
Go on a picnic

the grand


Eat Quavers
Go quad-biking


Make rocky road
Go roller skating
Rock climbing


Enjoy sausage sandwiches
Go swimming
Try out scuba diving or snorkelling
Play snooker
Go strawberry picking

strawberry picking


Write ten things you love about each other
Go ten pin bowling
Relax at the Turkish Baths
Watch Tom Hardy films
Get a takeaway
Play tennis
Dine at the Trinity Kitchen


Play Uno
Kiss under a bridge
Explore underground caves
Make an upside down cake


Make Viennese Whirls
Make a vegetarian meal
Volunteer in your local community

lovely viennese whirls


Go for a walk
Skim stones across water
Go to Wetherspoons
White water rafting
Eat cheese at the Wensleydale Creamery


Share a kiss ? (x)
Dine at Pizza Express
Have fun at Xscape
Watch X-men


Eat at Yo-Sushi
Explore Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Play with yo-yos
Admire the animals at Yorkshire Wildlife Park

yorkshire wildlife park


Go zip-lining at Aerial Extreme