A Mermaid’s Tale!
Laura Evans, aka the St Ives Mermaid, gives us a fascinating insight into her working life and why she will never leave her hometown to mermaid elsewhere
Laura Evans is more commonly known as the St Ives Mermaid. She has spent the last 7 years as the Cornish town’s mermaid in residence, offering a unique opportunity for children and adults to witness a “real” mermaid appearing from the sea onto the beaches around St Ives. Laura is also a qualified freediver and is passionate about creating underwater photographs as both a model and photographer. More recently she has worked as a model for other underwater photographers, which she describes as “the type of work I could only dream of as a young girl playing mermaid in the sea off St Ives.”
Glorious: When did you become interested in mermaids?
Laura Evans: Growing up in St Ives, I spent long summer days on the beach and you’d always find me in the sea. My fascination with being underwater started very young and I was utterly convinced that I was a mermaid born with legs rather than a tail. I devoured books about mermaids (Helen Dunmore’s work in particular) and my mum had the very tough job of tearing me away from the sea whenever our days on the beach came to an end. Childhood melted into adolescence and somewhere along the way I lost my connection with the sea. I didn’t enter into adulthood with the intention of becoming a mermaid in my late twenties. Life, in its complex and mysterious way, led me back to the sea at a time when I most needed it. As I fell in love with being underwater again, rediscovering the joy and magic that was still accessible to me as an adult, I also fell in love with the idea of buying a mermaid tail and giving St Ives its very own mermaid.
Glorious: Is there a big mermaid community in Cornwall/ the UK?
Laura Evans: The community across the UK and Cornwall has boomed over recent years. When I started 7 years ago it was still relatively unknown, but now you can travel to most parts of the UK and find working mermaids. There are mermaid courses, mermaid exercise classes, mermaid training camps and even a Miss Mermaid UK pageant, so there are a wealth of options for people wanting to explore mermaiding in the modern world.
Glorious: Your Instagram feed is full of beautiful imagery of you in action. Do you shoot a lot of it yourself?
Laura Evans: The vast majority of my underwater photographs are self-portraits. It’s very much a trial and error process that I’ve been using for many years. I’ve found deep tidal pools around the coast that offer a safe environment as opposed to shooting in the open sea. With tidal pools you also have the beautiful rockpool flora and fauna as a backdrop to make the setting even more organic. I take hundreds of photos per shoot and end up with one or two usable photographs. As challenging as the process can be, the complexities make success even more rewarding. For more complex shoots with challenging props/clothing I often ask my girlfriend or friends to act as a safety/camera person. Whilst I often have an idea in mind before I start shooting the outcome is never guaranteed to reflect the initial concept. The process is very intuitive and spontaneous.
Glorious: How important is collaboration when capturing images? I can imagine it’s hard to art direct a shoot whilst in water, so what does this process look like?
Laura Evans: When I’m working with others we tend to have a discussion before we enter the water. Shooting in cold water means time is limited so we have to make the best of the limited time we have. It’s really a combination of being structured whilst also being organic – ideas can change and develop whilst in the water. Changes are discussed whilst we take a breath between attempting a shot.
Glorious: You collaborated with Lexi Laine, a photographer known for capturing highly stylised ethereal images, can you tell us about this experience of shooting together?
Laura Evans: Lexi and I connected on Instagram many years ago when I fell in love with her work after finding her page. I’d recently started taking my own underwater photographs and her work encapsulated the dreamlike and creative quality that I feel when I’m underwater. After a couple of years we finally managed to do our first shoot together in Cornwall (Lexi is based in Brighton) and I’ve been fortunate enough to work as her model since 2019. My main responsibility when working with Lexi is to bring her ideas to life, but she is also open to discussing and exploring ideas together. It makes our time together creative and rewarding – both doing something that we love so deeply.
Glorious: If you could ‘mermaid’ anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
Laura Evans: As a self-confessed cold water addict I wouldn’t choose to mermaid anywhere other than my home of Cornwall. With its rich history of mythology, the breathtaking scenery and the clear water, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Glorious: How many tails do you own? And how do you order them? I can imagine it’s not as simple as ordering on Amazon!
