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Relatively speaking: Roger Courtney on the special family relationships in his life

By Stephanie Bell

Roger Courtney will be helping celebrate the life and work of Belfast-born writer CS Lewis as part of a special festival which kicks off in the city next week. His son Cal lives in Bristol, where he is training to be a circus performer.

Name: Roger Courtney

Age: 60


Director, CS Lewis Festival

Relationship to Cal: Father

I 've always been a big fan of the arts. I founded the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast and then worked as chief executive of the Simon Community. I was asked to help develop a strategy for growing and developing the arts in east Belfast and from that we held the East Side Arts Festival in August, which had 42 events.

From doing that I was asked to be director of the second CS Lewis Festival, for which we have put together a really exciting programme this month.

I was working on some strategic planning for Belfast Circus School when Cal was 10 and I brought him to a performance. He was absolutely smitten and joined the school part-time at weekends.

Eighteen months ago, at the age of 16, he decided he wanted to do it full-time and in September of last year he started a circus training course in Bristol.

He has become an incredible circus performer. I think it's great that he has a clear vision of what it is that he wants to do and as a parent I think your job is to facilitate that.

The arts are very important so it's great that he is going down that route, although I miss him like crazy. Around the world, circus has become an art form and is recognised not just as entertainment but as a personal development tool. They work with a lot of disadvantaged young people and teach lots of things about life. It's been an extraordinary journey for Cal. I remember he wanted to learn the unicycle and a friend had one in his basement which he gave him. He went out on it every day and got on it and fell off, and got on, and fell off - this continued for two months until he had mastered it.

He is a keen juggler and he has gone from juggling three balls to six clubs, and now can do nine club-passing routines.

Through the course he has now become an accomplished acrobat.

He is very dedicated and even when he is at home he will work and work. Cal is also a really nice guy and I am really proud of him.


Name: Cal Courtney

Age: 18

Occupation: Circus school student

Relationship to Roger: Son

When my dad took me to the Belfast Circus School performance, it was the greatest thing I had ever seen and I knew immediately I wanted to do it. It was the fact that people were doing something fun for themselves and also for the people watching.

I started to practice all day, every day; it's what I have spent the past eight years of my life doing and what I will do for the next eight years, and the next and the next. Every time you pick up a new trick or new performance style, the feeling that comes over you is like every drug ever created to make you feel good being put into your body at the same time - the adrenaline, the happiness and the euphoria are just wonderful.

I went to Our Lady and St Patrick's College, Knock, but there was a point when my brain just told me that I wasn't where I wanted to be. I looked for courses on circus performing and got into Circomedia in Bristol.

My dad's involvement in the arts really has impacted on me growing up. I like to think of us both as very cultured people. We like to dabble in any kind of arts we can find, from theatre and shows to galleries - anything that will open our minds to the world a little.

I don't think I have ever met a father and son as close as we are. He has been incredibly supportive and helpful. When a child comes forward and says they want to be a circus performer for the rest of their lives, most parents would say they can't and that they need to get a decent job, but he just said if that's what you want we will make it happen.

He has helped me every step of the way. I am really proud of him. There are so many things I can say my father has done, the man is amazing. He wrote a hymn at the age of 17 and the Pope requested to meet him. He also has an MBE and is now helping organise the CS Lewis Festival. He is just a wonderful, wonderful man."

Celebrating a Belfast son...

  • It will include a series of outdoor family events, film screenings, art exhibitions, tours, workshops and readings
  • Highlights include a performance of the play An Evening with CS Lewis, a Narnia-themed breakfast and discussion, and the CS Lewis Nearly True Tour, a blend of historical fact with hysterical fiction for all the family
  • For details, visit or telephone: 028 9046 7925

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