"I wouldn't give a tuppenny f–- if there was a risk of being prosecuted. I'd do what was right for my wife"
Having watched their parents die, the TV couple have made a suicide pledge to one another, and don't care about the consequences.
Published 13/05/2014 | 02:30
During their 26 years in showbusiness, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan have always gone where other couples have feared to tread.
Or at least where other couples have feared to admit to treading. Viagra, vasectomies, their daughter's menstrual cycle: no topic has ever felled this mighty marital powerhouse.
And now? Well, now they are telling me about a suicide pact they have made with one another should either of them fall seriously ill. Not to be broadcast, you understand – it's just one of those things that a couple who have been together for almost 30 years discuss of an evening, alongside a bottle of wine, perhaps, and a nice meal.
"If Judy was really ill and in logical mind, and at that point where you just need a little push to go over the edge," explains Richard, "I wouldn't give a tuppenny f–- if there was a risk of being prosecuted. I'd do what was right for my wife. And I'd take the consequences. That is your job, that is your responsibility as a partner."
"And I'd do the same," chimes in Judy. "Stuff it all! We've made ourselves give each other a pledge along those lines."
"Yeah, if, when the time came, and I was administering the morphine or whatever, and Judy said to me, 'But what about you? What about the risk of prosecution?', I'd say, 'That's my problem, I'll deal with that, don't worry about it.' And for me, it would be the locked room, the bottle of whisky and the revolver. I wouldn't want to mess around."
"I wouldn't use a revolver," protests Judy. "Euhhh!"
Such morbid thoughts have come about because Richard's mother died last month, and although it was expected – she had Alzheimer's as well as lung cancer that had spread to her brain – it still came as a shock.
"I remember when my mum died in 2007," says Judy, "and I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach. I felt something similar with Richard's mum. It's just the shock of death. It is so bloody final. I know that's obvious, but I suspect that the older you get ... "
"The closer you get ... " helps Richard. "Yes, the closer you get to your own mortality. The more final it seems."
They became grandparents for the first time 18 months ago, and though "that enriches you", says Judy, "it also convinces you of how much you've got to lose. That's the awful sad thing."
"And you know," adds Richard," at my mother's funeral, the first eulogy was given by my 32-year-old niece who is heavily pregnant. She was stood in front of the coffin, grandmother, granddaughter and great-grandchild all in the same place. And it was ... interesting. Because the death bubble isn't that dissimilar from the birth bubble. With both, you're in this incredibly intense, closed world, and nothing else matters. It's not necessarily a bad place to be. You just become deaf to the rest of the world."
He thinks his mother had a good death, if there is such a thing. He was glad that it was the cancer that got her and not the dementia, because "she hadn't lost everything. I mean, she was going quite doolally towards the end, but in the last 48 hours, when we raced up to see her in her nursing home in Norfolk, a lot of her awareness and memory had come back. And the day she died, she was cracking jokes, saying, 'I really should lose some weight for the big event, shouldn't I?', and she was like a skeleton." He smiles at the memory.
"She was able to tell me how much she loved me and I was able to say the same to her and give her a very gentle hug because she was so frail."
Just before Richard left, she asked him to remind her of what her own mother had been like. "She said, 'I want to be able to recognise her when I see her again. It would be embarrassing if I didn't know who she was.'
"She had quite a deep, unspoken faith, my mum. And then she slipped off into unconsciousness again, and we all said our goodbyes, and I thanked her for being a fabulous mother. And when I went to the door of the room I looked at her on the bed and she looked dreadful. When death arrives, you just know. So I knew that this was the last time I was ever going to see her. She was sleeping, and I blew her a kiss, and as I did that, her eyes opened, and she blew one back to me. It was like, 'Holy f–-.' It was such a great thing. I knew then we'd done it. And sure enough, she died a few hours later."
I meet Richard and Judy in a hotel in central London after a long day promoting their book club for WHSmith. Richard, who at 57 is eight years his wife's junior, bounds around the room as Judy sits cross-legged, yogic on the sofa. Although they have not been on our television screens – not regularly, anyway – for five years, the former This Morning hosts still occupy a special place in the nation's hearts. Their book club, now in its 10th year, has ensured that their faces are plastered all over our high streets, and their own novels, released in the past two years, have been phenomenally successful.
They have homes in north London, Cornwall and the south of France, and though they may seem semi-retired – Richard does occasional stints on Radio 2, The One Show and Channel 5's The Wright Stuff – "the career pressure doesn't really go away", says Judy. "It's still embedded in your brain. With the books, you've still got to achieve, which is so annoying".
They still get offered television, and while Richard is happy to do stuff "for fun", Judy, now a full-time novelist writing her second book, is adamant she would never go back there. "You get to a point where you think, 'I cannot bear to interview another soap star. I just can't.'
They've just announced the new titles for their summer book club. As well as Sinead Moriarty's Mad About You, here's a Robert Harris in there, plus the new one by Khaled Hosseini, and there's a book called Dear Thing, by Julie Cohen, about infertility – which they chose, in part, because it resonated with them as a couple. Shortly after they were married (both were wed before, and Judy had twin boys with her former husband), Judy miscarried.
"I was five months pregnant. I just went for a scan and they said, 'We can't see a heartbeat.' It was horrible. I felt absolutely terrible, absolutely desolate."
Judy got pregnant three months later with their son Jack, now 28, and when they delivered him by C-section they also removed an ovary and a cyst the size of a melon. Judy wonders now if that had something to do with her failed pregnancy. Five months after that she was pregnant with her daughter, Chloe.
As I leave, it occurs to me that Richard and Judy have one of those rare showbiz marriages where "till death us do part" really does mean that.
"But that won't be for another 40 years, will it, darling?" says Richard to his much-loved wife. "No darling," she replies, smiling sweetly.