At a very young age, Llewellyn found friendship in perhaps one of the most unlikely places one can imagine… the circus. He shares his story in a piece he wrote as a shareholder for CN&CO.
Many people are afraid of clowns and turn ice cold if they see a red nose approaching them. That’s certainly not the case for me. At a very young age, I found friendship in perhaps one of the most unlikely place one can imagine… the circus
Growing up in a small town called Meyerton in the Vaal Triangle would sound boring to most but there was a plus side of living here. The Boswell Wilkie circus, a world-renowned family business, was our neighbour. This always provided the opportunity to see the artists fly from one side of the big top to the other. Fancy costumes and glitter was a given and the smell of sawdust will forever make me relive those special memories with my family.
As the Boswell Wilkie Circus ended their final season as a touring circus in 2001, they transformed the circus farm into a coffee show and opened it up to the public. This became our weekend spot as a family and when they opened their circus school I knew I had to join. Many people dream of running away with the circus but I did not have to run away as the circus was right next door (LOL)!
When I joined the circus school I met Suzie Wilkie and Karen Wilkie. Suzie being the daughter of the founder of Boswell Wilkie and Karen the wife of Robert Wilkie, the founder’s son. I lived for Fridays as that meant that I could see my circus family at the weekly circus school practice.
After a couple of years I joined the corporate entertainment team that performed at various corporate events across South Africa. Suzie Wilkie always made sure we looked phenomenal in the best vintage circus costumes and Karen was our manager and make-up artist.
Whenever I had my costume on and my face painted it was almost as if the world disappeared and I could just be free. There was no worry in the world that could stop me at that moment.
Working closely with Karen for many years we formed a great bond. She was my circus mom. My parents knew that every free moment I had I would go to the Wilkies. Karen taught me how to do my own make-up and is certainly the reason I am so pedantic today when it comes to detail.
I worked at the most amazing events and got to meet phenomenal artists over the years. Karen helped me get confidence and believe in myself. “If you work hard enough you can achieve anything”, she always said.
There were many funny moments as Karen’s character, Tufu the Clown, always had us in stitches and made anyone smile from ear to ear with her large red nose and oversized shoes. Not even to talk about Tufu’s hairy legs.
Some of my best friends came from the circus community and they have certainly helped me grow as a person. Looking back today I would not be where I am or have the confidence if I did not join the circus as a kid. My circus family provided a heaven for me when life got tough and I will forever be grateful for those special moments.
Karen, as a cancer survivor, always made sure that we give back to those in need and we regularly performed at events for various charity organisations. This embedded the need to give back in me and always appreciate what you have as others might not have the same.
Today I would like to thank the entire circus family and especially Karen, better known as Tufu, for making me part of your family and making me the adult I am today! Even though you are far away in France and I’m in South Africa, everytime I see a glitter sparkle or drive past the farm, I think of what you taught me and miss you!
I have not performed for a couple of years now, but every time I look at a stage or see my costumes hanging I get a sense of nostalgia and cherish those special memories.
The Big Top was our playground and the sawdust and glitter will forever be in our veins.
“People come and go, but memories last forever. Thank you for making such an impact on my life Karen Wilkie. You were and always will be the clown that changed my life. Rest in peach now.” – Llewellyn du Plessis