Surprising letters written by unknown Nina Stibbe become a star event at Marlborough’s LitFest

Written by Gerald Isaaman on .

Nina playing poolNina playing poolNina Stibbe was just a naïve girl from Leicester when, aged 20, she arrived in London for the first time in 1982 to become the nanny to two boys at house in Camden Town, north west London.

But her revelations from those past dizzy times, in the heart of a literary elite of famous names, all recorded in letters she wrote home to her sister Victoria, became a bestseller at Christmas in a book called Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life.

And now Nina is herself a celebrity – and a publisher living in Cornwall – who is the latest star due to perform at the fourth Marlborough LitFest in September along with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, philosopher AC Grayling and biographer Jenny Uglow.

Their names have already been announced.  But Nina is new.  And so is Louis de Bernieres, author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies, as well as being made into a movie staring Penelope Cruz and John Hurt.

But it is the comparatively unknown Nina who is likely to surprise LitFest regulars with her innocent tales of meeting so many famous names at the home of Mary-Kay Wilmers, co-founder and editor of the London Review of Books, and her sons, Sam, 10, and Will, nine, by the film producer Stephen Frears.

For nearby neighbours included Alan Bennett, whom Nina mistook for an actor from Coronation Street, Jonathan Miller, an opera singer according to Nina, both of whom were regular visitors to the house in Gloucester Crescent.

Nina photos and Sam and WillNina photos and Sam and WillAnd among many others were such star names as Claire Tomalin, Michael Frayn, film director Karel Reisz and his actress wife Betsy Blair, jazz singer George Melly, Delia Smith, Deborah Moggach, actor Rik Mayall and TV presenter Russell Harty and even footballers Trevor Brooking and Gordon Banks, plus the jockey Willie Carson.

As Nina reveals in her very first letter: “It’s fantastic here, the house, the street, London.  You can hear the Zoo animals waking up in the morning.”

Equally remarkable, Nina’s letters which cover a five-year period, were only rediscovered by Victoria when moving house years later.

They then came to the attention of the novelist Andrew O’Hagan, who was collecting tributes to mark the 70th birthday of Mary-Kay Wilmers.  And have now survived for posterity – and LitFest audiences.