Straitjackets, unicycles and handcuffs

by Patrick Dennehy

“THE scariest thing ever is having a thin plastic bag sticking to your face and then breathing part of it in… luckily this was a rehearsal and I had my safety team on standby who got me out alive.”

Welcome, Ladies, Gentlemen and ticket holders to the weird, wacky and wonderful world of Roslyn Walker (, one of the UKs premier performance artists, stuntmen and escapologists.

On a wet and cold Monday morning in the middle of (add any British month here), how many of us moan about the job we are doing? Let’s face it, not many of us are doing a job we love are we; but then again, not many of us would describe hammering a nail in to our nose with a shoe, or being wrapped up in a body bag as a dream job would we? The latter may be a dream for some, but not a dream job!

However, it’s all in a day’s work for all-round-entertainer Roslyn Walker who specializes in escapology. And his outlook on life and his profession is a fairly simple mantra: “If I manage to escape and I'm not too badly hurt then I'm always happy. The odd bump and bruise doesn't count.”

Roslyn Walker has not had what would be described as a typical upbringing. Running away to the circus at 14, throwing (and catching) bottles behind a bar in Europe, and successfully completing a journalism degree being some of the accomplishments on his extensive CV. That’s before we’ve even talked about the straitjackets, the unicycles and the handcuffs!

But, like all good stories, let’s start at the beginning.

It was whilst on a school camping trip at the tender age of 10 that Roslyn Walker first learned to juggle. Juggling to entertain people, to show off, to gain friends – whatever the motive it lit a creative spark that still burns strong to this day, nearly 20 years further down the line.

Unlike the hundreds of kids that abandon school for no particular reason, sit at home and then spend the rest of their lives on the dole, Ros’ decision to skip formal education was to pursue something entirely different. At the age of 14 he went to circus school and as he explains, was simply hooked: “Trapeze, tightrope, stilt walking, juggling, unicycling... The list of possibilities seemed to just go on forever. It was brilliant. I loved it.”

Graduating from circus school, but deciding that living life as a traveller and being hounded by angry council officials for trespass wasn’t for him, Ros became a flair bartender. For the uninitiated, this turns the simple act of pouring you a cocktail into a performance art. Bar work being what it is meant that he had a lot of time on his hands. So he did the natural thing and decided to use the numerous daylight hours to teach himself a hobby. But we’re not talking painting or stamp collecting. Says Ros: “It was whilst living in Deutschland that I purchased my first straitjacket and proceeded to teach myself how to escape from it. I've never looked back since.”

Despite featuring on Prime Time TV shows such as Big Brother’s Little Brother and Odd One In, it’s not the bright lights of TV that provide the biggest lure for Ros, but people and places. As he explains: “I've done TV and theatre, which are fun to do but the audiences at the Llandudno Victorian Extravaganza (held in North Wales every May bankholiday) are some of the best. Plus I get to try out some crazy stuff most venues are afraid to let me do.”

It was in Llandudno earlier this year that Ros took on and completed what he describes as his ‘best ever’ stunt. (Before I explain, squeamish people should turn away now). In fact, I’ll let Ros take you through it: “At this year’s Extravaganza (May 2010) they had a set of handcuffs made to their own design. I didn't see them until the moment they were locked on my wrists; they then dragged me across broken glass bare foot towards three massive spikes whilst I tried to escape. At the same event they also locked me in a borrowed beer barrel and hung me by my feet from a Victorian steam-powered crane.”

Despite the street performance and the escapes, it is natural that after starting life as a juggler and attending circus school there will always be a bit of the big top blood pumping around Ros’ system. That’s why Ros does circus workshops in schools. “The circus skills work I do now is mainly in schools and I do it because it may well spark an interest in someone who eventually will take it on as a career, just as I did. It's kind of my way of giving something back”.

As for the future Roslyn has his eye on the big book, saying: “I'd love a world record. When I was first starting out it was all I could think of.” Of course, the attempt wouldn’t be anything simple. “Maybe the underwater straitjacket escape is something for 2011?” he says with a glint in his eye. The glint that proves the man has still got it, and is still enjoying it.

Unique and different but loving every step of the journey – if he comes to a town near you don’t miss him. And if you ever hear a police appeal for a strange-looking, long-haired man who was arrested but escaped you might want to point them in the direction of!

© Patrick Dennehy, 2009