Gloucestershire

Giffords Circus co-founder Nell Gifford dies

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Media captionNell Gifford said performing at the circus she founded helped her cope with advanced cancer

The co-founder of one of the UK's best-known traditional travelling circuses has died at the age of 46.

Nell Gifford, who had breast cancer, died on Sunday surrounded by family, Stroud-based Giffords Circus said in a statement.

"We know many tears will be falling as Nell touched so many hearts," it said.

Ms Gifford, a mother of two, told the BBC when she was undergoing chemotherapy last month that the circus gave her "a reason to live".

She had fought breast cancer on three separate occasions before the disease advanced to her bones and lymph nodes.

Members of the public have posted tributes on social media.

Daniella Askew wrote: "Her legacy lasts in family traditions with Giffords Circus around the Cotswolds and beyond. Our love to her family, including the circus. A queen of magic and dreams."

Peter Wilson said: "This is so sad. Nell created an extraordinary phenomenon that helped my own family through times of grief. Love to all who knew her."

Image copyright Giffords Circus
Image caption Nell Gifford co-founded Giffords Circus with her then husband Toti in 2000

Ms Gifford, who studied English at Oxford, was 18 when she took a gap year and ran away to New York, where she joined the circus.

She fell in love with the lifestyle and met the man who would become her husband, Toti. They co-founded their own circus in 2000. The couple later divorced.

Ms Gifford said the circus was a "land of pure magic" that rejuvenated her after chemotherapy.

Giffords Circus said she wanted to "bring happiness, imagination and enliven people's souls".

"Nell was a creative genius, a daughter, stepdaughter, sister, friend, leader and mother. She leaves behind the next generation - her twins Cecil and Red, who are both part of the Giffords Circus DNA."

Giffords Circus chairman Irene Molodstov added: "She took us all on a journey. The circus was her first child, and the show will go on."

Based on a farm in the Cotswolds, Giffords Circus tours around England each summer.

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