Dea Birkett’s Story
Dea Birkett is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. She is also the creative director of Kids in Museums, the visitor-led organisation working with museums, galleries and heritage sites to make them more welcoming of children and families – in particular, those who have never visited before.
From a very young age Dea was interested in travelling communities, and at the age of 36 she decided to join a circus, thinking this may be her last opportunity to do something so wild and carefree.
In 1993, Dea was interviewed for a Travelling Fellowship by Churchill’s daughter, Lady Mary Soames, who was herself as great circus fan, attending many of them with her father, Sir Winston.
Dea was awarded a Fellowship to travel to Italy to learn from the famous Togni Italian circus dynasty. With her £5,000 Fellowship grant she bought an 11ft caravan, completed a caravan towing training course, and set off on her adventure! After her initial induction as a general circus hand touring through Sicily, Dea was promoted to ‘Elephant girl’ after one of the acrobats became ill.
The Fellowship lasted for four months, and sparked a life-long passion in the circus which has continued to grow. Dea is now a Director for Zippos Academy for Circus Arts, and her son also works with a circus.
2018 will mark the 250th anniversary of the circus, which was founded in 1768 by Philip Astley, an English equestrian, entrepreneur and showman, regarded as being the "father of the modern circus”. As part of the anniversary celebrations, Dea has set up a community interest company called Circus250, to promote, educate, celebrate and surprise people about circus today. Throughout 2018, the anniversary of circus will be celebrated in museums, archives, film festivals, theatres and, of course, contemporary and traditional circuses in a nation-wide festival.
Dea is determined to see a step change in people’s understanding of the circus by the end of next year, and is working on plans to ensure that the legacy of the anniversary event continues to inspire and educate in a fun and engaging way.