I was clearly quite addicted to men,” says Grace Campbell. So much so that the 28-year-old comedian’s new Edinburgh show, A Show about Me(n), is entirely inspired by her complicated relationship with the opposite sex. “I’m obviously not comparing it to a cocaine addiction or anything,” she adds with a laugh. “The whole point of the show is me realising that men are less important to me than I am.”
Now, Campbell has decided to take a break from the world of dating, adding, “I don’t need someone getting into my head.” But her history of craving male attention goes as far back as her school days: “when I was a teenager, boys really didn’t fancy me. But it made me want them even more. I told myself getting a boyfriend would increase my value and make me become an adult.”
It has taken her the past year or so after breaking up with her first long-term partner to see the extent of her male preoccupation,“I thought having a boyfriend would make all my problems go away. It was like a false promise.” Later, she adds of her current relationship status, “I’m very happy single.”
Though A Show about Me(n) primarily focuses on Campbell’s own life, she believes it is something many women will be able to relate to. “I’m very open and I think that might make people feel less like freaks, whatever they might be going through… Women are conditioned to think that we should always be with someone,” she says. “We watch all these f***ing Disney films as children. Even at primary school, you come home and people ask you if you have a boyfriend – it’s like, ‘We’re five years old, why would we have a boyfriend?’”
On a personal level, Campbell thinks her own desire for male attention partly comes from growing up alongside a “prominent male figure” – her father, the former New Labour press secretary and director for communications, Alastair Campbell. “I desperately wanted his approval. I was obsessed with him and impressed by him. My dad is literally my favourite person in the whole world,” she says.
Alastair Campbell, who started working for the Blair government a month after his daughter was born, has been a prominent feature in her comedy work too. “My first hour of stand-up was all about growing up in politics,” she says, referencing her 2019 show Why I’m Never Going into Politics. “But it was still actually much more about my personal life. I always end up talking about sex and relationships,” she says.
Campbell discusses her childhood candidly: “I always said exactly what I was feeling all the time”, but she didn’t always have the luxury of opening up in public, “When you have a parent in politics, you have to be so careful with what you say – and I really did”.
But, what does Campbell Senior think of her comedy? “He’s my biggest fan,” she says, “it is actually so cute.” She tells a story of her dad running from Whitehall to Soho to catch the last five minutes of one of her sets, “He was dripping in sweat, he just desperately wants to see it” – even if her material isn’t always the most comfortable thing for him to watch. “I talk about doing anal. He hates it, but he still comes”.
The constant references to her father became annoying, though. “People used to say I was Alastair Campbell’s daughter, and that’s all I was ever going to be,” she says about her early days in comedy. “It is funny in loads of ways if I say it, but when men do it, it is just sexist. They’re trying to reduce me. It is not like I’ve gone into politics”
Still, Campbell shares a lot of her father’s views on the UK’s current political circus. She worries that post resignation, Boris Johnson will go back to being a “jovial” party-goer and his actions as prime minster will become “normalised”. “He’s done such a bad job, like appalling, he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with all of it.”
Her family talks about politics all the time. “My dad found [Boris’ resignation] really anti-climactic. He’s been building up to him leaving for such a long time, but the Tories are still in power. F*** knows what will happen with the next election. It is two years away, Brexit has still happened – none of these things are going to be undone now. All of them lie, all the time.” But are they able to be hopeful about the future? “My dad has ambition. He thinks he can be part of things changing.”
Politics, however, is not the career for Campbell. “Comedy is so natural. I just love doing shows and being near people,” she says. But it doesn’t stop with her stage work – Campbell has collected an online following too. Her Instagram is full of short videos, and she regularly asks her followers to respond to funny polls about dating and sex. “I’ve definitely had to put time into it, but social media has helped me reach new people, which is great.”
Performing live is where Campbell’s heart lies though. While she hopes her show will make women “feel better”, she is still frustrated that she barely sees any men in her audiences. “If you bring it back to my obsession with men validating me – they can follow me on Instagram and send me creepy messages about my tits, but they don’t spend money or time coming to watch me – I don’t rate it.”
The few men that do come, Campbell says, are mainly accompanied by their girlfriends, “I like to get them involved – not in a bullying way, but I want them to be able to laugh at themselves.” And how do men in the comedy industry react to her, generally? “I tend not to interact with them,” she laughs. “The few I do work with I’ve vetted.”
Campbell is proud of the work she’s done and her attitude to the industry. “In work environments, I don’t give a f**k – I get that from my dad. I’ve always had that sense of confidence, I don’t let people take the piss out of me – it is very odd that I haven’t had that in my love life. I’ve not had boundaries or self-control until this year. If I had a feeling, I’d just say it, I wouldn’t even think about it”
Grace Campbell: A Show About Me(n) is at Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh to August 29; edfringe.com