Richard Madeley goes from ‘horrible’ TV to the weird world of writers
- Credit: Archant
The former Richard & Judy presenter tells Alex Bellotti about his debut novel and why he is glad to have left broadcasting behind
Settled in a window seat at Greek Street’s Union Club, Richard Madeley pokes at a smoked salmon lunch perched next to a glass of sauvignon blanc. A true Englishman with high ambition, it was always going to end up this way.
Starting out as a 16-year-old trainee at the Brentwood Argus, Madeley worked his way up to become one of Britain’s most recognisable television presenters. Now, on the back of his family biography, Fathers and Sons, he is starting from page one again as a novelist.
“The problem is that when you’re a daytime television presenter, people are surprised that you can do anything else. I had critics saying, ‘My God, this guy can write’. I was half waiting for the next line – ‘My God, this man can read’. But I mean it’s fine, I’ll take praise anywhere I can get it.”
With Fathers and Sons, there was certainly enough to go round. In fact, so well received was the book that his publishers subsequently suggested Madeley should write a novel. However, he was reluctant to have his hand forced and put the matter out of mind until inspiration struck one Sunday morning.
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“One day, two or three years ago, I was in our home in Hampstead. It was my turn to cook Sunday lunch, so I came downstairs and started preparing it in the kitchen. I suddenly realised I wasn’t alone.
“There was a family in my head having an argument around our table. I had a time in mind – it was 1938 in a beautiful old Kent dower house and they were arguing about the Munich appeasement, which sounds like a dry Sartre book, but was anything but.”
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By the time he went to bed, Madeley had the plot and characters of Some Day I’ll Find You all sketched out. The novel tells the story of Diana Arnold, a wartime Cambridge student who falls for James Blackwell, a charming, but psychopathic RAF pilot.
“In all men, there is something of the psychopath,” says Madeley, a remark which sounds quite amusing when delivered with his trademark bubbly enthusiasm.
“Of course, these pilots were all heroes, but some of them must have been a bit odd. I liked the dichotomy of a man who is heroic, but at the same time a really dark, horrible, manipulative bastard.”
Was getting inside a female protagonist’s mindset not an ambitious challenge for the debut novelist?
“If you’ve done a show like This Morning, you can’t fail to pick up stuff about how women think. The number of items we did on sexuality, desire, what they find erotic – it was like Woman’s Hour at times. I think this novel will actually appeal to women more than men.”
Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, the story has no shortage of testosterone either. Madeley’s lifelong research on the war (“it’d be my choice of Mastermind topic”) meant he was keen to realistically depict brutal battles and their emotional toll on soldiers.
“We look back and see World War II through the prism of victory, as a cartoon where we won. But actually, right up until the last stages of the war, we thought we were losing. It was largely a fucking catastrophe.
“Nobody realised how real it was until they were out there. Do you know that scene in Saving Private Ryan, where one of the American soldiers is having this knife pushed down on him? What is extraordinarily true is that the American is clearly going to die, so he cries, ‘Stop, stop, stop’, as if he thought it was a game.”
Along with his wife, Judy Finnigan, who published her own bestselling novel, Eloise, earlier this year, Madeley is an avid reader.
Together, the couple run the renowned Richard and Judy Book Club. Would his book make the list?
“When Judy and I select books for the book club, people ask, ‘What do you look for?’, and we always say we just want a rattling good read – a well-written, literate story. That’s all I’ve tried to do. I’m not writing to a target audience, I’m writing for myself, which is also important.”
Now a grandfather working as a freelance journalist, Madeley is enjoying life away from the “horrible” and “political” realm of television. After years presenting This Morning and Richard & Judy, he has found writing a world away from broadcasting.
“If you see two television presenters in a bar and one’s got a hit series and the other’s in a flop between jobs, you can tell the bitterness transmitted between the two.
“Television’s horrible, it really is. We just dealt with it by keeping out of the politics as much as possible.”
Of course, as an interviewer himself, Madeley knows novelists can also be difficult. Insisting that he tries to be as open as possible, Madeley cites as his nightmare scenario an incident on Radio 4 a few years ago when Philip Pullman was being interviewed by Germaine Greer.
“The problem was that Germaine had been called at the last minute to do this show. So reasonably, during the interview, she said, ‘Philip, I’ve got to be honest with you, I didn’t get a chance to read your previous books. But I have read your new novel, The Amber Spyglass, and thought it was wonderful. I couldn’t put it down and, frankly, I think it could stand as a book in its own right’.
You’d think anyone would say thank you very much, wouldn’t you? But there was this pause and then he turned towards her.
“‘You stupid bloody woman, you call yourself an intellectual? How could you possibly think the final book in a trilogy could be read on its own right?’
“And with that, he left the room. Writers – they can be quite funny like that.”
n Some Day I’ll Find You by Richard Madeley, published by Simon & Schuster, is out now in paperback at £7.99.