A circus performer has spoken for the first time about the horror fall which broke her neck in three places.
A shocked audience watched as Megan Christian plunged 18 feet from her trapeze during a show on the Isle of Sheppey last summer.
She admitted: "It feels quite surreal."
The drama happened during the 7.30pm evening performance of Santus Circus at Barton's Point coastal park, Sheerness, on July 29.
Colleagues and off-duty paramedics rushed to her aid as she lay unconscious on the ground while the stunned audience looked on.
Megan recalled: "I felt perfectly fine that day and went through the first show with no problems. Then I fell in the second show. There wasn't a problem with the rigging. It was just one of those things. It was a slip. I remember holding on and thinking 'I'm going to fall'. I couldn't stop myself because my body rotated with quite a force."
She said: "I was unconscious for a few minutes and then woke up with one of my best friends Ellie Mae, who works with me in the circus, holding my hand saying 'Come on Meg, wake up.'
"At the time I just thought I might have broken my shoulder. I am really thankful for the off-duty paramedics who were watching the show because I honestly thought I was fine. I was confused and in shock and shaking but I had no pain at all. But one blonde lady was holding my head because I was moving it freely.
"When they took me to Medway Maritime Hospital and told me I had fractured my neck in three places it was a jaw-on-the-floor moment. A chill went over me because I hadn't prepared for that at all. Suddenly I felt quite nervous. That only went away after the operation when I found I could still stand up."
Megan was rushed to King's College Hospital, London, still in a neck brace, for emergency surgery and arrived at 6am the following morning. Because Covid regulations were still in force no family members were allowed to go with her.
She said: "That made be quite upset. I remember one of the doctors stroking my hair and telling me it would be fine and the nurses helping me take off my costume and make-up."
Of the three breaks, two have healed and one is now supported by a metal pin.
Doctors told her not to go near a trapeze again for at least six months but by December she was back in the air.
She explained. "I have a place at home where I practice. I got back up and made myself do that trick again because I didn't want to have a mental block. But afterwards, I decided I needed a fresh start and bought a new heart-shaped prop. My new routine is simpler than before but the main thing was just to get up in the air again and start working."
She added: "You always know there is a risk. You are doing a job which is unnatural for the body. But it has made me think about things differently now that I have been given a second chance. Everyone said I was crazy to go back and that I should do something else. But the circus is my blood. When I see the expressions on the kids' faces watching the show it just makes it all worthwhile. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else."
It's no wonder, as Megan is third generation circus family.
Her grandfather Chris Christian ran away to join Billy Smart's Circus in the 1950s where he met Megan's grandmother. He ended up as ringmaster and later appeared in the film Circus of Horrors.
Megan said: "My grandad ran away to the circus when he was 14. His parents dragged him back three times but eventually let him stay. My grandmother was a dancer when they met.
"Then history repeated itself with my parents. My dad Ian also ran away to join the show and fell in love with my mum Beverley. She had been born into the circus and had been an aerialist since she was 14.
"She has three other siblings and they are all in the circus or fairgrounds so it felt a natural progression for me to follow in their footsteps."
It was December 2017 during the height of the movie The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman as legendary circus promoter PT Barnum that Megan hit on the idea of going up in the world.
She said: "There was a trapeze artiste in the film and Ernest Santus. whose family run the circus, asked if I'd like to put together a two-minute routine on the trapeze to use in the parade at the start of the three-week Christmas show. It felt the right time for me as I was just finishing my studies so I jumped at the chance.
"My mum taught me all her old tricks. She was hard to impress but I fell in love with the trapeze and carried on learning until here we are now."
Although some of the audience captured her fall on video, Megan has never seen the footage - and doesn't want to.
She said: "Police showed my mum some video because she wanted to know what had happened but thankfully it didn't show me hitting the floor. The circus was very good and asked for any video on social media to be taken down. I haven't seen it and have no wish to because I can remember it pretty well myself!"
Circus spokesman Chris Barltop commented: "We are glad Megan is back in the air. She's a gutsy girl. But that's circus people for you."
He defended the lack of a harness or safety net at the time. He said: “Safety nets and safety lunges are not always appropriate. If a performer is leaving contact with the trapeze to fly through the air, they would use a safety device. But in normal circumstances on a static trapeze, it would actually handicap the performer. As with many sports, there’s risk. But although any such events naturally make headlines, accidents are rare in circuses.”
After the fall Megan still managed to reply to well-wishers on social media saying: “Thank you for everyone’s well wishes and I’m sorry for those that came tonight and had to witness it.
“I hope it doesn’t deter anyone from coming to watch our great show. And as for me I’ll be back and better than ever.”
The accident came shortly after circus boss Roger Santus, who spent seven months in a coma, returned to the Big Top despite being unable to walk.
The 63-year-old was hit by a car after falling off his push-bike the year before while the circus was marooned in a field in Sittingbourne during a Covid lockdown and unable to travel.
The circus is now at Notcutts, Maidstone, in a new tent which was blessed by Father Geoffrey Pointer, priest of St Peter's Roman Catholic Church. Performers in full costume joined him for the ceremony in the ring.
Mr Barltop said: "It was especially appropriate just before Easter, itself a festival of rebirth, to mark the symbolic rebirth of Santus Circus at the start of its new tour in a new tent and a new chapter for Megan."
The circus is at Maidstone until Sunday, April 24. Tickets are £13 to £20 (£8 Wednesdays and Thursdays) from 07843 884787.