Author Topic: Diabolo Insight: Interviews of the diabolo community - Guy Heathcote  (Read 7744 times)


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Hello again everybody, welcome to another installment of Diabolo Insight.  Following the success from Donald Grant's interview, I had chats with a few other guys for interviews and hopefully will get to talk to a few more as well. 

This week we have one of the "old guard" legends who was the first to self-start a 3 diabolo low shuffle all the way back in 1993.  An eccentric and fascinating character who I had the pleasure of interviewing at the British Juggling Convention 2007 just after the British Young Juggler of the Year competition (which meant I missed the Brit-o-vision, didn't realise it was gonna rock so much).  I speak of none other, than our own British legend, Guy Heathcote.

Where do you origins with circus skills and juggling come from and your history with diabolos?

My origins?  The first time I did anything related to juggling came from the fact that my grandmother’s house backed onto a tennis court.  When I was younger, I used to collect the tennis balls that had strayed over the fence and take them back home.  Sooner or later I tried to juggle with them, but didn’t get anywhere.  Then I saw Kris Kremo on TV and realised how it worked, so I went off and started practising with 3 balls.

What made you think that you would try and juggle them?

It wasn’t something I had seen much beforehand.  However, it was something I'd read about and which intrigued me.  I was always terrible at sport and was never involved in anything athletic unless I had to be.  I started juggling properly when I was 18, so it must have been 4 or 5 years previously that I had started fiddling with the tennis balls.  To start with, I didn’t think anything of it, but it was just enough to start the interest.

Other than diabolo and yo-yo which you are well familiar, are there other props you enjoy and why?

I use a lot of different props.  In the past, I’ve gotten into different things at different times.  Some of the props I tend to use now would include 3 balls (not particularly into numbers), clubs (3-5), devilstick and lasso.  Shaker cups is something I use when performing - I don’t practice it much, but it’s still a nice routine to do.  The Guy Heathcote Ball and Stick thing is something I use quite regularly, Kendama likewise.  I've done a lot of unicycling and stilt walking.

In the BJC show in Birmingham, I did a routine with balls and ladle. It would probably seem a bit rubbish now, but I did it anyway.  I used to do a thing with a plumbing quarter bend pipe, with balls rolling in and out of the top and side.  I’ve tried most props at some point, perhaps because of the walkabout jobs that I do.  I’ve found it’s been good to be flexible and do different things. You can’t do 3 balls, say, for hours on end and expect people to remain interested.  You need to be able to mix it up and show a bit more variety.  There’s probably a load of props I’ve forgotten as well, I go through phases when I’m into something and then not anymore.

With yo-yo, it’s one prop but there’s lots of different styles and techniques, such as the 5A freehand stuff which is my current interest and what I’m practicing most at the moment. I still feel I’m starting out with that, still figuring out the basic techniques, but beginning to find out my own stuff too.

What yo-yo are you using at the moment?

It’s a Yoyo Jam Big Ben.  It’s more visible and takes the abuse of being chucked about all over the place.

Do you have any ambitions or dreams you’d like to achieve that you haven’t already?

I’ve very rarely had any proper ambitions. Most of what has happened has been far beyond what I thought I could ever do.  When starting out, I never expected that I would be able to perform or be in a convention show. I’ve never really had any self-confidence.  It probably sounds weird, but it’s only because of other people convincing me that I should do something that I’ve gone ahead and done it.  I’ve rarely put myself forward for anything.  Back at the second BJC, people started taking notice of me and were asking if I could do a show.  The thought of being in a convention show just seemed stupid to me, like, “Why would I do that?”  However, people persisted and so I thought “Alright, I’ll do it”.  I did my first convention routine the following year.  Anyhow, I guess my aim at the moment is to come up with something interesting using the 5A yo-yo style.

What do you think are the key requirements for a good moustache?

*laughs*  You’ve got to put a lot of effort in and train it.  A proper handlebar requires you to let all the hairs grow long and not give up and be tempted to cut the little ones above your mouth. Hairs naturally grow down, so you’ve got to use wax and a comb to train it to grow sideways.  If you can get past that and get it starting to work, then that’s the makings of a good handlebar

How long has yours taken you?

Oooo, over 4 years now.

You’re known quite well for a historic 3 diabolo shuffle, how long did that take you?

Oh, there’s no clear answer to that.  I purchased my first diabolo at the first BJC (1988).  I didn’t make a lot of progress until I went to the EJC in Bradford the same year. That was the year when Jochen Schell made a big impression at the diabolo workshop.  Todd Strong was running it and the big thing people were talking about was 2 diabolos.  Back then you had little wooden see-saws where you put the second diabolo on and kicked it so that it jumped up and started going round, that was how people had been doing 2.  And then people started talking about self-starting, so Jochen stood up and blew everyone away.  People hadn’t seen 2 diabolos done like that before.  These days it seems a bit basic, but it was revolutionary at the time and that was the point when diabolo became interesting to me.  So I bought a second one straight away from the traders stall and went home to practice what I’d seen and started figuring it all out. 

