The story of the lion, the Leeds lad and a world record

It's the roarsome photo which makes you do a double take.

Sunday, 15th December 2019, 6:00 am
Carl Denver and Lisa the lioness.

Lisa the lioness was living with young Carl Denver at his east Leeds home in December 1977.

With her big brown eyes and gorgeous coat, the five stone lioness raised eyebrows among the neighbours in Garforth.

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Carl was brought up in the world of animal show business. His mum Olga was a circus-performer and friend to Hollywood stars.

When he was a baby she carried him into the circus ring on her back and Carl ate his first solid meal with chimpanzees. And before his second birthday, Carl was training dolphins, monkeys, penguins and macaws.

It is believed he appeared in the Guinness Book of Records in 1971 as the youngest animal trainer, aged one year and 11 months.

Olga link to the circus started when she was 18 after answering a job advertisement for ‘a girl with nerves of steel’ to work with Hal Denver, which was the stage name of Ralph Norman.

Hal Denver, who she would later marry, had moved into knife throwing, whip and lasso acts and needed an assistant.

Without really knowing what her role entailed Olga took to the stage with Hal and soon found out there was no illusion involved in the act.

She told heritage blog The Secret Library Leeds, which provides a behind the scenes look at the Central Library and highlights from its special collections, including rare books hidden away in the stacks: “I thought that the board was rigged in some way for the knives to either come out or suddenly appear you know.… I was petrified….I never dreamt that they were officially thrown.”