Nell Gifford, the owner and co-founder of the retro-chic Giffords Circus, has died of cancer, it has been announced.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago. After doctors told her earlier this year it had spread and she had a year to live, Gifford continued running between hospital and the circus ring, performing in this year’s summer show on a white horse, with a long blond wig hiding her cropped hair.

On Monday, it was announced that Gifford, 46, had died. She leaves twins, Cecil and Red, aged nine, who also often appeared under the Giffords big top.

A familiar figure striding around the circus’s headquarters on a farm in Stroud, Gloucestershire, most often in fluorescent orange builders’ trousers and a baggy sweatshirt, or sitting for makeup and hair extensions, Gifford was never one for self-pity.

“Cancer is boring,” she would tell visitors.

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