Somewhere between then and 1993, I began working on 3 in some way, but I can’t remember when I first started putting a lot of work in.  At the Birmingham BJC in 1993, I realised it wasn’t just working a little bit, but that I was having good runs with it.  So I went and hid behind big gym mats, as I was scared of people seeing what I was doing.  I couldn’t say when I first threw the third one in though.

Was it an independent progression, when you thought “Two is working now, can I throw a third one in?”

Well, there's something more behind this.  The second time I saw Kris Kremo on TV (this must have been pre-1988) was on a circus show where the concept was “China versus The Rest of the World”.  In the juggling part, Kris Kremo represented the rest of the world and China presented a diabolo (i.e. Chinese yo-yo) troupe.  That was the first time I’d ever seen a diabolo.  They did their Chinese-style 3 diabolo shuffle and that was the only diabolo trick I saw that remotely interested me.  As I thought it was cool, it stuck in my memory.  Eventually, once I'd started doing diabolo myself, I figured that if people were doing 2 regular diabolos (i.e. not 'Chinese yo-yos'), there was no reason not to be doing 3 also.

Apart from performing and your historic shuffle, what else do you think you would like to be remembered for?

To be honest, whilst the shuffle thing is significant to me, what surprised me more was the amount of time it took before other people were doing it too.  I think it must have been nearly 10 years after I’d got my first good runs that I saw others doing it successfully.

Aside from technical things, I think the real pleasure of juggling for me is the fact you can entertain people and make them smile.  If people remember that I did something they liked, be it diabolo, yo-yo or even just something I said, then that's great.  It means I've been given the chance to do something that other people were able to derive pleasure from.  That’s more unexpected and meaningful to me than just learning a trick.  I never dreamt of doing the performing thing, it didn’t occur to me that I could ever do it.  Anyone who knew me earlier in my life would never have believed that, with my poor coordination and sporting ability, I would ever have ended up doing something like this.

I’ve got Aspegers’ Syndrome, so this certainly effects how I look at things.  I think that it’s affected my confidence a lot but has probably given me the ability to concentrate on things that others probably wouldn’t have stuck with.  The people I’ve seen that pick up juggling easily are often those that give it up quite quickly too.  I’ve got a lot out of it from constantly surprising myself, so perhaps that's a part of it.  I think that eventually, you figure out that most tricks are possible if you approach them the right way and have the right facilities and environment to learn them in.  This shouldn’t be very surprising, but it took me a long time to realise that.

Being one of only three people to have attended every British Juggling Convention, how do you feel it has changed over the years?

The very first one was drastically different to any of the others.  It wasn’t a residential festival, it was two days in a sports hall in London. There was no camping and little of the stuff you expect now.  The difference between that and anything else that followed it was quite substantial.  Apart from that, the hobby juggler thing really didn’t seem to exist so much when I started.  The earlier attendees seemed to be involved in performing; not necessarily to any high level but still seemed to be more affiliated with being a performer than many jugglers that I see now.  More recently the Internet has changed a lot of things [which is actually one of my next questions].  I think some things are just about me changing and getting older and having different interests.  It’s always been variable, some of the conventions earlier on were really good and some weren’t so successful.

What makes you come to a BJC every year?

Nothing makes me think “I’ve got to go every year”.  Just, “Do I want to go this year or not?”  Some years I’ve been asked in advance if I could come to do a workshop or show.  Even some of the conventions that weren’t as successful still had, for one reason or another, good reasons to be there, stuff that came out of it you didn’t expect or a chance to see new equipment.  These days, for me, it’s not about seeing new tricks - the Internet has taken over for that.  However, it did used to be very much a “fact-finding” thing - learning the latest techniques and seeing new tricks.  I used to take a notepad around making notes of things I wanted to do.

Every juggler should have a notebook,

I don't do it anymore, but I certainly used to, it helped me remember stuff.  Going to the workshops was important to me.  Also, there were usually people I knew who were going to the conventions and there was never a reason not to go along too. I’ve been lucky with the dates though, which haven’t clashed with other things.

Is 20 years lucky?

To some extent it was.  Illness and things. I’ve not been seriously ill, touch wood.  That could have screwed me up one year.  And I’ve not had a job that I couldn’t get out of.  Any of those are down to luck.

What effect do you think the Internet has had on the juggling world?

It’s taken most of the mystery out of it.  Before, you had to travel and make a big effort in order to see who was doing what.  Now, you’ve got people around the world posting videos and exchanging ideas.  You can see stuff from the Far East, the USA, South America or wherever it is that people are.  Ideas are invented and exchanged within a few days.  You don’t really have to hunt for inspiration anymore, it’s more a case of thinking about what you're going to filter out. 

