Video: From working alongside Daniel Radcliffe to modelling for for Alexander McQueen - Tom Gaskin juggles his career choices

Tom Gaskin

Tom Gaskin - Credit: submitted

A degree in juggling and clowning? Are you having a laugh? Rowan Mantell talks to the Norfolk student about to complete a degree in circus skills.

Tom Gaskin at National Circus Centre

Tom Gaskin at National Circus Centre - Credit: Oliver Dixon / Imagewise

Most degrees involve a bit of juggling, perhaps of studying and a social life, but for 22-year-old Tom Gaskin, juggling is his main focus, closely followed by clowning.

Tom, of Bradwell, near Great Yarmouth, is studying degree level juggling and clowning in London, on the only course of its kind in the country – and has already been picked to show off his skills in a film starring Daniel Radcliffe.

Tom spends up to six hours a day juggling balls, clubs, umbrellas, hats and even cigars and cigar boxes. Britain's only degree course in circus arts also involves classes in clowning, researching the history of the circus, watching and reviewing shows and even discussing the philosophy of circus performance.

Tom began juggling at six, taught by an uncle who was part of a clowning double act. Although his parents are not performers, Tom is carrying on a proud family tradition. His uncle was a travelling circus clown, and previous generations of Gaskins have been part of the famous Chipperfield's troupe. By the age of 13, Tom was helping out at the Hippodrome Circus in Yarmouth.

'At first I would go back stage and watch everything and try and be part of things, but was probably more in the way than a help!' he said.

'Juggling was always what I enjoyed most, from when my uncle first taught me. I used to practise back stage. I wanted to be the one they were clapping!'

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His first job at the Hippodrome was to operate a spotlight and it was not long before he was trying to move into the spotlight himself.

'I would try and work myself into the show, in the background, stealing a little part of the show and making it bigger and bigger!' he said. 'I tried to get in on the clowns' act. I really like clowning and am inspired by people like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.'

Tom, who has two older sisters and two younger brothers, went to Lynn Grove High School and East Norfolk Sixth Form College in Gorleston, where he particularly enjoyed PE and science.

But he decided his future lay with the circus – and won a place at The National Centre For Circus Arts after a tough audition including an assault course, and assessments of everything from his juggling skills to his physical flexibility. His particular skills are in juggling and clowning but he has also learned some trapeze and acrobatics tricks as part of the course. 'I wasn't particularly graceful!' he admitted.

However, he can keep seven balls in the air at the same time, or balance five chairs on his chin, and has been dubbed the 'gentleman juggler' for a retro act with a young fogey vibe which involves juggling a bowler hat, umbrella and cigar.

Getting experience of performing is a vital part of the degree and Tom's talents are already shining beyond the circus ring.

This month he has been filming alongside Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy in the new 20th Century Fox film Frankenstein. He plays a circus performer and is hoping to introduce Daniel to some circus skills. 'I've met him and he's a really lovely guy,' said Tom.

The film is due to be released in January next year, but before then Tom and a group of friends on his course will be putting on a show at the London Roundhouse as part of this year's CircusFest. Silver Lining will run from April 9-12 and will include acrobats, aerialists and juggling.

Tom was also spotted by a model agency and has done magazine shoots and catwalk shows in Paris and Milan for Alexander McQueen. 'They approached me in the street and to be honest I thought it was a scam, but my girlfriend convinced me to try!' said Tom.

He is in the third and final year of his degree at the National Centre for Circus Arts, which was founded 25 years ago as Circus Space. It is based in the old Shoreditch power station and its two largest training rooms are still called the Combustion and Generating Chambers.

It has just been awarded national centre status and is at the forefront of the renaissance of circus performance in Britain. Graduates have gone on to work for the organisations including the Royal Shakespeare Company and Cirque Du Soleil and almost 100 performers for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Ceremonies were trained at the centre.

'It's such a privilege, being around people who are so dedicated and working so hard to improve,' said Tom, who hopes to set up a touring circus collective with a group of fellow students – and would love to return to the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome as a star performer.