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Judy: 'Richard and I are still so in love after all the years'

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Judy Finnigan and her daughter Chloe

Judy Finnigan and her daughter Chloe

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Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley

Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley

PA

At the 200 National Television Awards, Finnigan's black dress fell over to reveal her cleavage and a rather matronly white bra, as the couple received the gong for best daytime programme for This Morning

At the 200 National Television Awards, Finnigan's black dress fell over to reveal her cleavage and a rather matronly white bra, as the couple received the gong for best daytime programme for This Morning

Judy Finnigan and her daughter Chloe

She's endured her share of brickbats over the years, but, at 66 and now a grandma, Judy Finnigan tells Hannah Stephenson the critics no longer faze her.

A barefoot Judy Finnigan welcomes me into her lovely home overlooking London's leafy Hampstead Heath, showing me into the comfortable family sitting room, peppered with pictures of her and husband Richard Madeley and their children.

It's an elegant, lived-in space - comfy sofas, stacks of DVDs and books, daffodils in vases bringing brightness to an otherwise gloomy day. The setting seems in keeping with Judy's calm, relaxed mood, as we sit to discuss her second novel, I Do Not Sleep.

Based in Cornwall, where she and Richard have a home, it tells the story of a mother struggling to come to terms with the loss of her 20-year-old son, who disappeared in a sailing accident five years previously.

Venturing back to the spot on an ill-advised family holiday, she tries to find out what happened to her son, distancing herself from her family and uncovering painful truths along the way.

Judy (66) hopes she's conveyed the emotional elements well, and points out that when she and Richard were presenting ITV's This Morning, it was she who'd tap into female guests' thought processes.

"When we've interviewed people who've lost children in tragic circumstances, the wife and husband always grieve in a completely different way. The man will be more blustery and forceful. But in most of the interviews of that type, that Richard and I did, the wife would sit quietly," she explains.

Richard and Judy both have relatively newfound careers as novelists, although Richard has continued with broadcasting.

She, on the other hand, vowed after their chat show on Watch flopped a few years ago, that she was done with broadcasting, and her debut novel Eloise became a Sunday Times bestseller. So what persuaded her to join ITV's Loose Women last October?

"I said I'd never go back on telly, and then last summer, I'd almost finished I Do Not Sleep when the editor of Loose Women, who we'd known for years, contacted me, telling me he was trying to make the show more journalistic and wanted me to appear on it sometimes, maybe once a fortnight," she explains.

"For me, it's nothing like the broadcasting I did. It's not my show. I'm not responsible for it. I'm just part of a group of people and I find it quite good fun. To be honest, it's totally undemanding. There's no testosterone floating about at all. Nobody wants to hog the show. It's very much a group effort."

However, after her first appearance, Judy found herself the centre of a furore over her comments about Welsh footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans, after saying that his sex attack was "unpleasant" but "not violent", sparking a torrent of criticism and complaints, along with a backlash of abuse on Twitter, and rape threats against daughter Chloe.

Judy apologised at the time for any offence caused. She was recently cleared by Ofcom, who received 20 complaints from the public following her comments - her remarks were ruled "editorially justified".

"I'm not going into it all again," she says now. "My opinion hasn't changed at all but it was a shame it all blew up into such a huge hoo-haa. But there you go; it was a nightmare in terms of Press, so as far as I'm concerned, that's over and in the past."

She says it hasn't made her more careful about what she says on TV.

"I don't see the point of going on any programme that calls itself a discussion programme if you don't say what you think. Obviously, social media has made things very different. It makes free speech very difficult.

"But I'm perfectly capable of putting it all into a box - and I don't do Twitter. I've got a life and I don't think it's remotely interesting or important to say, 'Oh, I'm just having lunch in Hampstead and here's my plate of fish and chips'.

"Having said that, I can't condemn it, because my kids do it and Richard does it. And he loves it. He has endless conversations about all sorts of things with people he's never met. He's very gregarious, but I'm much shyer."

Media commentators have been pretty cruel to the journalist and mother-of-four over the years, married to a man eight years her junior who never seems to age. Conversely, she has been papped not looking her best, most recently when she came out of a pub near their home just after Christmas, wearing pyjama bottoms and slippers.

Unflattering photos no longer upset her, though.

"It upsets every woman in the business when they first start experiencing it. They can't believe how relentless it is, and how unpleasant. But if you let it upset you, you'd drive yourself mad. You have to understand that this is how these people make their money. They stand around trying to get the worst possible photograph of you in all weathers. It's a fact of life," she says with a shrug.

"The fact that Richard and I presented as a married couple and were successful, always gave people who wanted to write nasty things an extra angle," she adds.

"I used to call it the 'serpent in paradise' syndrome, in that [people thought] we couldn't possibly be as happy as we apparently were on the box, so there must be something awful going on. But you just live with it."

Today, they have just celebrated their 28th anniversary and can spend more time at their house in Talland Bay, near Polperro, where they sit opposite each other and write at their large pine kitchen table.

"Writing is quite solitary, and it's nice to have someone to bounce ideas off. If I'm not quite sure about a character or a plot, I can talk to Richard about it, and vice versa."

Her priority remains her family. She dedicates the book to her four children (twins Tom and Dan from her first marriage, Chloe and Jack from her marriage to Richard), and to the latest addition to her family, 18-month-old granddaughter Ivy - Tom's daughter.

Her children have all flown the nest, apart from personal fitness trainer Chloe (27), who recently appeared in winter sports reality show The Jump. Richard and Judy were in Austria to support her.

"Once you've had a child, a woman becomes another person. Immediately, you have a hostage to fortune, and the fate of that child dominates your life."

Would anything lure Judy back to more full-on telly?

"I don't think so. Richard and I did extreme telly - every day, five days a week, for years. It's also very time-demanding and stressful.

"I would never go back on telly in a situation which was that committed every day, and for which I felt a huge responsibility. I just want to be responsible for myself."

I Do Not Sleep by Judy Finnigan is published by Sphere, priced £16.99

Finnigan's famous moments

At the 200 National Television Awards, Finnigan's black dress fell over to reveal her cleavage and a rather matronly white bra, as the couple received the gong for best daytime programme for This Morning. As Finnigan looked on in embarrassment, Madeley quipped to the audience: "If you vote for us next year she will show you both of them."

In February 2007, Finnigan and Madeley publicly apologised live on air following the discovery of a TV quiz phone scam regarding the daily phone-in on their Channel 4 show You Say We Pay. Later that week, the media confirmed that police investigations would be pursued. While Madeley and Finnigan urged callers to continue entering, it was confirmed that winners were picked in the first 10 minutes of the show. The couple both denied being involved in the scam.

In 2012 Finnigan wrote a novel entitled Eloise, about a middle-aged woman whose best friend dies from breast cancer. It was inspired by the death of her friend, Northern Ireland TV presenter Caron Keating, who died from the disease in 2004.

Belfast Telegraph