Remembering Phillip Gandey: Pioneering Innovations in Circus Arts

Circus News

Remembering Phillip Gandey: Pioneering Innovations in Circus Arts

Phillip Gandey, a visionary circus director, passed away at the age of 67 after battling cancer. His indelible mark on the UK circus scene spanned five decades, where he transformed and directed Gandey’s Circus and Cirque Surreal. His influential career spearheaded the shift away from animal performances, heralding the introduction of the enthralling all-human spectacles typified by the Chinese State Circus.

Born into the revered Gandey circus dynasty in Sandbach, Cheshire, on February 26, 1956, Phillip was destined for the world of circus arts. His upbringing within this lineage saw him assume the mantle of Britain’s youngest clown, Starri, at the tender age of five. Later, he showcased his talent through various acts, including a Wild West performance as Brett Montana, featuring knife-throwing and rope-spinning.

Tragedy struck at 17 when his father passed away abruptly. This pivotal moment thrust the responsibility of the family business onto Phillip’s shoulders. He transformed the small two-pole-tent circus into Europe’s foremost big-top entertainment organization.

In the 1980s, sensing a societal shift away from animal acts, Gandey was inspired by the exceptional Chinese acrobats at the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival. Awed by their skill and diversity, he journeyed to China on a talent-scouting mission. Within a year, he secured an agreement with the Chinese government, marking the inception of the “purest, most enduring, and exhilarating circus ever seen” – the Chinese State Circus. His collaboration with his wife Carol revolutionized UK circus, proving that an all-human circus could deliver gripping excitement.

Phillip Gandey’s creative pursuits extended across various continents, with the Chinese State Circus enthralling audiences in the UK, France, Iceland, and the Middle East. He directed and produced captivating big-top shows, outdoor festivals, and theatre productions worldwide. Notably, in 1999, he pioneered the first circus in Saudi Arabia, tailored to adhere to cultural norms – an extraordinary display of athletic prowess.

A relentless innovator, Gandey’s accomplishments included the creation of Cirque Surreal in the early 1990s, a contemporary production blending exceptional circus skills with unprecedented choreography, poetry, and a musical score by Rick Wakeman. His forward-thinking approach was also evident in normalizing transgender culture through the cabaret show The Lady Boys of Bangkok, developed in 1996. Initially a novelty, it evolved into a highly esteemed cabaret, dominating sales at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Returning to his family’s entertainment legacy in the early 2000s, Gandey launched Spirit of the Horse, Europe’s largest touring equestrian show, paying homage to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This grand production, involving 40 performers, 30 horses, and a massive indoor arena structure, made its mark in Dubai in 2003.

Phillip Gandey leaves behind a legacy of innovation, creativity, and groundbreaking contributions to the world of circus arts. He is survived by his wife Carol and their three daughters.

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