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3 August 2023

Grace Campbell is a sitcom character

The comedian is confused about who she is.

By Esther Watson

At the tender age of 22, Grace Campbell told the Guardian in September 2016 that she was developing a sitcom called Politicians’ Kids. An obvious topic choice, perhaps, given she is the daughter of Alastair Campbell, but also curious, given her qualms over the fact that “People used to say all I’d ever be is Alastair Campbell’s daughter”.

In the years since then, Campbell has done remarkably well. Not yet 30, she is a published author, has written for every major British newspaper (except the Daily Mail, which she thinks needs a lobotomy), has starred in, and then produced, shows for Channel 4 and is about to return to the Edinburgh Fringe with an updated version of her stand-up routine from the 2022 festival, A Show About Me(n)

Although initially wary of just being known as the daughter of someone, Campbell is very much leaning into who her father is. Increasingly, the two appear inseparable. They had a podcast together called Football, Feminism & Everything in Between, were recently announced as new cast members of Celebrity Gogglebox and did a painful episode of Get Off My Phone!, a YouTube show in which comedians watch a member of their family… go through their phone. 

Campbell first garnered sustained attention at Edinburgh in 2019 with her show Why I’m Never Going Into Politics. She went on to denounce Boris Johnson for, amongst other things, being “incredibly privileged”. Although Campbell claimed she didn’t want to be a politician, she has flirted with the idea of following in her father’s footsteps. “I would maybe advise… I’d be the Alastair Campbell to a female, not-white Tony Blair,” she told the Times. Yes, she is a comedian but no, this time she was not joking.

[See also: Can we please give ex-politicians something to do other than podcasting?]

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Reviews for Campbell’s current show in its various iterations have been mixed. But the only thing the press are really interested in are headlines that can be easily spun from her somewhat unrefined political opinions. While Campbell is adamant she doesn’t want to pursue politics, she is very happy to give her opinion on Westminster; on Sajid Javid: “stupid wanker”; on Boris Johnson: “c***”; on Rishi Sunak: “It is insulting to teachers… that this prick is the one who decides how much money they should get.”

A privileged upbringing like hers is often an invitation to people who want to criticise other people’s success. But Campbell’s issue isn’t her privilege – it’s her total lack of self-awareness. She armours herself with all the soundbites any white, middle-class woman who is an LGBQT+ ally needs to have in order to get on in Britain today. “I think supporting other women is the most exciting thing.” Campbell overflows with statements like these. She holds to them as long as the “other woman” is not, say, Carrie Johnson, whom she has mocked for appearing vapid and one-dimensional.   

Fans of Campbell’s comedy commend her for her openness – about her body, her sex life and her relationships with men – but last year she received widespread praise, including from Tony Blair, for recounting her horrific experience of sexual assault. Her brand is about embracing all aspects of womanhood and that includes shining a light on the aspects that are uncomfortable to discuss, aspects that are dark and deeply painful.

Campbell has set out to be a new kind of icon for young women, embracing a version of female empowerment that was epitomised by Lena Dunham’s seminal Noughties sitcom Girls. Campbell has praised Dunham in the past for her “honest and comical” depictions of sex and for making “an irrational and unhinged woman like me feel a bit more normal”, and she clearly draws inspiration from her: “I’m very open and I think that might make people feel less like freaks.” Like Dunham, Campbell speaks openly about sex, mental health, and bodily functions we don’t necessarily need to hear about. But unlike Dunham, Campbell lacks the brilliance of a cultural phenomenon such as Girls to fall back on. 

Politician’s Kids never came to fruition. Instead, Campbell’s life has come to resemble a sitcom of sorts, full of odd ironies and awkward interludes; she doesn’t seem to realise who she really is, and why she might not come across the way she intends. In her career so far, that’s hindered her from creating something truly valuable. As one of the (many) journalists to interview her has put it: “I’m not quite convinced that she is the voice of a generation she half-jokingly claims she is.” That won’t stop Grace Campbell from making a valiant attempt.

[See also: Keir Starmer will bury Blairism]

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