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’.”