THE visionary co-founder of Giffords Circus died on Sunday, surrounded by family and circus colleagues.

Nell Gifford was given a year to live in 2018 after struggling with breast cancer which spread to her bones and lymph nodes.

Despite this, she tried to stay positive and documented her treatment with videos and hopeful messages.

She said at the time: "The circus is a support system, I’m the happiest I am here on the show.

"It probably props me up more than I prop it up. In the most calamitous times it’s been what I’ve turned to and what’s contained me and where I’ve felt safe.

"It’s the community, being by the horses; knowing you have your tribe; it’s cool.”

The 46-year-old created Giffords Circus with her former husband Toti Gifford in Stroud in 2000.

A spokesman for the circus said: "We know many tears will be falling as Nell touched so many hearts. Her vision for Giffords Circus was to bring happiness, imagination and enliven people’s souls.

"We shall continue to do just that. While the world is a dimmer place today, Nell will continue to live through the circus.

"She wanted the 20th anniversary in 2020 to be a showstopper and it will be just that. Next year’s production, The Hooley will celebrate the first 20 years, the next 20 years and Nell’s incredible life.

"Nell built a circus to last. It is poised to grow and fulfill her plans for the future. She was a creative genius, a daughter, step-daughter, sister, friend, leader and mother.

"She leaves behind the next generation – her twins Cecil and Red – who are both part of the Giffords Circus DNA. We love her. May she rest in peace."