A woman who is said to be married to the elusive street artist known as Banksy is herself a former Labour Parliamentary lobbyist.
Joy Millward is the wife of Robin Gunningham, 50, who has been named in a High Court lawsuit against ‘The Artist known as Banksy’ as the first defendant.
Ms Millward is originally from the West Midlands and worked as a researcher for Labour MP Austin Mitchell. She later set up Principle Affairs, a lobby group for charities and is thought to have met Gunningham in around 2003.
They wed in Las Vegas in 2006 but are understood to keep themselves to themselves, even amongst neighbours. One source said: ‘Even those they occasionally speak to have no idea who they really are.
‘The only people who know his real identity are those in the inner circle, who have been vetted. Some of Joy’s relatives have not been told who her husband is or what he does.’
Robin Gunningham’s wife Joy Millward is originally from the West Midlands and worked as a researcher for Labour MP Austin Mitchell. She is thought to have met Gunningham in around 2003
Stencil graffiti on an east London office block, believed to be by Banksy, showing an image similar to the photograph of Robin Gunningham, believed to be his true identity, in the Mail on Sunday
Caught gleefully videoing the artwork being shredded, the man on the left bears an uncanny resemblance to Robin Gunningham
The Mail on Sunday’s exclusive in 2008, which linked Banksy to a picture of a graffiti artist in Jamaica in 2004. Banksy and Robin Gunningham each denied being the man in the picture
Robin Gunningham (centre) pictured as a pupil at Bristol Cathedral School aged 15 in the summer of 1989
READ MORE: Is Banksy about to be unmasked? asks Richard Eden
For years, Banksy’s real identity has been a celebrated mystery among the press and public.
The guerilla painter’s works – often adorning the facades of houses which appear to be chosen at random – can see buildings shoot up in value, leaving their owners dumbfounded.
But this week, the anonymous artist may be forced to disclose his true identity after being named in a High Court case.
Andrew Gallagher, a rave pioneer and graffiti influencer, is suing ‘The Artist Known as Banksy’ for defamation, while Pest Control Ltd – which sells Banksy’s artwork – is listed as a co-defendant.
Gallagher’s lawyers have refused to divulge details of the case, citing confidentiality, but the court hearing could force Banksy’s identity out into the open.
For 30 years, a list of flamboyant public figures have been linked with the artist’s identity, including Massive Attack singer Robert Del Naja, Gorillaz star Jamie Hewlett and even Art Attack host Neil Buchanan.
But one name stands apart from the rest – that of pop-up artist Robin Gunningham, 50 – who has largely kept his profile under the radar.
Crucially, he is named as the first defendant in Gallagher’s lawsuit against Banksy.
Hailing from Banksy’s home city of Bristol, newspapers have in the past tried and failed to conclusively identity Gunningham as the guerilla artist.
Scientists from Queen Mary University attempted to link Gunningham to graffiti which appeared in Jamaica in 2004.
Researchers honed in on a photograph showing a man in baggy clothes armed with stencils, a sketchbook and spray cans.
But the ID was far from watertight, as Banksy insisted the man in the photograph wasn’t him, as did Gunningham’s parents.
Despite this, observers noted a similarity between the man in the picture and a 1989 school photo of pupils at Bristol Cathedral School, thought to include Gunningham.
Gunningham himself has kept a strict code of silence ever since he was first associated with Banksy, as has his wife Joy Millward.
The childhood home of Robin Gunningham in Bristol, where he lived from 1982 to 1989
This Banksy artwork that half-shredded itself has sold for £18.6million ($25.4million) – four times its estimate
Artwork by Banksy in Lowestoft, Suffolk, featured a spray-painted seagull tucking into a refuse skip full of polystyrene chips
Will Gallagher now make a monkey out of Banksy in the High Court (pictured) – not least by forcing him to show his face in public?
The son of contract manager Peter Gunningham and secretary Pamela Dawkin-Jones, Gunningham grew up in Bristol’s affluent area of Clifton and is said to have aspired to be an artist from a young age.
Scott Nurse, a former schoolmate, described Gunningham as one of three people in his year group who were ‘extremely talented at art’, adding he did a lot of illustrations.
Anthony Hallett, who lived near the family, remembered them fondly.
He said: ‘The family was always very nice. I don’t know for sure but I think Robin was working as a graffiti artist. He worked for other people and would disappear for months on end. He was quite nomadic.
‘I would not go as far as to say he went off the rails, but there was some sort of rift in the family, probably because he didn’t turn out quite as they hoped. He just disappeared after he left home.’
In 1985, Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery hosted an exhibition called Graffiti Art In Britain, at which artists sprayed paint directly on to the gallery walls and the hip hop band The Wild Bunch, which later became Massive Attack, played.
In an interview in 2006 with pop-culture magazine Swindle, Banksy said: ‘I came from a relatively small city in southern England. When I was about ten years old, a kid called 3D was painting the streets hard. I think he’d been to New York and was the first to bring spray painting back to Bristol. I grew up seeing spray paint on the streets way before I ever saw it in a magazine or on a computer.
‘3D quit painting and formed the band Massive Attack, which may have been good for him but was a big loss for the city. Graffiti was the thing we all loved at school. We did it on the bus on the way home from school. Everyone was doing it.’
Banksy’s own first exhibition was in Shoreditch in 2001, but he did not achieve mainstream success until his Turf War show a couple of years later.
He went on to create renowned pieces including The Girl with Balloon, which in a bizarre stunt was shredded at a Sotheby’s auction in London before selling for £18.6million ($25.4million).
His documentary film Exit Through The Gift Shop was nominated for an Academy Award in 2010.
And in 2015, he showcased subversive theme park design ‘Dismaland’ in Weston-super-Mare, filled with incongruous art pieces and which was advertised as ‘the unhappiest place on Earth’.