Betty Balloon's ambition to get people smiling again post lockdown

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Joanne Anderson tells Fiona Finch how her balloon art took her across the world - until lockdown. Now she's getting ready to get back to making her life sized figures.

The talent of balloon artist Joanne Anderson has taken her across the world.

But with the pandemic putting a temporary hold on much of her work her latest creation was closer to home - outside her front door to be precise.

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We recently reported on how a life sized balloon sculpture of England football manager Gareth Southgate appeared in the Ribble Valley village of Chipping on the day of the Euros finals.

Joanne with  the  Toy Story  Buzz Lightyear character she made from balloonsJoanne with  the  Toy Story  Buzz Lightyear character she made from balloons
Joanne with the Toy Story Buzz Lightyear character she made from balloons

Its creator turned out to be Joanne, otherwise known as Betty Balloon, who had recently moved to Chipping.

She explained she had been thinking about how she had been unable to make her usual life sized balloon models which are in demand at corporate events and major shopping centres. She decided instead to turn her skills to create a scene to support the England team and spent several hours creating the Gareth model.

It proved to be a popular addition to village life, with many people stopping to get selfies alongside the manager.

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Now Joanne has opened her photo albums to share some of her top creations and explain how her unexpected career as a balloon artist and children's entertainer had blossomed prior to the pandemic lock-down. She has also shared her ambition to get people smiling again with her balloon sculptures.

Part of the model of NHS fundraiser Captain Tom MoorePart of the model of NHS fundraiser Captain Tom Moore
Part of the model of NHS fundraiser Captain Tom Moore

It's a decade since Joanne discovered an unexpected talent for balloon model making, when she was stumped for something to do to entertain her daughter and friends at her daughter's birthday party.

She asked a friend who was a children's entertainer for inspiration: "I said how am I going to entertain all the children? He said have you ever made a balloon dog? It all went from there really and I entertained the children making balloon dogs."

She began experimenting with different models, studied how to make better models and began to create pantomime characters and other well known characters. She also began to tell stories to children as well, memorably adapting the story of the enormous turnip which needed a village's residents to pull out of the ground to a tale featuring an enormous carrot - and made a model to match.

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She said: "Then I started experimenting with life size models and making large scale models. That was really good. I was called up to do 'Britain's Got Talent '(TV show) in 2017 and I was requested to make the judges, Siomon Callow, David Walliams, Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon. I was spotted on there and it gave me more opportunities to travel around the world. I was travelling and also doing other talent shows in Romania and Italy. I do events in the UK and I do dresses as well now - balloon dresses."

The Gareth Southgate balloon sculptureThe Gareth Southgate balloon sculpture
The Gareth Southgate balloon sculpture

She continued: "During the pandemic all the events were cancelled so I took to making displays for people for birthdays."

In 2019 she had made a sculpture of Freddie Mercury of Queen which remains a favourite of hers, as does the sculpture of Captain Sir Tom Moore, who had raised so much for the NHS during lockdown. In 2020 she created a special archway in support of the NHS made out of rainbow colours.

Joanne said everything starts with the face of her subjects: "You've just got to concentrate on the faces and what is the most prominent feature. Obviously with Freddie Mercury it's the teeth, with Gareth it's the nose and bone structure. It's just looking for features that stand out. Gareth has a blue shirt and has his arms crossed a lot, whereas Freddie held a microphone - I just have things like that to make it more recognisable. I always start with the face because then everything else comes into place, that's the most recognisable feature."

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She also notes hair colour and skin tone and uses special modelling balloons which are stronger than usual balloons and "weaves" the design to make it structurally sound. She said: "Everything is made purely out of balloons. It's hours of work. I just have patience. It's the focus."

Joanne pictured with father Christmas and Elf modelsJoanne pictured with father Christmas and Elf models
Joanne pictured with father Christmas and Elf models

Past highlights for the 48 year old mother of two have included creating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for a shopping centre in Aylesbury and again for an event in Copenhagen. A Christmas dress with Santa and Buddy the Elf was a special creation too.

Joanne is originally from Wolverhampton. Her parents ran a guest house in Blackpool where she attended school and later worked as an auxiliary nurse on the heart ward at Blackpool's Victoria Hospital.

She now works as a hotel receptionist at the Inn at Whitewell and said in the future she plans to concentrate her balloon model making business on corporate events and creating models for markets and shopping centres and hopes to continue to get some work abroad too. She said: "I want to get out there and start putting smiles on people's faces again."

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