Life

Ken Fanning, co-founder of Tumble Circus: I grew a sourdough belly which made it impossible to do trapeze

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Ken Fanning, co-founder of Tumble Circus

Ken Fanning from Tumble Circus
Gail Bell

Ken Fanning during Tumble Circus's Winter Circus Show in 2017. Picture by Hugh Russell

1

Up and at it - what is your new morning routine? How has it changed?

My alarm goes off religiously at 7.07am in the morning, which I immediately ignore. When I finally get up, I spend some time staring into a mirror wondering 'who the hell is this old guy?' and why does he insist on setting an alarm so goddamn early.

Not much has changed about my routine except now I'm older.

2

What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

During lockdown, breakfast became an extreme sport, myself and my partner competing to outdo ourselves each morning. Avocados on homemade bread with garden-grown tomatoes, topped with shavings of Italian cheese, was typical.

We would go on wild adventures using asparagus, lettuce, pork chops, exotic fruit – or adding strange food we found in the reduced section of Tesco.

Lunch?

Coffee. Very strong coffee.

Evening meal?

Our house is really close to an Asian supermarket, so we have been making loads of great Asian dishes lately.

3

Have you been able to work from home - if so, how have you found it?

All our circus work disappeared in a matter of a few days in March 2020 and it has only now started to happen again. We got busy re-organising our company and finding online projects to keep our circus mob distracted.

For St Patrick's Festival, we created a 45-minute circus film which was seen by over 500,000 people online. It was called The MacCarnysons and was all organised and created from our desks at home. Being on the screen, though, is no substitute for live shows.

4

Best/easiest lockdown meal?

Chips from Chip and Fish on the Ravenhill road.

5

Weekend treat?

A cycle to Daft Eddy's down the Comber Greenway for a picnic and wobble home.

6

How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

Pre-covid, I put an order in for a special circus trick bike which was shipped to me from Poland and custom-built to my size. It was very expensive. I remember getting it in early 2020 and wondering when I would find the time to learn how to use it.

Then, like a gift from the circus gods, Covid arrived with its friend, lockdown, and suddenly I could spend hours cycling in circles trying to master the bike. I reckon I cycled about 20k a day – in a very tight circle.

7

What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

I used to joke that being healthy and fit was an occupational hazard, but with no show to burn calories and a lack of motivation, I really had to force myself to get outdoors and run, practise on the bike and keep doing handstands. I was surprised at how much stamina I lost and how weak I had become, but I'm now getting it back.

8

How do you relax?

I like to 'nerd out' on my editing. As well as being a circus performer, I'm a film-maker. Shooting film, I find stressful, but editing is like a meditation – the process of moving clips around, seeing how different timing or angles can change the outcome or vibe of a piece gives me endless pleasure.

9

Teetotal or tipple?

Tipple – although I missed the pub more than I missed drinking. I missed bumping into random friends and meeting new people and having the craic. I missed those nights when you get lost in the city.

10

What book are you currently reading?

William Blake Vs the World. I'm really looking froward to being at some dinner party or some post-show bar and being able to bang on about William Blake. It always surprises people that circus people read.

11

Best Netflix?

Bo Burnham: Inside – the most brilliant piece of lockdown art.

12

Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

My unconscious was conspiring against me. I would keeping having a dream that I was really good friends with Boris Johnson.

13

On a scale of one to 10, where have you been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

I had to self-isolate for a bunch of days and that drove me all the way to 10. But now we are back on tour, life feels much more normal, so I'm sitting at the lower end of the scale.

14

What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?

Training circus with my friends, talking to strangers and the thrill of performing.

15

Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?

A dirty sweaty rave in a field with thousands of wild dancing folk.

16

Biggest gripe?

I grew a sourdough belly which made it impossible to do trapeze. After over a year of not training on trapeze, I tried to get on one and my stomach muscle failed to kick in and I found myself standing on the ground, unable to do something I had been able to do instinctively for over 20 years.

17

Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

I hope so, but I'm scared that this 'new normal' will be just the same as the old normal, but with more Amazon electric vans.

18

Any new skills or hobbies?

I learnt some circus bike tricks.

19

What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

The end of capitalism and a green revolution that included a personal health revolution with everyone using bikes. And everyone really getting into circus.

20

Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

Being a circus performer, you literally face death in the face every day. It's the kind of rush that make you glad to be alive; it is addictive. Not having that rush left a hole in my life. It made me feel old and closer to death.

But I'm okay with dying, I just don't want to be about when it happens. And, as I tell my son: Don't be afraid of dying, be afraid of not living.

Tumble Circus have taken a new travelling summer Cycle Circus on the road, see tumblecircus.com

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