It’s unusual for Richard Madeley to unveil a chink in that robust, TV-ready armour, but even he admits he was a bit worried before his first book came out.
“Judy (Finnigan) had written her first novel the year before, and it had been a bestseller,” he dives straight in. “We’re not competitive, but you have to bear these things in mind.
“Plus I could hear all the critics ready to carp, ‘Your wife can write but you can’t… you can choose books but you can’t write them, all of that.”
Fortunately for him, his debut novel was a bestseller, following his success with his intimate and moving autobiography ‘Fathers and Sons’. Now, he’s taken his agent’s advice and popped out another one in less than a year.
“She told me, write another one quickly, keep the momentum going and then you can relax,” he reveals. “And she’s right. I’m not going to be able to keep this up. Maybe one every two years, but we’ll see.”
‘The Way You Look Tonight’ picks up the tale of the Arnold family we met in his first book. It is 1962, and young Stella of the first book is now a grown-up scholar of psychopaths who, in slightly unlikely but exotic circumstances for a British student, finds herself at a BBQ, in Martha’s Vineyard, with the Kennedy family. As you do. Not only that, but the – inevitably beautiful – graduate is seconded by the world’s most powerful brothers to assist in an FBI investigation into a serial killer on the loose down in Florida’s heady Keys. And off we go.
The book features cameo appearances from the Kennedys – a family for which Richard, like most of his generation, admits to an enduring fascination, based on “the glamour, the confidence, the tragedy, all that”. His book contains some nostalgic, colourful visions of the family at play on the beaches of Massachusetts, and Richard’s particular fondness for Ethel Kennedy is marked by her strong presence in his narrative.
Writing is generally considered a solitary exercise, not one I’d consider to be a favourite pastime for such an extrovert personality as Richard, who made it look effortless the task of finding something interesting to talk about with every one of the hundreds of guests to grace the ‘This Morning’ sofa during his 13 years as host. Sure enough, it transpires he hasn’t embraced the solitude at all, rather, he’s found a way round it…
“I understand what people mean by the loneliness,” he reflects. “I don’t experience it. I found that my characters keep me company. Writing can be semi-automatic. Characters appear out of nowhere and take on a life of their own.”
Talking to Richard, it’s clear that he retains as much enthusiasm for his various pursuits now as when he first entered the public consciousness. As well as his books where there’s now a three-novel contract to fulfil, he continues to pop up on TV regularly, as well as frequent radio hosting slots. Out of them, which one is the real him?
“I think the one I feel most at ease now and most me, on radio,” he considers. “I love TV, writing, they’re strong contenders for the cup, but the cup is lifted by radio. It’s just you. Talking very directly to the listener. It’s all unscripted. There’s no hiding place.”
And how does he endure? He doesn’t hesitate. “Well, life’s just easier if you’re not cynical, don’t you find?”
'The Way You Look Tonight' is on sale now.