By Caron Kemp
The daughter of a rabbi, her dulcet tones found her fame as the voice behind nearly a dozen Bond girls. And now 50 years after From Russia With Love, Nikki Van Der Zyl made a guest appearance at a German tribute evening to shed some light on the truth behind the infamous secret spy films.
Born in Berlin in 1935, Nikki’s family including father Rabbi Werner Van Der Zyl – who founded Leo Baeck College – were, like many Jewish Germans, forced to flee.
Residing for most of the War years in Swiss Cottage they moved when her father became the Rabbi of North Western Reform Synagogue in Alyth Gardens.
With a longstanding yearning to become an actress Nikki’s family supported her studies at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, despite the slightly unorthodox career choice.
And shortly after graduating, unbeknown to thousands of Bond fans, Nikki became the secret star of the first film Dr No.
It may have been Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in a white bikini in arguably one of cinema’s most memorable entrances, but it was Nikki whose voice you heard singing.
The voice over star went on to dub the voices of most of the Bond girls in the 007 classics of the sixties and seventies including Shirley Eaton’s iconic role of Jill Masterson in Goldfinger. But despite such an extraordinary claim to fame, to Nikki the roles were slightly tainted with false promises.
“To me it was just another job,” she muses.
“I am happy to have had the experience of course but I kept being promised that I would actually be in the next film, not just my voice.
“There were three opportunities to take the female lead and they all fell through, which is a shame.”
Paid just £25 a session, with no film credits to her name and receiving no royalties, the 77-year-old almost replaced leading lady Daniela Bianchi in From Russia With Love, but with producers deciding it would be too expensive to break her contract, Nikki was destined to remain firmly behind the camera.
Nevertheless, counting Roger Moore and Michael Winner amongst her friends, and able to say that Sean Connery defended her right to be a Bond girl to producers, it has been an astonishing ride for the Whetstone resident.
Now dividing her time between giving talks on her experiences and her involvement in Shul and Jewish community life, Nikki believes her every experience is down to her family background.
“One of my ancestors taught Chagal and my mother was a pianist. That’s where the artist in me comes from,” she explains. “And of course my Judaism has always been a huge part of who I am and what I do.”
A member of her Shul choir and one of the key figures behind the opening of a new art school at Finchley’s Sternberg Centre, Nikki is managing to continue marrying all her passions.
“I enjoy painting, writing poetry and talking about my acting experiences,” she admits.
“That is why it was so nice to go to Germany for the Braunschweig Film Fest this month because it is nice to meet fans, explain my experiences and still be a part of Bond history.”