Feature: Living the high life

Orissa Kelly Aerialist

Shooting arrows with her feet, liaising with Harry Potter and attending parties that rival the Wolf of Wall Street is all in a day’s work for Orissa Kelly. I got an insight in to the life of an aerial acrobat.

Can you imagine yourself dangling from silk, 10 meters high, live on television with over eight million people watching?

Nor could Orissa Kelly, until she arrived at the X factor studios in Lebanon for her first ever job as an aerialist.

Except she didn’t ‘dangle’, as us mere mortals would, she moved elegantly, her enviable supple physique intertwining gracefully with the silk while a contestant performed her final song.

Orissa’s splits were worthy show stealers.

She had been taking classes in aerial silks, and agreed to cover the job for her instructor who had fallen pregnant. She said: “I was terrified, but somehow I made it through and as I walked off the stage I thought to myself ‘that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life’”.

A gymnast from the age of three, Orissa was no stranger to the world of acrobatics but it was this performance that fuelled her passion for performing in mid-air, relying on nothing but strength and skill to keep her safe.

That was two years ago, and since then the petite 20 year-old from Hertfordshire’s feet quite literally haven’t touched the ground.

Despite being a relative newcomer in the business, Orissa’s work has put her passport to good use, travelling to Lebanon, Mauritius, Dubai, Switzerland, Egypt and Paris to perform.

She said: “Jobs abroad are always the best because you kind of get a little holiday out of it.”

She’s not kidding about the holiday bit, last year one of the Princes of Saudi Arabia flew Orissa and around 30 other circus performers out to Mauritius for a week long pre-Ramadan party.

She said: “He hired out the North of the Island so he could go crazy. It was like something out of the Wolf of Wall Street, crazy parties on yachts, strippers, money just flying everywhere.”

As if that didn’t already put your girl’s holiday to Aiya Napa to shame, Orissa only had to work for two nights.

She said: “He partied so hard on the first two nights that he couldn’t handle any more, so he cancelled all the other parties but we still got full pay and basically lay on a beach for a week!”

Saudi Arabian princes aren’t the only VIPs the acrobat has rubbed shoulders with, she performed aerial hoop at Steven Gerrard’s birthday with the entire English football team in attendance and she speaks candidly about working alongside two of the UK’s finest male specimens (if I do say so myself).

She said “I performed for a film called Frankenstein and was working alongside Daniel Radcliffe and James Macavoy. They were both lovely but Daniel’s by far the nicest celebrity I’ve ever worked with.”

It’s a wonder how anyone can be so casual about being on first-name-terms with Harry Potter, but Orissa says there’s certain celebs she wouldn’t be such a cool cucumber around, she admits: “If I met Cheryl Cole I would definitely cry!”

Orissa’s profession is however not always as glamorous as it may seem. She has to train two to four hours every single day and the pressure of training combined with the danger of often being suspended in the air with no harness means that there is a huge risk of injury.

This is something she knows all too well after fracturing her arm last month, but the determined red-head doesn’t get discouraged. She said: “As soon as you’re injured you’re out of work but it never puts me off my career, I’ve got a terrible inability to sit still so injuries don’t work well for me!”

She also admits a further drawback of the job, which is that work isn’t always regular and there is no guarantee of a monthly pay cheque.

The fiery acrobat doesn’t let this irregularity stop her, instead she uses the time to increase her repertoire of skills and recently she has been training in foot archery.

With a look of overwhelming pride, she tells me: “It’s going to be the first act in the world that involves someone shooting not only a bow and arrow, but also a crossbow from acrobatic positions.”

Unsurprisingly, the act is proving extremely popular.

She said: “I’ve already had some producers interested in the act. It’s funny because I originally learnt it because I was so broke so I thought I’d learn it just to make some extra money and now it’s making more than anything else I’ve ever trained”

You might be wondering how Orissa’s family feel about her operating weaponry with her toes, but with a stuntman for a brother and a sister who does boxing, dangerous endeavours are nothing out of the ordinary.

While the majority of mothers would have heart palpitations watching their children do crazy stunts, Orissa’s mum, Danielle, said: “Of course I do worry about them but I think that life is too short to be stuck in an office unhappy, I tell them, if you do something you love then you’ll never work a day in your life.”

While speaking to Orissa something becomes undeniably clear, and that is that she is furiously passionate about what she does, and while her small frame and gymnastics background will have played a part in her finding success in the acrobatic world, there is no doubt that it is her drive and sheer determination that has led her to where she is today.

We can’t all be aerialists, but we can all strive to put as much passion in to our work as Orissa Kelly does.


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