Richard Madeley has worn many hats over the years; journalist, TV presenter, husband and father, but for what, specifically, is he known? You might answer that he reinvented daytime television in the UK with his co-host and wife of 28 years, Judy Finnigan. He has interviewed the likes of OJ Simpson, George Clooney and former US president Bill Clinton. And he is a driving force behind a TV book club that inspired a nation to read while sky-rocketing the profile of the novels it selects. But while it’s easy to rattle out his successes, Madeley has a habit for overshadowing them by putting his foot in it.
With a flick of his hair and an exaggerated arm movement he’s stunned viewers by saying things such as this remark to former US President Bill Clinton in 2004, alluding to the Monica Lewinsky scandal: “I was in a similar position to you. I was accused of shoplifting. But unlike you, I knew I was innocent” Clumsy at best.
You can just envisage Judy rolling her eyes in disdain and saying, “Richard, stop it!” In fact, he’s tested his wife’s patience more than once by clowning around on-air, or cutting her off mid-sentence and talking publicly about their personal lives to anyone who’ll listen (former US presidents included).
Until recently it was difficult to decipher whether his care-free attitude proves he doesn’t give a hoot or masks the fact he deeply cares about what people think.
The thing is that now, at the age of 58, Madeley wants to be taken seriously. This change in tack occurred just before the release of his debut novel in July last year. At the time he told Britain’s The Independent, “You worry that people will say, ‘Oh yeah – The wally from daytime TV has written a novel.’ I didn’t want to make myself a target.”
It seemed for the first time since he started his career on local newspapers Madeley was nervous. He needn’t have worried though. His psychological thriller Some Day I’ll Find You, became the biggest-selling debut fiction paperback of last year within three days of hitting bookstore shelves. And to top this he had the likes of Sadie Jones, celebrated author of The Outcast, touting his work as “immaculate storytelling, pacey and beautifully written,” (a quote that went straight on the front cover).
“It was a huge relief I didn’t have to answer questions about a flop,” Madeley tells Friday. “I couldn’t believe it. Being a TV personality, I thought people were just curious to see the book I’d written. But from the comments on Amazon and newspaper critics’ reviews, I realised people genuinely found my book interesting. It would have been mortifying for me to produce a dud since I run a popular book club and always critique other people’s work.”
The ‘popular book club’ he is referring to is literary powerhouse The Richard and Judy Book Club, launched in 2004. It gave Madeley a strong foundation for writing his own novel. “We were mixing with authors and learning from them and the way they wrote,” he says. “We didn’t exactly take notes. The learning process was gradual. Then I thought, ‘If they can do it I can do it’.” It took Madeley two years to come up with the plot though. “I struggled a lot,” he admits. “I simply couldn’t think of a plot. My agent Luigi would ring up and say, ‘Listen, I’ve got this plot…’ and I’d say, ‘No, no, no!’ At one point I threw in the towel. I thought I wasn’t cut out for fiction so I emailed the publisher and said that I couldn’t do it.”
Madeley pressed ‘send’ and made himself a sandwich. It was then a light-bulb moment struck. The main characters, their names, ages, and where they lived hit him at once. “I was suddenly aware there was a family living in my head – the Arnolds,” he says. “Diana and her father, Oliver, and her mother, Gwen. I knew them all.
“I kept running around jotting down notes, and by the time I went to bed, the story was there. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life, but completely real.”
And once he had the plot it took him just three months to finish the book.
The story begins as a love story and follows the lives of antagonist James Blackwell, a psychopathic RAF pilot and Diana, the young woman who falls in love with him, in England in the very late 1930s. The lovebirds marry, but on their wedding day, the groom receives a telegram and is deployed to France. His plane is shot down on the field and new bride Diana is widowed.
The plot then fast-forwards a decade and Diana, now 30, is living on the French Riviera with her second husband and 10-year-old daughter, Stella, who is James’s child. One day Diana spots a man in a taxi who looks just like James and begins to wonder if he is still alive.
