Funny woman Nina Conti had a relationship with a man 33 years her senior
Nina Conti, ventriloquist and daughter of actors Tom Conti and Kara Wilson, ventured into puppetry. On a documentary course, she stood out with her passion for puppets over frontline journalism.
While her peers tackled global issues, Nina used puppets from a past lover for a personal film. Her dummies explored past relationships, grief, and her own abortion experience. This mix of darkness and wit in her storytelling has won her a slew of admirers.
It’s not just her theatrical lineage that spurred her on this path. Late director and ventriloquist Ken Campbell, a crucial figure in Nina’s life, played a monumental role. Responsible for kickstarting the careers of Bob Hoskins and Bill Nighy, Campbell introduced Nina to puppetry.
After his 2008 death, Nina inherited his entire puppet collection, including one resembling him.
Their bond was profound, and not widely known was their romantic relationship that spanned, despite a significant age difference. “He meant the world to me, but our love story remained our secret,” Nina admits. Now married to fellow comic Stan Stanley and mother to two, Nina reflects on her intense relationship with Campbell. “With a personality as magnetic as his, one could easily feel overshadowed,” she muses.
After Campbell’s demise, a box filled with his dummies arrived at her doorstep. Initially, they stood silent and eerie. But Nina felt the pull to breathe life into them, letting them voice her innermost sentiments.
Nina’s ventriloquism allowed her to voice thoughts she otherwise wouldn’t. Her film showcases one such poignant moment where her puppet, Monkey, queries the timing of his arrival in her life, coinciding with her recovery from an abortion. Her family met her candid exploration of emotions with immense support. When she revealed her relationship with Campbell during the film’s production, they stood by her.
While her parents’ relationship might be labelled as ‘unconventional’, Nina’s marriage is quite the opposite. “Compared to my father’s larger-than-life persona, I always felt a bit plain,” she says, adding that a straight acting career never appealed to her.
However unconventional her medium, Nina has truly found her voice, even if it echoes through the characters she brings to life.