Grace Campbell Why I’m Never Going Into Politics
- Credit: Archant
Growing up the daughter of New Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell was a childhood like few others but the irrepressible comic is mining it for all its crazy humour
From advising Vladimir Putin's wife where to buy shoes in London, to spending her inset days in Downing Street and attending a Miley Cyrus gig with Boris Johnson, it's safe to say that Grace Campbell's childhood was like few others.
On the one hand, growing up a comprehensive kid in Gospel Oak was as normal as it comes. On the other, her parents Alistair and Fiona Millar were the architects of New Labour - and anti-Iraq war protesters harrassed her on the way to school. After such a weird upbringing, what else to do but turn it into comedy gold with a stand up show called Why I'm Never Going Into Politics.
The 25-year-old, who was a toddler at the time of the 1997 Labour landslide, jokes she has been competing all of her life for her father's attention - specifically with Tony Blair.
"There are other people that had a childhood like mine, but luckily none of them are doing comedy. I always say if Kathryn Blair went into stand up I'd be out of a job."
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A star of female prank show Riot Girls, Grace's bullish routine, which comes to Soho Theatre from Feb 17, runs the gamut from fanny fart and masturbation gags to anecdotes about how David Miliband once dripped eye pus into her soup on holiday.
"If you grew up with two parents who were chefs you would know a lot about food, my knowledge of politics is learnt knowing people like Tessa Jowell being at the dinner table with Philip Gould, I absorbed it without having to learn it."
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Having campaigned for issues such as period poverty as part of The Pink Protest, Grace proposes a different kind of activism, renaming New Labour, New Labia. In the show she lays bare her rebellious teenage years and drug use as a reason she could never go into politics. "One of the problems is you have to have that hard exterior all the time, it doesn't leave politicians space to mess up, be vulnerable and show their emotions. When they do it's seen as a form of weakness."
Her father's well publicised mental health battles, she suggests were partly due to that carapace of invulnerability. When anti-war protesters camped outside their home with giant bloody hands, he treated it lightly.
"My dad would make it seem like something you could find amusing, it was part of the job. I remember finding it funny, me and my friends would come home and watch them. Looking back now I was nine and didn't really understand it, I wouldn't have agreed with the Iraq War."
But there's a darker side too.
"There is an effect with that kind of stuff," she muses. "People would come up and say horrible things. It's traumatising. I have had anxiety about people attacking my dad and feeling quite vulnerable in public spaces. It has made me feel anxious in certain situations."
Indeed Grace has been trolled for her connections, but is unapologetic about trading on the notoriety of a spin doctor who famously inspired The Thick of Its sweary Malcolm Tucker.
Campbell, who has a podcast with her dad on football and feminism and once phoned into a radio show to attack his sexist use of the word 'birds', says some of it was just "a normal upbringing".
"I am aware of how unique and unrelatable my childhood story is, but in some ways it wasn't that weird, we live 30 seconds from my primary school, I know everyone in my local area, there was a real safety in that community. My friends at Parliament Hill weren't bothered about who my parents were, It was only when I started being friends with kids from Highgate and Channing that they had ideas about me."
It's her realisation that her mum, who has campaigned for a better state education - leading from the front as a governor at Gospel Oak and William Ellis, is a role model of egoless practicality, that lends a feminist edge.
"My mum is highly accomplished but has never been given the credit she deserves, it's a symptom of the patriarchy, she's done so much good in the world. She is intelligent and impressive, working full time in Downing Street and being our mother, whereas my dad didn't do anything domestic. They say if you can't change the world change the things that are within reach in your local community like her."
In the show Campbell asks the audience if they've heard of her dad, then of her mum; no-one has.
"I have observed powerful alpha men my whole life, it makes you think about how that dictates your behaviour because I grew up wanting to be like my dad with those alpha male characteristics. Women are told we have to be ruthless and pushy, but actually you can be just as powerful and be like my mum, confident, empathetic, she doesn't brag about what she's done. I wouldn't even know unless I Googled it."
Campbell says stand up "felt right" from the start. "I can be funny and not take myself too seriously, say what I think, tell jokes, talk about things that matter to me, feminism, relationships, sex, perhaps it's generational but it doesn't feel a huge deal getting on stage and talking about my vagina. My parents were 'this is what Grace is doing, getting up and talking about her sex life and I'm like 'yeah get on board'".
I ask if there are any anecdotes about Tony Blair can almost hear the eyeroll. "Yes because I want to give people their money's worth, but it's not the Tony Blair show. My whole f***ing life has been the Tony Blair show, enough."
Why I'm Never Going Into Politics runs at Soho Theatre until April 6.