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Judy pens a new path
7:00am Saturday 24th November 2012 in NewsXtra
Former daytime TV presenter Judy Finnigan is relishing her new career as a novelist and life away from the cameras, Hannah Stephenson discovers. She talks about the late Caron Keating, who inspired her debut novel Eloise, her relationship with husband Richard Madeley and why she has no desire to return to TV.
It must seem like home from home when Judy Finnigan settles down on the sofa for an interview - only this time the spotlight's on her.
Dressed in long blue cardigan and well-worn Birkenstocks, the former This Morning presenter, one half of the Richard and Judy partnership that lasted on screen for more than 20 years and has endured privately for 30, looks relaxed and happy. She's noticeably less gregarious than her ebullient husband, who can be heard chatting away in the corridor.
Now 64, Finnigan has endured more than her fair share of cruel comments about her looks while, at eight years her junior, her husband Richard Madeley remains the Peter Pan of presenting, both in appearance and energy levels.
However, switching to full-time writing seems a perfect move for Finnigan - it's something she can do privately at their homes in London, Cornwall and the south of France, which suits her well.
Her debut novel, Eloise, is a ghost story-cum-thriller about Cathy, a woman whose best friend Eloise has just died from breast cancer,
A devastated Cathy starts having disturbing dreams that imply there was more to Eloise's death than meets the eye. We discover that Cathy recently recovered from a nervous breakdown and has a history of depression, so her psychiatrist husband Chris is dubious when she tells him of her suspicions.
The story was inspired by Finnigan's friend, the late TV presenter Caron Keating, Gloria Hunniford's daughter, who died from breast cancer in 2004.
"The emotional mood was inspired by Caron. After she was diagnosed she moved to Cornwall. We already had a house there and spent a lot of time together with our two families. It was very poignant," recalls Finnigan.
"Because Caron fought it successfully for so long, a few of us forgot she was ill. When it finally claimed her, it was still an awful shock. And because we still carried on going to Cornwall, every time I went I associated it strongly with Caron.
"The sadness and the grief and the terrible fact that she'd died so young and left young children started me writing it, but then the rest is pure fiction."
Finnigan and Madeley go to Cornwall more frequently than they used to, which she says is one of the great joys of no longer being tied to daily television.
"We'd finish work on a Friday night, drive down there, get there at midnight, but as soon as we got out and you could smell the sea, it was as if all the stresses of the week fell away. We still feel that very strongly."
Because of commitments in London, they don't live there permanently - Madeley frequently does fill-in slots for Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2 and has just finished making a documentary for ITV which airs in December, while three of their four grown-up children still live at their home in the capital.
Finnigan says she doesn't miss TV at all and no longer cares about it. "I'm so glad to not be doing it any more because it's so all-consuming. We were never just presenters, rolling up, reading the autocue and going home, we were always very involved with the editorial content and who we'd interview.
"It's exhilarating in one way, but totally draining in another because you never leave it behind. You're always on the phone or in meetings. After more than two decades of it we were both fed up with doing five days a week."
Family has always been her main focus. "I've been lucky that I've always been able to combine a career with Richard, because that's what's made it possible, being in the same place at the same time, able to get home and pick the kids up from school," she explains.
These days, she and Madeley - whose famous book club is still going strong - spend much of their time writing.
Finnigan doesn't watch This Morning, and doesn't begrudge the fact that younger presenters have filled her shoes.
While some female broadcasters complain about ageism on television, Finnigan points out: "It never happened to me because I was very much seen as an individual personality.
"But even Fiona Bruce said the other week, 'I know I've got a shelf life', and that one day someone will decide her 'face doesn't fit' any more.
"In our generation, after Anna Ford, we all did used to think we were pioneering against that, but these days it's more important for women on telly to be young and gorgeous than it ever was, but that's because the programmes have changed. Television itself is much shallower than it was.
"Most young girls these days who want to appear on television, want to be famous, and the quick route to being famous is to look gorgeous and be on a reality show. They don't actually think, what do I want from this as a career? It's just to exist and be there and be feted.
"It's very different from my time, when we joined television newsrooms as reporters and researchers and newsreaders and presenters. We all saw it as a craft. It mattered how good you were at interviewing, and how good you were at finding a story. The whole thing has just become much more superficial."
Finnigan has more important things on her mind at present, having become a grandmother for the first time. Her son Tom (from her first marriage to journalist David Henshaw) has just had a baby girl with his wife.
"I'm really excited about it and really emotional. I'm thrilled to bits," says Finnigan proudly. "Sadly my son and his wife live in Manchester, but Manchester's not that far away."
With she and Madeley share the dining tables of their homes for writing, technically they are still working alongside each other.
"We are incredibly close," says Finnigan. "I'll show him what I've written and he'll show me what he's written, and if either of us is stuck on a plotline, we'll have a chat about it."
They've been married 26 years this month, and Finnigan puts the longevity of the relationship down partly to the fact that they got together when they were both married to other people, and she already had twins, Dan and Tom.
"We've grown in the same direction and working together helps. We are both interested in the same things, but it was quite problematical getting together.
"We were in love but the central figures were the two boys and I knew I couldn't take a risk with them at all. That's why, after we fell for each other, I agonised for a full year and broke it off a couple of times, just to make sure. Richard never let me down and was wonderful with my boys and still is."
She's contracted to write at least one more book, and hopes more will follow, but right now there's more to life than work. "As you get older you just need a bit of time to think about life and your children. It's lovely to have some time for myself."
:: Eloise, by Judy Finnigan, is published by Sphere, priced £16.99. Available now