The greatest show on earth:
A perfect double act, Mikey and Tara Gerbola grew up playing clowns in family circuses, says Andrea Smith. Many children used to threaten to run away and join the circus at some point, but there was never any danger of that in Mikey and Tara Gerbola’s case. They were already there! The Gerbolas seem tailor-made for one another: they both grew up in family circuses; their first roles were as clowns as children; and neither could ever imagine doing anything else in life. “Although Tara is the complete opposite to me,” says Mikey, who grew up in Fossett’s Circus. “I’m more of a listener than a talker, but we always know what each other is thinking. She’s gorgeous, and she gets better looking every year. Circus and funfair people tend to know one another, but Tara and Mikey were barely aware of each other’s existence. Tara once came to the show with her aunt, prompting Mikey to remark that she was gorgeous, but too young. She was only about 15 then, and he was seven years older. As a child, Tara was part of her parents’ travelling roadshow, The McFadden’s, which was a circus at one stage, and would later become a funfair.
Her parents, George and Alice, had a house in Killenard, Co Laois, where the family lived from October to April. She recalls life being tough at times on the road, particularly when there was pressure to catch up at school for the time missed.”I loved it though, and always felt that the circus was a magical place,” she says.Having started at the age of five as a clown, Tara moved on to aerial, wire and roller-skating. When she completed her Leaving Cert, she trained in trapeze in the US and, upon her return, went to work at her uncle’s circus, Big Top.
Meanwhile, Mikey grew up as the youngest child of a very large extended family in Fossett’s Circus. He had a great childhood, living alongside all of his cousins, and his winters were spent living with grandparents in England. Aged eight, he began performing as part of a clown act with his dad and uncle, who were collectively known as Bobo, Tony and Mikey. When he was in his mid-20s, Mikey’s sister Caroline began getting worried about his reluctance to socialise, so she persuaded him to attend the annual Showman’s Dance. “I was kind of a recluse for a while, because I just worked and didn’t socialise,” he admits. “I had no time for anyone, bar me and my work, and life was pretty boring. As soon as we arrived at the dance, I saw Tara there looking fantastic, She was wearing this little bustier, and there was me with no dress sense at all. I looked like a hick.”
They finally got talking at some point of the night, although Mikey recalls being too shy to kiss Tara goodnight. They started dating, but for the first six months of their relationship, Tara’s mother Alice was seriously ill with a terminal brain tumour. She died aged 45, when Tara was 19, and prior to her death her family nursed her through her illness. Tara found it difficult to accept her mother’s illness, because she was so lively, vivacious and full of life. “It was so hard for us as a family, because my younger sisters were only 9 and 12,” she says. “It was almost a relief when she died, because we couldn’t bear to see her suffer any more. Mikey stuck by me through thick and thin, and he kept me sane all through that time.” After Alice passed away, Tara went back to work at Big Top, and Mikey drove miles to see her after work as often as possible. This was difficult, as they never seemed to be in the same end of the country.
Such was life on the road in the Road Show.