“I employed suspense to draw readers in and keep them guessing,” Madeley says. “I set the second part in 1950s France because I’m fascinated with that period and place.”
Madeley and Judy have a holiday home in France in Saint-Paul-de-Vence and he wrote the last chapters of his book at the house, sitting outside with an umbrella shading his laptop from the sunshine.
“We’ve spent our summers there for the past 15 years,” he says. “All the places are real – hotels, the hills behind the stables that Stella visits. I believe in keeping to reality as much as I can.”
On typing the words “The end”, Madeley booked a table for two at local restaurant La Colombe d’Or to celebrate with Judy. But when he emailed the finished document to his publishers, Simon & Schuster, disaster struck. “It hadn’t gone to the outbox. I checked my hard drive but couldn’t find my work,” he recalls. “The document had disappeared,” and with it the last four chapters of his book. “It was the worst moment of my life,” he says. “I couldn’t believe I hadn’t backed it up. But, despite an incredibly heavy heart, I sat down and wrote it in four days straight, because it was still fresh in my mind”.
Madeley wrote his second book, The Way You Look Tonight, to be released in July, on email software. “I wrote a chapter straight on to email and sent it to my son, daughter and agent so my work was backed up on four computers,” he says.
The second novel focuses on Stella, Diana’s daughter who was kidnapped as a young girl in Some Day I’ll Find You. The story opens in 1962 with Stella, a recent graduate from Cambridge University, in a plane flying to Los Angeles to start studying for a PhD in psychopathy – a journey she’s embarked on in an attempt to better understand her father, James.
There’s a dark undertone to the book because, Madeley says, he enjoys writing about psychopaths.
“They’re the strange creatures in the darkest corner of the human zoo,” he says. “To flesh out psychopathic characteristics I consulted a friend who is a psychiatrist.”
Madeley says his journalistic background was a good foundation for moving into literature. “Journalism gives a sense of orderly writing and writing to deadline,” he says. “I love writing and getting to tell stories. Journalism gives you familiarity with words and helps you write in an unfussy way.”
Unfussy yes, but Madeley doesn’t skimp on detail. He explains he gets this from being a very observant traveller. On visiting Dubai for the first time in March, Madeley was impressed by how different nationalities, particularly Arab and British people, work together in harmony here. Richard listened to His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai talk at the Emirates Airline festival of literature and says, “he spoke about Western historical culture with great knowledge and insight. This shows we can work side by side with mutual tolerance and different cultures can give and take from each other.”
But what did Madeley, think of Dubai? “It’s is an amazing place; the best of both worlds. The towering glass buildings and traditional structures. A few minutes’ drive from the high-rises you are suddenly greeted by an endless mass of sand and colourful Bedouin tents under the beautiful starry sky. In the UK I rarely see the sky.”
Born on May 13, 1956, Madeley grew up in Romford where he landed a reporter’s job at a local newspaper aged 16, before moving on to BBC radio Carlisle. On his first day at Granada Television in 1982 he met Judy. “She was appointed to be my ‘mum’ to show me round. I was thrilled. I’d always admired Judy’s work.” They hit it off, married in 1986 and have two children Jack, now 28 and Chloe, 26.
When it came to taking the literary leap Judy led by releasing her debut novel Eloise in 2012 to rave reviews. So Madeley handed his first fiction manuscript over to his wife and held his breath. “Judy is very honest, I like to run stuff by her because I value her opinion,” he says. “And she’d been through it all a year earlier and is writing her second book, too.”
Madeley has signed a new three-book deal with Simon & Schuster, and the next book will come out in 2015. This time he says he’s feeling excitement, rather than nerves. “I can’t wait to hear their feedback on the psychopath in The Way You Look Tonight,” he says. “I think he’s darker and even more dangerous than James.” And maybe Madeley is darker and more dangerous than we give him credit for.