Would you say it’s better of worse in that respect?  Did you get more out of it back then, or has the wider networks allowed for greater and faster progression?

For me personally, I’ve not played a big part in any recent developments and haven’t properly attempted to keep up with what’s going on in the diabolo world.  I’m not currently getting out of it, for whatever reason, the interest and enjoyment that I was when I first started out.  Whether that’s due to the Internet, other circumstances or just because it's something I’ve done for too many years, I don't know.  It’s just not as interesting to me now.

You say you’ve not been able to get a lot out of it recently but I guess it’s because we’re just about catching up to where you were.  There are still a lot of young people that start out with Donald Grant’s books and your contribution to those that put a name to things.  When you used to look up 3 diabolo shuffle, your name would always be at the top. would have your video there, Barnesy’s website would have your video there.  So I think you’re still very much at the forefront.

I think it’s more a history thing.  The things that are going on at the moment, I don’t really feel a part of.  There are still techniques that I learn because I like them, but I was always more interested in 2D and 3D, so it tends to me more of that.  Almost from the start, I had a 1D routine that I'd put together, but my repertoire of 1D tricks was always poor.  I had enough stuff to make a routine that would work for me (which I still do every now and again, though not for jugglers), but soon after I'd got that sorted out, I didn’t learn much else.  Whereas with 2, I still might learn new things if I’m in the mood.  Since I moved from Renegades to rubber diabolos and changed from using thick nylon string, I’ve learned some more.  Previously, the equipment wouldn’t let me do any string wraps but since the change, I’ve managed to learn vortex, fans etc.

My first experience with multiple diabolos involved Renegades and I thought to do more than one, you had to have a solid Renegade.

At one time, most of the UK people that were practicing diabolo seriously were using Renegades - Donald Grant, Dave Proctor, Andy P and many others.  They were always really stable - they could have almost no spin and they’d still quite happily sit on the string.  They were great for doing 2 without a great deal of effort, but styles have changed and tricks with wraps didn’t work well with them.  Plus they would destroy everything in their path.  For a long time I did very little diabolo practice because I didn’t dare do it indoors and outdoors often wasn’t practical.

What made you move from Renegades to Circus?

I just wasn’t practising or doing anything with Renegades.  I saw that people were successfully doing 3 with rubber diabolos and I felt it time to do something about it.  I was always sketchy with 3 because of the situation with the different string.  The string wouldn’t be right when you first put it on, then there would be a sweet spot and then it wouldn’t work anymore, which was always frustrating and difficult to perform with.  Also, the nylon string seemed to get badly affected by temperature, which didn't help either.  So, I saw that people were then doing a lot better with rubber diabolos and I wanted to practice it too.   Also, I needed to get something I could work with indoors.  I guess this was about 3 - 4 years ago.  I found the transition from Renegades took me a long time.  I found I couldn’t use my old wooden sticks with the rubber diabolos so I switched to the Henrys aluminium sticks, which I’m happy with now.

What effect do you think competitions like Cirque De Demain, WJF, FEDC or IJA has on diabolo?

I think that most of the events that you mentioned probably have had fairly minimal effect.  I might be wrong, but I think most of the recent progression has been due to things like Diabology and the general French influence, which I don’t think was based on any competition.  The WJF thing maybe played a little part, but the diabolo part didn't seem to be publicised very well.  People talked about what they’d seen the first year, but without seeing it myself, I’m not sure how much difference it made.  As diabolo has been promoted via competitions (along with yo-yo) in the Far East, I suspect that a lot of the Far Eastern styles and tricks probably came about as a result, since that was clearly a focus of their scene.  With the BYJOTY (British Young Juggler of the Year), its good to see diabolo represented, but I don’t think its specifically influenced the scene, well, no more so than a Renegade stage or public show.

Who would you say are you juggling heroes?

First one is obvious, Kris Kremo.  That’s what started me off.  The second one is also obvious; Jochen Schell.  He gave me that strong initial interest in diabolo.  However, for diabolo  performance, Jean Manuel Tomas (as featured on the Diabolo Folies videos, with Jochen) made a big impression on me.  He was a great entertainer and I really liked the way he made his tricks matter to his audience.  Thierry Nadalini, also on Diabolo Folies, was inspirational too.  On the occasions I met him, he taught me a lot.

Is there anyone in the current diabolo scene that a close eye should be kept on?

