Paris, London, Milan… Great Yarmouth - meet the town’s own international model come juggler
PUBLISHED: 10:00 05 January 2016
Archant Norfolk © 2015
Tom Gaskin may have an international career as a supermodel for some of the world’s biggest fashion houses, but he’s happiest at home and on stage doing what he loves best: juggling and making people laugh. Stacia Briggs spoke to Tom about the balancing act between runway and ring and being paid to kick Harry Potter.
He’s the very model of a man juggling two careers – one of which is being a model, the other being a juggler.
Far from running away to the circus, Tom Gaskin, 24, who is originally from Bradwell, has run back to the circus after a hectic year spent modelling at London, Paris, Tokyo and New York fashion weeks and came to the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth after a stint on the runway in Milan.
Tom is both a gentleman juggler – more about that later – and co-host of this year’s Christmas Spectacular show alongside Jack Jay.
Jack is the youngest son of Peter and Christine Jay, owners of the Yarmouth circus, and now produces, directs and stars in the shows at the historic Hippodrome which is Britain’s only surviving complete circus building, built in 1903 by legendary showman George Gilbert.
“Working with Jack is fantastic because we have been friends for such a long time and so it means there’s already a rapport there,” said Tom, who first started working at the Hippodrome when he was 14, as a spotlight operator and then a ring boy selling candyfloss.
“Jack is amazing and working with him really is a dream come true. I’ve performed in the ring lots of times, but never as the host and never throughout the whole show. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be, I think I was so nervous that it cancelled out the nerves!”
The circus is definitely in Tom’s blood: his uncle was a circus clown who performed with his father as Gary and Nono and he would go to watch performances of his Stevenson Crown circus. His uncle also had a Wild West show and opened an amusement park in Cumbria where they had their own circus tent.
“I remember seeing my uncle at the Hippodrome in Yarmouth when it was owned by Billy Russell. I remember the elephants that were there at the time and the excitement of the show. There was nothing so exciting as the circus,” he said.
Having worked his way from candyfloss seller to lighting technician and then head of the ring crew, Tom loved the technical side of putting on a spectacular show, but yearned for the roar of the crowd to be directed at him.
“I’d be lifting the carpets and connecting the fountains for the water spectacular, turning the winches to make the water flow and all the time I’d be wishing that I could have a role in the circus, that it would be my act people were watching,” he said.
“Every time there was a show, I’d try and make my way into it: helping with the hosts, a bit of juggling – I completely fell in love with the circus and with performing. It felt so natural to be in the ring.”
After studying at East Norfolk Sixth Form, Tom initially applied to study on a business management course. “Probably not the ideal career for me…” he laughs, “I quickly realised that what I should be doing was right in front of my nose.” After an audition at the National Centre for Circus Arts in Hoxton, he won a place on the BA Circus Arts degree course and spent three years honing his skill as a juggler and a comedian, taking inspiration from heroes such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Buba the gentleman juggler. His act is silent, but involves a huge amount of skill, dexterity and physicality.
Gentleman juggling was hugely popular in variety theatres and usually involved juggling some of the elements of a gentleman’s attire, such as hats, canes, gloves and cigar boxes and other everyday items such as plates and wine bottles.
“I’ve always liked making people laugh and always loved jugglers and juggling, so I decided to combine the two acts into one. There’s a home video of me aged about one on my dad’s lap when I was watching The Paul Daniels Show on TV and I’m watching a juggler. It turned out to be Buba, who I’d been studying at school!” laughed Tom.
While on a lunch break from circus school, Tom was spotted by two model scouts who passed him an email address. Expecting it to be a scam, Tom sent a hurried selfie photograph to the address and was astonished to be immediately booked for a shoot with iD magazine and a fortnight later, for a runway show with international fashion house Alexander McQueen.
Since being spotted in 2013 – he graduated with a first in the summer of 2014 – Tom has taken part in Fashion Weeks across the globe and modelled for huge brands such as Gucci, Tom Ford, Hermes, Peter James and Thom Browne.
“A lot of what I wear is like contemporary art rather than clothes, but the more you wear it, the more you can see how it influences trends. It’s funny, because a lot of the boys behind the scenes are so nervous, but I’m not because normally I have to keep lots of things up in the air – my biggest fear is always the drop, not walking down a runway!” laughed Tom.
While juggling might be seen by the naïve as a simple matter of improving on the classic three-ball cascade, it’s actually an intensely physical act that also involves a huge amount of mental strength and the ability to get an audience on-side.
“There’s usually no peril involved in juggling, like there is if you’re an aerialist or on the wheel of death, so you need the audience to like you and care about you so that if you do drop what you’re juggling, they’re willing you to have another go and get it right,” said Tom.
“There are endless tricks you can learn, props you can use and levels of difficulty you can attempt. For my end of year show, I was standing on one leg on top of a rola bola [cylinder] on top of a trunk with a wooden spoon in my mouth with a spinning ball on the end of it and I was juggling four rings – I messed it up three times but nailed it on the fourth – I’ve never been so happy!
“I find myself looking at absolutely everything and wondering if I can juggle with it. But actually, the best thing you can learn is how to deal with dropping things and in fact work it into your act and actually make it part of your act. If you can’t deal with dropping things, it can finish you.”
Just in case a starring role at the circus he grew up in with one of his best friends and an international modelling career isn’t enough, Tom has also just made his debut on the silver screen playing a vicious clown who beats up Daniel Radcliffe in a retelling of a classic tale, Victor Frankenstein, which also stars James McAvoy and Charles Dance.
In the film, Daniel – who played Harry Potter in the film franchise – is a hunchback clown who is victimised by the other clowns in the travelling circus in which he works: one of whom is Tom, heavily made-up, who appears on screen for around five minutes.
“We rehearsed with Daniel for around two weeks and he was absolutely lovely, even though we spent most of our time throwing him around!” said Tom.
“It was very bizarre to have a role that involves having to kick Harry Potter in the face! He was very good about it, though, and it was really interesting to see how a huge production like Victor Frankenstein is put together. Watching myself on a huge screen was very weird!”
Being back at the Hippodrome has been a triumphant homecoming for Tom, who also has a base in London, and also means he can spend Christmas with his family – Mum, Dad, two older sisters and two younger brothers (one of whom, Miles, is following in his footsteps and has started at the Hippodrome working on the spotlights).
“For me, the Hippodrome has always had a special feeling about it: when I used to lock up, it was a palpable feeling as you walked around the building – it was empty, but you could feel the crowd, somehow,” he said.
“It’s amazing to be back. This is my favourite building to be in and I’m up there on stage – it doesn’t get much better than that!”
The Christmas Spectacular is at The Hippodrome until January 10. Check www.hippodromecircus.co.uk for opening days and show times, which vary.