Laura Evans:I currently have two tails. My first, which is nearly 7 years old, was bought from a tail maker in America called The Mertailor. Tail making is a booming industry in America and there are a few very well-established mermaid tail specialists. My second tail, which is about 3 years old, was custom-made for me by one of the few tail makers in the UK. A professional quality tail is made from film-grade silicone and is moulded from a cast of your body. Realistically you’ll be looking to spend upwards of £2,000 for this type of tail, but there are very good fabric options available nowadays.
Glorious: St Ives is obviously a huge tourist destination, particularly in the summer. Do you often have an audience when swimming with the tail? Do you enjoy interacting with spectators?
Laura Evans: My appearances on the beach in St Ives can attract hundreds of spectators. I announce all of my appearances so people have 1-2 days’ notice that I’ll be washing up on the beach. It’s exciting and terrifying to engage with huge audiences and I’m often on shore for over an hour to make sure everyone gets a photo with me before I swim back out to sea. I’ve been doing appearances for 7 years and I still haven’t got over performance anxiety before each appearance.
Glorious: You are photographed in swimwear/ nude etc often. Do you ever feel insecure about your body and how do you combat insecurities?
Laura Evans: My approach to tackling insecurities is to face them head on. One of my greatest fears is to become beholden to my insecurities so that they end up holding me back in day-to-day life. Shooting myself nude in my underwater photographs has been an incredible way for me to connect with my body and be grateful for what it is capable of – to see it in a new light. Being photographed has also helped me accept and become more neutral within my relationship to how I look – I’ve seen myself from every possible angle, both good and bad. I find it very helpful to keep in mind that everything we feel is wrong about our bodies has been taught. From a young age we are brainwashed by media and diet culture with the idea of the “perfect body”. My body isn’t the problem – the problem is how we’re made to feel about our bodies. I choose not to let the media’s expectations of how our bodies should look define me. I choose to celebrate diversity and see the beauty in how unique we all are.
Glorious: If you were to have a dinner party, which inspirational women would you invite and why?
Laura Evans: My girlfriend, Nicola Montfort – not only is she fabulous company but she’s an incredible conversationalist. I find great comfort in listening to conversation without having to actively take part. She can keep a lively conversation flowing whilst I serve up a delicious vegan feast. Anna Mansell, my good friend and writer – hilarious, charismatic, open and sporting a fistful of Nothern charm. Marina Abramovic, pioneer of performing art – I am such a fan of her work and her singular drive to push the boundaries of performance art since the 70s. A fascinating woman that I would love to dine with. Alenka Artnik, freediving world record holder – I just want to talk to her about what it’s like going over 100m deep in a single breath. Iris Apfel, fashion legend – just because she’s wonderful.
Glorious: What is it that you love about Cornwall? Do you think you will ever live anywhere else?
Laura Evans: My soul is rooted in Cornwall. I feel a spiritual connection to this place that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. I didn’t choose it, it chose me. If money was no object, I’d live in a detached house with a huge garden, lots of animals and just a short walk from a tidal pool. I adore travel and want to experience the world through water, so anywhere I can swim or dive!
Glorious: Can you tell us about Oh Give Me A Break?
Laura Evans: I launched Oh Give Me a Break in 2020 after finding a number of discarded windbreaks left behind after the summer holidays. I saw potential in the reams of fabric and started turning them into bags. Repurposing plastic waste and giving it new life.
Glorious: You’ve recently written a book Be More Mermaid. Please tell us about this and where/ how can we buy it?
Laura Evans: Be More Mermaid is part-memoir, exploring my life so far through a selection of mermaid mantras that we could all make use of during our day-to-day life – ‘We can all benefit from being a bit more Mermaid’, ‘Explore Your Hidden Depths’, ‘Less Litter, More (Eco) Glitter’ and ‘Ride the Wave’s’ are just a few of the chapter titles. I discuss everything from mental health and addiction to sustainability and sexuality. I’m working with Unbound who are a crowdfunding publisher and you can use this link to read more and pledge.