“WE treat them as guests watching something magical.”

The closest I have been to a trapeze performance which captivated and excited me was watching ‘The Greatest Showman’ - the synopsis of which needs no explanation as it was probably one of the most watched films of last year.

It came to mind while reading Rebecca Truman’s book - the story of a profession spent flying through the air although not always “with the greatest of ease” as in the 19th century song “The Flying Trapeze.”

Performing airborne gymnastics has its perils as one can appreciate, and Rebecca, the founder of what is believed to be Britain’s first female contemporary circus company, ‘Skinning the Cat’ christened after the traditional trapeze move, is testimony to the ups and downs she has faced within her colourful career.

Watching her best friend, and fellow trapeze artist Lou, fall head first towards the floor wasn’t part of the well-rehearsed acts they practised to perfection - the accident not only curtailed Lou’s career it also changed the course of ‘Skinning the Cat.’

“I was standing at the bottom of her rope looking up. I saw what seemed like a life-sized stuffed doll, dressed in Lou’s costume, falling towards me. I was only a couple of feet away. As I heard her head hit the concrete floor, I was still wondering why this strange doll had fallen out of the sky.”

Rebecca’s recollections of the accident form part of her fascinating book ‘Aerialist.’ The book documents her journey from establishing ‘Skinning the Cat’ in Bradford at the age of 21. Contributions from those closest to her, atmospheric poems and references relating to the art of trapeze are weaved within.

Yet, what makes this story so fascinating is the women around whom it was written - the artists who were literally risking life and limb performing at great heights.

Adrenaline driven, there is no doubt they lived on the excitement and with the inevitable fear of this unpredictable and potentially risky profession.

Trapeze was an all-consuming career and one which certainly made its mark on Rebecca. “The skin on the palms of my hands was thick with calluses, which I habitually picked at, and my body was shaped by the trapeze: wide shoulders and athletic legs with a deep indentation on my thigh muscles where the bar pressed into them when I hung in catcher’s position. On show days, the day revolved around the show. And when we had no show, the day revolved around training and preparing for the next round of shows,” she writes.

But she admits Lou’s accident had a profound effect on her. “It really messed me up.”

Unable to work at height any more, Lou’s accident forced her to find an alternative career. She found her niche working in schools in Bradford - the city where ‘Skinning the Cat’ was born.

Rebecca, who was brought up in Manchester and spent her teenage years in Bristol, talks of her initial arrival in Bradford - a place she is proud to call home. “My first impression of Bradford had been of a tired, grey city, but I grew to love its majestic industrial landscape: rows of mills with enormous gateways into cobbled yards; Lister Mill in Manningham standing like a palace on the skyline, catching the sunset right through both sets of windows, lit up and visible from all around the city. Bradford turned out to have rich culture and a thriving and grass-roots artistic community. This was a true lesson in not taking things at face value.”

She became involved in some of the city’s significant events - donning the guise of a bear for ‘Bradford’s Bouncing Back’ a campaign to raise Bradford’s profile. She also looked after artists appearing at the Bradford Festival.

Persuading Bradford Festival director, Alan Brack, to fund her cabaret at Bradford Wool Exchange, now Waterstones bookshop - the venue for Rebecca’s recent book signing - paved the way for ‘Skinning the Cat.’

“I kept looking up at the ceiling and thinking ‘I have spent a lot of time up there in my time,’” she says.

Over the years they performed all over Europe and appeared several times at Glastonbury Festival. But with the highs came the lows and Rebecca succumbed to injuries, notably her back.

Rebecca’s decision to close ‘Skinning the Cat’ came at a time when it all became too much.

“It was the lifestyle and the injury and also, although Lou’s accident a long time before we finished I never got over that because I never got the time to get over it. I got more and more burnt out and the ongoing pressure of a touring lifestyle, I was pushing 40 at the time I retired from it,” she explains.

The image of her posing on a swing strung from the ceiling beside the kitchen table which she regularly uses to maintain the strength in the muscles around her spine, is indicative of a profession she has never left behind.

“I had gone from a high flying trapeze aerialist touring the world to a crockery trapeze artist using the small trapeze hanging in front of my kitchen dresser to stretch my spine. So life changes!”

Since retiring from the trapeze, Rebecca is a part-time lecturer in special affects at Bradford School of Art bringing her full circle as she undertook her art degree at Bradford Art College. She also keeps her hand in with the circus creating costumes.

She shares her creative flair with her mum, Jill, whose sewing machine she secretly borrowed when she was eight to create her own clothes. By the age of 12 she was making toys to sell to local shops. The skill served her well, making costumes for ‘Skinning the Cat’ and creating the beautifully dressed rag doll for her daughter, Romana, now 11, after she was born.

Writing the book has given Rebecca the opportunity to re-trace her journey. Transported by memories - of the family holidays including the trip to Turkey in a Ford Cortina which inspired an interest in travel she shares with her three siblings -Rebecca re-lives the adventures and we, as readers, accompany her along the way.

The book’s publication is timely as it coincides with the 250th anniversary of the circus - but this is more than a book about circus life; this is the story of a group of women whose strength and determination carried them through the highs and lows of a unique and intriguing profession

“It has made me what I am. It has formed my whole personality,” adds Rebecca.

Aerialist is supported by Arts Council England and Bradford School of Art. It is £7.99 and available at Salts Mill, Saltaire,Waterstones bookshop, Bradford, and Amazon.