Fame and (Mis)Fortune

‘Spelbound’ in First Round of BGT 2010 – Jonathan Stranks in flight

Acrobatic gymnastics (acro) has a high profile in the UK right now, with the team from Spelthorne club, calling themselves ‘Spelbound’ and trained by the brilliant Neil Griffiths, not only winning last year’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and netting a cool £100,000 but also tipped to be a feature of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics in London.

(Note added 2017: they were indeed featured, but in the Closing Ceremony)

They also found the time somehow between touring engagements to win the 2010 World Championships with their Men’s Four and Men’s Pair, soundly beating the ‘usual suspects’, Russia and the Ukraine.

Previously, another club from Wakefield in the north east UK put eight guys and gals on another TV programme ‘When Will I be Famous’.

‘Eight Storey’ from Wakefield, BBC TV

We know folks from both of these teams, since cutting adrift from the grind of touring ourselves, and helped another kind of touring outfit in Austria to try some of them out a couple of years back. For various reasons that didn’t work out, but I think that they, and the mate that brought them over to Vienna, enjoyed it. Perhaps (gulp) they’ll even recognise themselves…

It’s all to the good for the image of acro : long may it last, and good luck to Spelbound in the Olympic Stadium! One imagines they’ll also guest in the final of this year’s Britain’s Got Talent, because they usually have the previous year’s winners back, so watch out for them on ITV1 in a few weeks’ time if you’re in UK.

Starting back from 2001, our modest efforts toured the eastern USA and the Toronto area as part of a small circus outfit – Circus Extrême. Yeah, we’ve done TV too – the same sort of shows, actually, in the southern States. We won too, and that got us some useful gigs and a few more TV appearances. The circus also toured to Europe and South Africa, and then our acrobatic contingent joined another circus in eastern Australia for a while. That was where things started to go seriously pear-shaped. Dave, Ethan, Jack and I got smashed up when our trailer in a road train overturned in the middle of the night. For a while I thought that my days as an acrobat were ended. But the real shit hit the fan (as they say) when a crazy dude actually shot at us in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 2003. We all know that acro is a potentially high-risk activity, but having a loony with a firearm in the audience wasn’t a risk we had considered. Then, looking back, we realised that the clouds had been gathering around us for some time…

Granted, in a small way, we had brought it upon ourselves, but actually, even with that guy safely out of the frame, our problems had only just begun, and worse was to follow. After we recovered from that, we successfully ‘did’ Scandinavia, looped back through Canada to the western USA, and then, dramatically, found ourselves in the middle of a gang war in which one of our team was an involuntary catalyst.  Something about ‘shit’ and ‘fans’ comes to mind.

I’m quite sure that the present generation of acro performers won’t face such hazards! The good news is that my rather crazy plan to write our adventures down in print seems to be going quite well. I started doing it whilst waiting in the recovery room at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, praying for the delivery of one of my dearest friends from a bullet lodged close to his heart, and my “family literary adviser” seems to think that it might ‘cut the mustard’ and could even be worth reading. Well, we’ll have to see about that.

About tonycavanagh

Born Northampton UK; school Oxford UK and Oak Ridge Tennessee, where I met my wonderful partner Dave, also from UK. Oak Ridge is our main training base for acrobatics and circus stuff, but we also established a base in Wales (UK) to serve us when we are working in Europe. Our 'story', of finding gay love, learning the acrobatics trade and then of how we got shot at during our show (and worse was to follow - just to prove that the risks of being an acrobat are not always the most obvious ones!) are now available in my three books 'Loving the Boy', 'The Power of Love' and 'Against All Odds'. Links available on most blog posts. Actually, waiting for the imminent arrival of the first printed copies was far scarier than anything we do in performance. A fourth book - not about us but exploring the sadness of a gay Native American boy denied his true identity - is currently with an agent for evaluation. watch for 'Let The Future Find Me' in due time. And now to book five... another boy, another quest... seems its always boys...
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