Brace yourself: You are about to hear the voice of the art world’s most elusive figure — and learn his first name.
Nigel Wrench, who worked as a BBC arts correspondent in the 90s and 2000s, claims to have unearthed a taped 2003 interview he had with Banksy early in the incredibly secretive graffiti icon’s career.
Wrench told BBC Radio 4 that he was inspired to dig up the long-forgotten conversation – which was recorded on a minidisc collecting dust in his cupboard – after listening to its Banksy Story series, which concluded in July.
As a result, the BBC released a bonus episode on Tuesday that features audio from Wrench’s interview, in which the purportedly male artist seems to confirm his first name.
In the 2003 recording — which was conducted to support Banksy’s “Turf War” exhibition, held in an east London warehouse — Wrench begins his interview by testing his mic, and then asks the artist if he’s OK with Wrench using his full name for clarity.
“Is it Robert Banks?” Wrench can be heard asking.
“It’s Robbie,” the artist responds.
“Robbie? OK —” says Wrench before the audio cuts off.
Wrench told Radio 4 that after asking Banksy his full name, he never for a moment thought it was fake.
“There was no reason to think he was lying,” Wrench said, noting that he referred to Banksy as Robbie throughout the entire interview. “No one has ever contacted me from the Banksy empire. No one ever contradicted that.”
“If it wasn’t his real name, why wouldn’t he just go with ‘Yes, it’s Robert Banks?’” Wrench later questioned. “I thought [after he said his name was Robbie] that it was absolutely his real name.”
Fans have long speculated about Banksy’s name — though the enigmatic artist has successfully masked his identity for years thanks to a lack of concrete proof. Some have theorised that he’s actually Robert Del Naja of the band Massive Attack, drum-and-bass legend Goldie or Neil Buchanan of the CITV children’s show Art Attack.
But many are convinced that Banksy’s true identity is Robin Gunningham, after scientists at Queen Mary University of London claimed in 2016 to have discovered a pattern in which many of Banksy’s works were in close proximity to addresses linked with Gunningham.
Wrench told Radio 4 that those who sincerely believe he interviewed the real Banksy always ask him what the mysterious artist looks like. Wrench said he can’t recall anything other than him being a “young bloke in a hoodie”. But Wrench did note that he distinctly remembered the artist’s vibe being “incredibly relaxed,” “authentic” and “totally engaged” during the interview because he provided thoughtful responses to all of Wrench’s questions.
In the interview, the artist describes himself as someone who’s just making street art that takes “less time to make it than it takes people to look at,” and is perplexed when Wrench asks if he is trying to put politics back into art.
“I really don’t consider myself very political,” the artist says. “I drink a lot of beer and smoke cigarettes, but obviously if you think about anything about your life longer than a second … somebody somewhere in the world is getting done over. Apparently that does make me more political than most people. I don’t know. I guess people are lazy.”
Wrench also told Radio 4 that he was struck by Banksy’s disinterest in selling his art at the “Turf War” exhibition, and that the artist was way more interested in getting the word out that there were free stickers attendees could take home.
In the recording, when Wrench asks the artist if he is going to show up to the opening of his exhibit, he tells Wrench that he has “something better to do” like watching “telly.”
“I feel working in graffiti, you’re not really in a position where you can stand next to your work and smile and shake people by the hand, you know?” the artist can be heard saying about his illegal art. “And plus … if you never show up and people don’t know who you are, then you’re a character. And you can mean different things to different people. But it’s a shame because I’d like to pay for my own beer where I’m going tonight.”
To hear more of Wrench’s 2003 interview, which includes interesting details about how the artist felt his exhibit was a “celebration of vandalism,” head over to BBC Sounds for the whole episode.