An Englishman nicknamed The Last Lion Tamer by the British press has become the latest star of one of Europe’s most famous circuses, Circo Moira Orfei, for a four month winter season in Italy.

Thomas Chipperfield, 26, joined the show in Novara, in the north west of the country, on November 4, working with five tigers, including three rare white tigers.

His stint with the circus is a meeting of two of the world’s greatest circus dynasties.

Circus celebrities

Chipperfield comes from a family that, during the 1950s and 60s owned Europe’s largest circus, with a tent that held 6000 spectators and a menagerie of hundreds of Animals from elephants and horses to giraffe, hippos and chimps.

His great-uncle Jimmy Chipperfield pioneered the concept of the drive-through wild life park at stately homes including Longleat and other locations. His family’s association with animal training in fact stretches back to 1684, when his ancestor James Chipperfield presented animals at the frost fair on the frozen river Thames.


Thomas Chipperfield himself grew up travelling with Tom Duffy’s Circus in Ireland, where he learned his craft from his parents Tommy and Marilyn who together presented the show‘s big cats.

Chipperfield made headlines in 2015 when he toured Wales with An Evening With Lions and Tigers, a show with two lions and three tigers in which he demonstrated the humane way animals are trained for film and television work as well as circus performances.

One of his lions, Tsavo, appeared in the television comedy Plebs.

Film star

Circo Moira Orfei is named after the horse rider, trapeze artiste, elephant trainer and film star Moira Orfei who was regarded as the symbol of the circus in Italy. The circus matriarch died in 2015 and the show is now run by her son Stefano Orfei.

Every nation tends to have its own speciality in the circus world, with the best springboard acts coming from Hungary and flying trapeze artistes often hailing from south America.

Britain is renowned for its animal trainers, and the two big cat trainers widely considered the best in the world are Englishman Alexander Lacey, currently appearing in America with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, and his brother Martin Lacey Jr who is a director of Circus Krone in Germany.

Chipperfield says he intends to return to the UK with a new show in 2017.