Meet the daring young trapeze artist starring in the Big Top Circus in Belfast this Christmas
Little Kasper Segner is one of the circus stars set to wow audiences in the city. Aged only five he has been training since the age of two, but mum Tina tells David O'Dornan that she still gets nervous when he does his high-wire act
Like five-year-olds across the country, little Kasper Segner can't wait for Santa Claus to come to his house this year. But unlike any other child of his age, Kasper will be spending the festive season entertaining thousands as the star attraction as a trapeze artist in a circus.
The east Belfast boy wonder has been learning his craft since he was just two and is part of a family act with mum Tina and dad Grant, who have both been professional performers for more than 20 years.
Now Kasper, who is in P2 at Greenwood Primary School, is set to wow crowds at the Winter Circus Show at Belfast's Writer's Square, from December 13 through to the new year, by unveiling his alter-ego, Danger Kasper.
Mum Tina (44) says: "Kasper's great. Because of the set-up of the show, I have to be out at the front to bring his trapeze in, so he stands behind the curtain with his costume on and he listens to Ken (Fanning), who introduces him.
"Ken normally goes, 'Now put your hands together for the youngest circus performer in the world... it's Danger Kasper'.
"After that, the music starts and he just runs straight through the curtains.
"Danger Kasper, he came up with the name. We give him lots of artistic freedom to choose things. He chooses his own music, his own costume and his own lights.
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"We do the routine together and train together. As long as we keep communicating, everything is fine. It's been really good with Kasper. It's quite a special bond we are creating."
The family will only be taking Christmas Day off before returning to the Big Top as part of seven acts and performers originally from Belfast, Dublin, Sweden, Australia and England.
"I think that's what's so unique about the circus - it just draws people in from all parts of the world," Tina says.
"Kasper's pretty excited about Santa coming because he loves him. We've put our Christmas tree up.
"Because he's so little still, he has no expectations of Christmas. To him, Christmas is doing the shows. Then we get Christmas Day off and we have Christmas dinner in the Big Top for all the performers who are still there."
Kasper has performed live since the age of three. This will be his second winter show, but mum Tina doesn't mind if he decides later in life to run away from the circus. "I really don't mind at all - whatever he wants to do," she says.
"He can do whatever he wants because I also feel that my parents let me do whatever I wanted.
"As long as he is happy and healthy, that for me is the main thing.
"He's said he wants to be a builder, a circus performer... he wants to be everything, so we'll just see."
While Kasper loves being a performer and shows no fear on the trapeze, that doesn't stop his mum worrying about him getting hurt.
"Of course I do," she says. "I'm his mum, so I worry all the time. I think I'm more nervous when he does his act than when I'm on the trapeze and do my own acts.
"But because I know him so well, I've been part of the process. I would never do this with any other child than Kasper because I know his strength. I can tell when he's tired and I know when he needs to stop.
"Kasper has really good grip. He holds on (to the trapeze), I pull him up and down and he spins and does tricks and swings backwards and forwards. He's really good at it.
"We do have people on the ground spotting, but it's all his skill - he has to hold on. We've been doing it since he was two years old, so we have lots of good safety cues. The safety is in his practise and we have to practise quite a lot."
In fact, the family practise every day. Between that, Itty Bitty Circus School, gymnastics and swimming lessons, not to mention homework, Kasper is a busy boy, but he seems to take it all in his stride. It's a pursuit that has seen the family travel the world as they hone and perfect their performing skills.
"We've been going to the Western Australia Circus Festival quite a lot. He's been three times, so that's where he learned his act and loads of his tricks," Tina explains.
"He's also been to Denmark, to Germany and to France. We were in Avignon last year because for a month there's a big festival like the Edinburgh Fringe and he was there with us. We do a lot of festivals." Kasper, who wants "Pokemon cards and Star Wars things" from Santa, finds his routines "easy" because "I've been doing tricks since I was, like, about two".
He's also looking forward to the shows "because I get money... I'm going to get £100 or £150".
Tina agrees: "He does get £5 a show. It's only fair that if I get paid, he gets paid as well."
Kasper's mum is originally from Lund in Sweden but for more than two years has been living in Belfast, where she met Kasper's English-born dad, Grant Goldie (46).
"I left Sweden when I was 20 for three months to go travelling and I never made it back (permanently)," she explains.
"We have been touring there a lot and it's great. I love going back to Sweden to do shows. We were there in May at a circus festival and Kasper came with us.
"What got me into it was the lifestyle really... it was about the travelling and touring and not having a nine to five job. I just didn't really know what I wanted to do.
"All my teachers at school I remember would say, 'But you can do anything'. I was quite lucky. I was really academic, so I found it easy in school. I was like, 'But I don't want to do any of it'.
"I went to circus school in 1997 in England. I went to Dublin after that and got a phone call from the Belfast Circus School asking if I wanted to move up here for a couple of months to teach. Those couple of months became quite a few years.
"Our company, Tumble Circus, tours a lot. Up until I had Kasper, I was probably here six months of the year and on the road for six months, even more sometimes.
"But since having Kasper, both me and Grant want to be here a lot more because of school. Touring is also really full-on. It's great and I love it, but it's also really nice to be in one place.
"It's great when we do shows in Belfast, like now when we put the Big Top up in Writer's Square. We can cycle to work and back home again."
While the Big Top is fully heated and the circus takes place during the winter, don't expect a festive theme.
"We're not doing a Christmas show as such because everyone else does Christmas shows," Tina says.
"With our shows, we always want them to be funny, entertaining and moving... to make people think.
"We have quite a lot of social commentary running through our shows.
"We are doing climate change this year because it is so topical. Last year we had a Brexit act, but I think everyone is sick of Brexit now, so we're going to stay away from that."
Kasper's dad, who started juggling at the age of 22 before becoming a circus professional at 28, believes his son's circus skills will hold him in good stead growing up.
"It's good risk calculation, which is basically what a lot of kids lose nowadays with all the playgrounds being bouncy," he explains.
"I'm not saying that's a bad idea, just that much has gone that way and kids don't learn what's dangerous.
"Then, all of sudden, they go to do something and come a real cropper because they haven't quite thought through the steps about what's going to happen. I think that's what Kasper gets to understand - he gets to see the process."
- The Winter Circus Show by Tumble Circus returns for its fourth year at Writer's Square in Belfast, with 29 shows running from December 13 until January 2. Tickets, excluding booking fee, are £8.50 for children (12 and under), £12 full price and £35 for a family of four (children two and under go free). Tickets are available from www.wegottickets.com/JossersBigTop and group bookings (10 or more) are available from firstname.lastname@example.org