Yes, you read right; fire eating. Not your everday experience! This time I was headed to London not for pretty lights at Kew Gardens or delicious food at a Medieval Banquet, but to go against everything my parents had ever taught me and play with fire.
Whereas I usually go on experiences with one other person, this time I was headed off alone, making the task at hand even more daunting. Situated in East Ham, the fire eating experience was located in a warehouse, a short walk from the station. I was greeted by Red Sarah, my instructor for the day, and shown into the cavernous room where I would meet my doom- I mean have a fantastic time eating fire. Joining us in the warehouse was another participant called Sabine, who interestingly was already a circus performer, and was looking to add fire eating to her repertoire.
Sarah told me the warehouse was often used as a setting for horror films, which really helped calm my nerves (not). To begin, Sarah gave a demonstration of what we would be doing during the session. This included running the flame over your palms and arms, licking the flame and eventually eating fire.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I always assumed there was something special about fire eating that made it safe. A fancy fuel that made the flames cold or something. But no, the sticks that Sarah used were homemade, and featured a fabric that she knitted herself and could burn for extended periods of time without disintegrating. The fabric ends were dipped in barbecue lighter fluid, then set alight. Scary stuff!
There was no hanging around, I was immediately handed a flaming wand/torch/stick and shown how to run it along my palm. The trick was to keep it moving, and apply firm pressure. After hesitating for about a million years, I finally did it, and it was surprisingly pleasant! The flame extinguishes where it touches your skin, so you just get a warm tickly sensation.
Once I was comfortable doing that, it was time to say goodbye to my arm hair and start doing the same along the length of my arms and wrists. Moving the torch in big circles gave the manoeuvre a more theatrical look, and meant the fire didn’t burn you, which would only happen if you left it stationary for longer than a couple of seconds. The warehouse was pretty cold, so I was more than happy to keep doing this for a while, but Sarah wanted to move onto the licks, to which I nervously obliged.
I knew this wouldn’t hurt because tongues have a lot more moisture than arms, but it was still nerve-wracking to put fire so close to your face. I was also concerned about ingesting lighter fluid, but I was assured it wouldn’t damage my health. Standing with my feet hip-width apart and tilting my head back to a right-angle, I prepared for the heat. Plucking up all the courage I could muster, I slowly (very slowly) gave the torch a tentative lick. Again it was okay! Tasted a bit funky but nothing I couldn’t handle.
Moving on to the actual eating, this took a bit more training. There was a certain mouth movement that had to be perfected before I could try it on a real flame, it involved sticking your tongue out as far as possible, putting the flame about halfway down, then retracting your tongue and closing your mouth in a ‘AAWOO’ motion. This, in theory, should cut off the oxygen and extinguish the fire.
Time to give it a go. I knew I couldn’t hesitate for too long because the flame gets hotter and hotter until you have to put it out and start again. Just do it!! Lowering the torch, I did everything Sarah said and the first one went perfectly! Second time, not so much, I thought it had gone out but the fire re-lit when I withdrew it, giving me a bit of a fright. But I will not be beaten! I kept trying until I had it right every time. It was weirdly addictive…
After I’d become a master fire-eater, it was time to put all the moves I’d learned together into a fancy routine. Starting with palms, then arms, then licks, then eating and re-lighting and eating and re-lighting and finish! Altogether it looked pretty good, if I do say so myself, and it was so much fun! Once you’re over the initial fear of putting fire into your face, it’s quite easy and your confidence grows steadily. I would highly recommend anyone doing this experience, it’s one of those bucket-list items that just has to be done! Sarah was really great too, with an interesting history and fascinating information about being a professional fire-eating performer. I’m so glad I had the courage to do this, it was a fantastic experience.
Learn Fire Eating in London