How a commission from Richard Branson helped Leighton stained glass artist Anna Conti

Leighton Buzzard stained glass artist Anna Conti
Leighton Buzzard stained glass artist Anna Conti

Anna Conti was an impoverished young stained glass artist when a commission from Richard Branson set her on the road to success.

The mother-of-two – who’s married to former Kajagoogoo guitarist Steve Askew – recalls writing to several record company bosses suggesting incorporating stained glass in their designs.

She says: “I approached Richard Branson who had a recording studio in a 15th Century manor house in Kidlington and he commissioned two windows.”

Her abstract designs for the flamboyant entrepreneur were featured in her local paper, which led to several more commissions. “We were living in Walthamstow at the time,” she explains. “It had a whole mix of contemporary and traditional housing and lots of people were renovating their homes.”

Anna, 53, of Grove Road says her fascination with glass began when she was young.

“I used to collect bottles,” she giggles. “We used to go off on digs, there was a real craze in the 1970s.

“I had about 350, it’s probably where my love of glass started.

“I’d clean them all up and I can remember sitting in my parents’ garden, holding them up to the light to admire their colour, their weight and their history.”

She took art at Barnfield and in her second year was introduced to stained glass work. “It was an instant connection,” she says. She went on to study contemporary stained glass at Chelsea School of Art.

Anna has a wealth of amusing stories about her adventures as a stained glass artist, one involving an appearance on This Morning with Richard and Judy.

She says: “A researcher rang to ask if I’d go the show to give a demonstration.

“I took my mum with me and the chef Raymond Blanc was also on the programme, doing something with cockles and mussels.

“We were sitting in the green room waiting to go on and someone asked if anyone knew the words and tune to Molly Malone, which contains the line ‘Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh.’

“Well my mum did and she ended up teaching it to Raymond Blanc. His slot over-ran mine so I didn’t give my demonstration.

“But they sent me a massive bouquet the next day and asked me to go in the following week.”

She also recalls doing a renovation job on a 5ft painted and stained glass panel which had been rescued from a skip. “It featured a beautiful stork and pond scene,” she says. “The man who asked me to do it wanted it as a bathroom door – a very exotic bathroom door.

“I saw something similar on Bargain Hunt on TV and it was valued at £18,000.”

Anna can’t bear the thought of stained glass windows being dumped. “If you’ve got a rattly old window, please don’t throw it out,” she pleads. “It’s so sad to see them replaced with fake stained glass.”

She has a better plan – why not sign up for her stained glass classes? You don’t need any previous experience – or an artistic streak – and it’s very rewarding work.

She’s holding a series of one-day workshops starting the weekend of March 18 and 19 at Cedars School. All tools will be provided and students will be shown stained glass techniques.

> Email, call 01525 373326 or visit her Facebook page.