The street arts world will be united in its sadness at the loss of the lovely, funny, wholly authentic and hugely gifted Jasper King – of the Chipolatas – but how lucky we are to have had him.
As a performer, Jasper had an ability to make every single member of a crowd feel that he was there just for them. If you were a small enthusiastic child or a big weary adult, a distracted dad or a tired mum, a surly teenager or an elderly passer-by, Jasper was going to stand there and bring you in, tipping you the wink, letting you know it was all right to have a good time. Leave your day behind, he seemed to say, forget about school or work or responsibility, don’t worry about your next appointment, let’s just agree to relax and enjoy ourselves. He’d look out from the stage at the audience, sizing us up, ever so slightly detached. His gently challenging stare pulling us closer and we leaned in as one. He had us. And he played with us, that cocky half-smile spreading out over the audience. He’d whisper, he’d sing, he’d shout, he’d strum the ukulele, sometimes he’d just sit and look at us. And we were his. Putty in his hands. Then our reward: the crazy, crazy juggling, the buffoonery, the childish gags, the gentle serenade and yet more crazy juggling. All performed with wild invention and childish exuberance. Of course, he was never alone in these pursuits, the Chipolatas were (and are) always about teamwork, and Tristan and Sam and Jasper worked together like a beautifully maintained vintage steam engine, each of the three elements moving as one – supporting each other one minute and stepping back to give focus the next.
They’d been at it for over twenty years, and had been a part of the National’s outdoor programme from its very early days; after the first time they performed for me, the Chips became a permanent fixture every year, a no-brainer booking: audiences loved them and we loved having them around, simple. I remember one year Jasper asked me for any comments on the show and it happened to be the year of his rather terrifying beard. ‘Shave?’ I said. That was literally all I had to offer.
Eventually I knew the shows well enough that I could watch the audience as much as the performers, and it was always a joy to see the sheer delight of a thousand people beaming as the words ‘fingers, fingers, fingers, fingers, elbow!’ gave them a disproportionate amount of pleasure. And think of the numbers… I can’t even begin to calculate how many people must have shared Jasper’s company over the years. Hundreds of thousands. Amazing, Mr King.
Jasper will be so missed by so many in such different ways. Fellow performer, Abi Collins, shared this fine quote from him: “I live life every day to its fullest extent with no fear of the future. Only real things, real people matter.”
You did, Jasper. Thanks, Jasper.