Clowns, jugglers, and acrobats traveled from all over to be at Gloucester Cathedral earlier this year to bury one of their own. For Helena Bonham Carter and Vivienne Westwood, the journey was a shorter one. But all were assembled to say goodbye to Nell Gifford, the girl who ran away to join the circus and ended up starting her own.

Gifford grew up in a bohemian family in the Wiltshire countryside. Her father Rick Stroud was a jobbing TV director, her mother Charlotte the creator of a gleefully chaotic haven for her five children, and anyone else who happened to be passing through. There were frequent parties, parades, and ponies cantering through the garden. And then, in 1991, when Gifford was 18 years old, it all came to a sudden halt when Charlotte fell from her horse and suffered a massive and permanent brain injury. The sparkling dynamo at the heart of the family’s life had been stilled; Gifford fled.