Nina Conti is a showbiz ‘personality’ who has just revealed – to promote her new TV film A Ventriloquist’s Story – that she was theatre maverick Ken Campbell’s lover in the mid-nineties (when he was twice her age). Conti claims Campbell decided she was ‘a clown who didn’t want to wear a nose’ so he sent her a teach yourself ventriloquism kit. And Conti now seems to credit learning ventriloquism with kick-starting her career – although the fact she comes from a showbiz family must have helped too!
Conti’s current publicity drive reminded me of my own encounters with Ken Campbell (minus the affair, scandal lovers). Back in February 2000 I did a reading at The Conway Hall in central London with Campbell, Nick Cave, Michael Moorcock and Iain Sinclair. After seeing me perform, Campbell approached me excitedly and said: “You have a completely stone face. You were born to be a ventriloquist. I want to teach you!” At that time I was a bit too busy to take up Campbell’s kind offer of free ventriloquism lessons – but I did teach myself the art a few years later and incorporated it into my public readings.
Now I’m wondering whether it was just Conti and me, or if Campbell told virtually everyone he met that they ought to be a ventriloquist? Not that it really matters. The suggestion that I hook up with a dummy set me off in a productive direction! Nonetheless, I rather like the idea of Campbell telling hundreds of people they should be ventriloquists! It would be a suitably surreal thing for him to have been doing! And I really would like to know if anyone else took up ventriloquism after Campbell suggested it to them….
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!