I really like what William Wei-Liang Lin does.  My own stuff tended to be fast and dynamic, so I like it when I see that in others.  I’ve known John Booth (JGherkin) for a couple of years now, he used to live near to me and came to the Southampton juggling club a lot.  I’ve known what he does with tricks and suchlike, but having seen what he did at BYJOTY and the way he performed, that surprised me a lot, it really impressed me.  I’ve seen him do little bits of informal shows but tonight was a big, big change and I was, like, “Whoa”.  I’m really pleased for him.  BYJOTY was the first time I’d seen Pete Tomsett perform and I enjoyed that a lot, too.

And finally, is there anyone you’d like to thank?

In general, anyone that’s encouraged me to go out and perform, because I would never have done it without people pushing me.  In terms of diabolo, I’d like to thank Donald for all he’s done for me.  Although I had much of my routine sorted out before I met him, he did a lot to promote my name and certainly helped boost my confidence, so I can’t thank him enough for that.  In more general terms, I’d also like to thank Rut Harwood, Barney Bay and Arron Sparks, local jugglers that have greatly supported and encouraged me over the years.

Thank you very much Guy, I look forward to seeing more of you in the future.

That's all folks, a bit more lengthy than before, but some great stuff in there that I hope you'll all find interesting.  Next time, it's gonna be Sheffield's Dave Proctor (when I sit down to transcribe it).

Chiok - Gravity pulls down, we throw up.
University of Bath Juggling and Circus Skills


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Another interesting and insightful interview there Chiok! Good work! :)

I better start working on a moustache of my own! :D


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Thanks for this great interview, Chiok!
I've admired Guy for a long time, but didn't realize he was the first to self-start 3d. Incredible to hear the story behind the story of that.

Thanks to both of you for taking the time to do this.


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So great...

Thanks a lot !

I love history of diabolo...


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That really was a diabolo insight, raised a lot of interesting points i have thought about to varying degrees in the past. Especially influence of competitions and things like diabology. Thanks alot Chiok for doing this, its actually really interesting.

Pete Townset
Its Tomsett, don't worry, your not the first and won't be the last to get it wrong.  ;D
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I'm really glad to have done it personally.  There are lots of guys I'd like to meet and interview as I've got questions for alot of people, but without meeting them in person, email is a sub-standard substitute.  But chatting to Guy in person made a much better interview I think.  When I get contacts for a few more people, I might ask for questions as I'm sure people would have better ideas than I.

Its Tomsett, don't worry, your not the first and won't be the last to get it wrong.  ;D
Phew, was hoping someone would correct me.  There's very little on the Internet to find your surname.  No matter, you're notorious now ;-)

Chiok - Gravity pulls down, we throw up.
University of Bath Juggling and Circus Skills

The Void

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You’re known quite well for a historic 3 diabolo shuffle, how long did that take you?
Somewhere between then and 1993, I began working on 3 in some way, but I can’t remember when I first started putting a lot of work in.  At the Birmingham BJC in 1993, I realised it wasn’t just working a little bit, but that I was having good runs with it. 

Guy, I have a strong memory of seeing you practising 3 diabolos at my first ever juggling convention, in Weymouth, in August of 1992. I can't remember how long the runs were, but they were long enough for me to think "Wow, that guy can do 3 diabolos!".

Thanks very much to Chiok and Guy for this.

Chiok, I think there is a slight formatting error: I'm guessing "Would you say it’s better of worse in that respect?  Did you get more out of it back then, or has the wider networks allowed for greater and faster progression?" are your questions, and should be in italics?

The Void
Oh, and "yo-yo" is hyphenated :-)
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Well, I think that was very insightful look forward to the future released of your interviews!
"I am a leaf you cannot see me!"
"Who's Emily?"


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Guy, I have a strong memory of seeing you practising 3 diabolos at my first ever juggling convention, in Weymouth, in August of 1992. I can't remember how long the runs were, but they were long enough for me to think "Wow, that guy can do 3 diabolos!".

You were at Weymouth, for one of Bob Townsend's conventions?  Ha, I never realised that.  Anyway, yes, you're most probably right about seeing me trying it before 1993.  I'd certainly been experimenting with it for quite some time before that.  But it was definately at Birmingham that I had my 'Eureka' moment.  I know this, because it happened the same day that I was in the public show and I was touch and go whether I'd try it on stage (in the end, I didn't).  That was also the year when the rain got in the tent and made all the lights go out.  It was also the year when that guy did that mad dagger and sword balance, which surely still stands as the most startling act in BJC history.     


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That's a brilliant story.

Thanks to both of you. Reading that was the best thing I've done all evening!
Behind your back is your front.


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Re: Diabolo Insight: Interviews of the diabolo community - Guy Heathcote
« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2007, 08:05:20 AM »
Again, thank you for doing this Chiok (and thank you to the people who were interviewed too ;)). The history of Diabolo has always seemed to be a bit hard to follow. It makes it all easier to read like this. These interviews will probably be of great contribution to the community.


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