They worked together as presenters, but Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan are not a competitive couple. Hannah Stephenson reports.
If Richard Madeley were a mode of transport, he’d be a runaway train which occasionally loses momentum when the driver hits the brakes.
Today, the former This Morning presenter and author talks at breakneck speed about his romantic nature, his relatively newfound literary career and life with his famous wife, fellow broadcaster-turned-author Judy Finnigan, plus anything else which randomly slips into his train of thought.
He may be a highly accomplished broadcaster and interviewer, but Richard, 58, is probably most famous for his gaffes on live TV, the embarrassing moments for which he remained seemingly oblivious – remember the Ali G impression, his confessions about trying Viagra? Or when he asked openly gay Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant, “How’s your wife?”
Viewers loved the way Judy would berate him for some of his less thoughtful remarks, eyes turning skywards, shaking her head at his hazardous throwaway comments.
All that was a long time ago – it’s now 13 years since the king and queen of daytime TV left ITV’s This Morning to host Richard & Judy on Channel 4, and then a similar chat show which flopped on paid-for digital channel Watch.
“When we stopped, we agreed that we never wanted to do that again. Judy has completely withdrawn from broadcasting. She’s not interested in going back to any other series. She’s now a full-time writer and half-way through her second novel,” Richard says now.
“I’m freelancing, so we’re not together as much as we were. I’m popping down to do the Matthew Wright show (The Wright Stuff) when he’s not around. I’m doing the Terry Wogan show on BBC Radio 2 on Sundays while he’s in France. I’m a seat-warmer. I’m keeping seats warm.”
He’s also reinvented himself as a novelist, but he’s still the same Richard, still engaging mouth before brain on occasions, but in the most endearing and humorous way.
We meet to discuss his second novel The Way You Look Tonight which, from the soft-coloured book jacket showing a woman staring out to a sea fringed by palm trees, looks like a gentle romantic read, aimed at Mills & Boon fans.
They’ll no doubt get a shock when they discover the book is centred on a serial killer who preys on young women and then murders them slowly and agonisingly, leaving a knife through the left eye socket of each of his victims.
“You should have seen the original design for the jacket,” Richard exclaims, laughing. “The sea was very blue and the sky was a lovely blue.
“But yes, there’s a huge contrast between the jacket and the story inside. I did get them to take all the blue out and have an orangey tint to the sky, which is more stormy.”
Set in the sixties during the Kennedy era, it’s a sequel to his debut novel Some Day I’ll Find You, featuring Stella Arnold, who appeared briefly as a child in the first book but is now a criminal profiler and expert in the studies of psychopathy. In the latest novel, she’s called to the Florida Keys to help investigate a series of murders.
So Richard’s writing novels, Judy’s writing novels, sometimes they write sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table of their various homes in London, Cornwall and the South of France. They ask for each other’s advice and opinions and Judy is always honest, he says.
“The value of asking Judy’s opinion about anything is that she finds it impossible to lie. If something’s good she’ll tell me, and if something’s off, she’ll let me know.”
But they’re not remotely competitive, he insists, which is partly why their 28-year marriage has worked.
However he admits he was a little worried when his wife’s debut novel Eloise, published nine months before his, was an instant bestseller.
“I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t reflect on the possibility of my book flopping very badly and people saying, ‘You must be awfully embarrassed – your wife gets a number one bestseller and how many did you sell – 37 copies?’”
He needn’t have worried. His debut also did well, although the couple do have different publishers and make sure that their books always come out at different times of the year.
Richard says he writes through the eyes of women, setting his latest story in the Florida Keys – where they have spent many holidays – while Judy writes as a mother and sets her stories in Cornwall.
His writing shows an impressive insight into the female mindset; the result of years of daytime TV, he says.
“As a man, you couldn’t have done 13 straight years on This Morning without imbibing something of what it is to be female, because 60-65 per cent of the audience is female, therefore the content leans towards matters which are feminine, whether it’s fashion, phone-ins about post-natal depression or relationship advice. You can’t help but soak it up.”
After a summer holiday in France, he’ll be back with his wife to launch the Richard & Judy Autumn Book Club.
Then he’s hoping to make a six-part documentary series next year and is currently working out the plot for his next novel, featuring all sorts of nasty goings on in the Lake District in the sweltering summer of 1976.
“I’ll only do things that are fun – offers come in all the time and I’m still out there,” he enthuses.
One thing’s for sure; Madeley won’t be going into permanent literary retreat just yet.
The Way You Look Tonight by Richard Madeley is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £7.99. Available now