A former trapeze artist who dangled above Coldplay during the Paralympics closing ceremony said that was less frightening than appearing on Dragons’ Den.
Lyndsay Watterson has given up her circus skills to concentrate on her business making modern, colourful walking sticks. And she went onto the hit BBC One show to ask for investment to expand Neo Walk, which she runs with her family on Strensall Road, Huntington.
“Do you know what, when I when I worked on the Paralympics, I dangled 50 metres in the air off a motorbike on a trapeze,” she told YorkMix.
“That was less scary than going in front of Deborah Meaden. It was utterly terrifying. I was just a bag of nerves.”
But, she said, away from their TV personas, the dragons “are genuinely five really lovely people”.
“It was just a great experience just to go along there. They were all just so friendly and lovely. And regardless of the outcome. It was it was a magical experience.”
We can’t say what that outcome is for fear of spoiling the show – which is broadcast on BBC One tomorrow (Thursday, 17 March) at 8pm.
But we can tell you more of Lyndsay’s amazing story.
‘I was a one-legged stripper on Jack Whitehall’s film’
17 amazing things about Lyndsay
Lyndsay began as a hairdresser before she lost her leg above her knee. “I lost my my left leg in 2010. I caught an MRSA infection in hospital while I was having an operation and ultimately ended up losing my leg.
“It was life-changing in every way – work-wise, family-wise, confidence-wise, it changed everything.”
She made the ultimate decision to have it amputated. “I lived with it for three years, and it stopped me from doing all sorts of things. I couldn’t bend it, it was painful. The decision to actually go ahead and have it amputated only meant that I was going to get better because I would have a prosthetic and I’d be able to walk properly again.”
After her illness, Lyndsay starting grabbing every opportunity. She had to give up hairdressing, but “kind of became this ‘yes person’ who just tried everything, every opportunity that came along”.
She started to appear in films and on TV. “I used to do some work for an agency called Amputees In Action who found work for people with amputations in movies, as TV extras, in film roles – and also as live casualties in simulations for the police and the ambulance service. So I would go along and and pretend to be like a person who just been in a bomb explosion and suffered injuries.”
That led to her Paralympic appearance on the trapeze. “One day this agency approached me and asked me if I would do some work for the Olympic Committee. And I ended up training as a circus performer to to perform in the 2012 Paralympic opening and closing ceremony. I went to circus school for six months.”
She co-starred with Coldplay. So she was 50m high, dangling from a trapeze under a motorbike. But that wasn’t all. “Coldplay were underneath me. They were playing for me. And it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done.”
And later she starred with Jack Whitehall – as a stripper. “I took the role as a one-legged stripper, believe it or not, in Jack Whitehall’s, Bad Education The Movie, I played a role in that.
“I’ve been led down all these fantastic avenues but in the back of my head, I always knew that those roles would come to an end – I wouldn’t be able to be physically fit enough to do circus performing trapeze like I used to do.”
But she’d spotted a business opportunity – walking sticks. “If you wanted something nice, you just couldn’t get it. There was nothing really that reflected me. Because I’ve always been quite stylish.” So she made her own, out of an acrylic rod she heated up and bent around wine bottles.
People started to notice – and a business was born. “As I used it, I noticed that people stopped looking at my prosthetic leg. They were just looking at the stick. And if it’s doing that for me, it could do that for a load of other people as well.”
Now you can choose from all sorts of styles, and even sticks that light up. “We have 21 different colours. We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of variations of handle grip, we’ve got different coloured ferrules that go on the bottom, we have light-up walking sticks.
“They have got a safety aspect as well, because when you’re out in the dark as a walking stick user it makes you seen – and you can actually see where you’re going because it is quite bright so it lights up the ground in front of you.”
Neo Walk sells to more than 20 countries – and has many repeat customers. “I think the most any one person has about 14 sticks. You can have a colour for every day, you can have a colour for different types of shoes that you wear, you can have a colour for if you’re going to a wedding, you can match outfits.”
When Covid hit, she thought it might end the business. “Actually, it signified a huge period of growth for us. Because we were working very hard as well, promoting the business and developing new ideas and sticks.”
It is very much a family business. Working with Lyndsay in the business are husband Richard, daughter Hannah, son Bob, and Hannah’s friend Natalie. And there are usually five dogs around the workshop too.
Dragons’ Den approached Lyndsay. Producers first contacted her six years ago, but she felt the business wasn’t ready. Then Hannah persuaded her to try last year, and she was snapped up by the show. “I thought, an input of cash, and a hugely experienced entrepreneur like one of the dragons – that could really catapult the business. And there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
And she loved showcasing something else too. “It got an entrepreneur with a disability on TV and you don’t see that very often. Someone in a wheelchair actually being successful. Actually knocking hell out of being an entrepreneur and really, really working well.”
She gave each of the dragons a walking stick. “Now Peter Jones, I don’t know whether you know, is a giant. He’s about six foot nine or something. And his stick was about as tall as Deborah Meaden and it was quite funny.” She filmed her segment last summer and says she has since exceeded her turnover prediction she gave to the dragons.
At full capacity the company can make about 50 a day. And now they’re expanding. But they have got to find the right people who understand Lyndsay’s vision. “I just want walking sticks to be nice and sexy.
“And for people to feel that they’re nice and beautiful and sexy again – not frumpy and ugly and disabled, which is I think is the image of that genre – and you’re just meant to take what is available.
“And I don’t think that’s fair. I think it’s only right that we should have things designed specifically with style and function in mind.”
Find out more and shop at the Neo Walk website