Quiz show star Richard Osman is set to sell his millionth copy of his debut novel this week, making it only the second adult fiction hardback to reach the milestone in the UK this century.
The Pointless co-presenter, 50, admitted he was ‘excited’ by the soaring sales figures of The Thursday Murder Club, the Times reported.
The crime novel takes place in a quiet retirement village, where four unlikely friends meet weekly to discuss unsolved crimes but are unexpectedly thrown into the middle of a real-life case when a local developer is found dead.
Speaking about his literary achievement, Richard told the publication: ‘Sociologically I find it fascinating, personally I find it humbling and, as someone who’s obsessed with numbers, I find it exciting.
Pointless presenter Richard Osman, 50, (pictured) is on track to make literary history this week as his debut crime novel is incredibly set to sell its millionth copy
‘I couldn’t have ever dreamt that it would go in this direction.’
His novel will be only the second adult fiction hardback to sell more than one million copies in the UK this century; the last novel to reach the rare achievement was The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.
The Thursday Murder Club was published by Viking in September and quickly shot to No 1 in the charts and has remained in the top ten fiction hardbacks ever since.
By the week ending March 13th, the novel had amazingly sold 979,426 copies and is incredibly set to reach seven figures this week.
The House of Games presenter said he had ‘always’ wanted to write crime novels and started the book three years ago. Two more instalments have already been commissioned while Steven Spielberg has snapped up the film rights.
Richard, who shares children Ruby and Sonny with his ex-wife, admits he’s obsessed with lists and figures but said he told his daughter although he is ‘ambitious’, he never aimed to be ‘number one’ in the book charts.
The Thursday Murder Club (pictured) would incredibly be the second adult fiction hardback to sell more than one million copies in the UK this century
Earlier this year, he explained: ‘I say to my daughter, who is as ambitious as I am, that you should never aim to be No 1 at anything.
‘You want to be in the top ten, obviously, but I’d say being at No 3 or No 2 is better. Then you can say, “Oh, No 3, that’s good… I wonder…” If you go straight in at No 1, the only way is down.’
His fiction debut, The Thursday Murder Club, features four retirement complex residents who meet every week to talk unsolved crime, but are thrown into contemporary sleuthing when there’s a murder in their midst. It’s Miss Marple multiplied, with warmth and humour added.
It’s very Richard Osman. It’s also a publishing phenomenon – comfortably topping the Christmas charts ahead of Barack Obama and with overall sales so far of 750,000, it’s the third-highest-selling hardback novel after Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows.
By March 13th, the novel had sold 979,426 copies and is set to reach seven figures this week
Since news broke that it will be made into a Hollywood film, fans have been busy trying to predict which star will play which character. He says he simply can’t join in.
‘People say to me, ‘Oh, I think Helen Mirren…’ and I say ‘What?!’ My characters are so real to me I can’t imagine anyone playing them.’
Since he’s obsessed with numbers, we must note that this represents his third career. We know Richard mostly as a TV personality and quiz show master.
As well as being Alexander Armstrong’s co-presenter on Pointless, he hosts his own show, House Of Games, which is enjoying another successful run on BBC2 and has proved a winning formula, straddling the worlds of general knowledge and celebrity japes.
He’s deeply proud of this one, believing it has ‘just the right balance’ of madcap and thoughtful.
Before he was ‘front of house’, however, he had a very respectable – and lucrative – career as a TV executive, devising and developing game shows, including Total Wipeout, Deal Or No Deal and 8 Out Of 10 Cats, for entertainment giant Endemol. He announced he was leaving just before Christmas.
The novel was a surprise departure, however, and he wrote it in secret because he worried he would be dismissed as yet another celebrity author.
‘I was well aware of the cliché. People don’t like the idea of the celebrity author, and frankly I don’t blame them. While there are great writers out there like Graham Norton and Dawn French, there’s a general perception that it’s cheating.
The star said he never expected The Thursday Murder Club, which features four retirement complex residents who meet to talk unsolved crime, to top the book charts
‘Quite right. I know that if I’d walked into a publisher’s and said, ‘I want to write a book,’ they would probably have said, ‘Yeah, great.’ They would’ve known they could sell a few copies. But I didn’t want that. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it.’
When he tentatively showed the finished novel to publishers, they snapped it up and, gratifyingly for his ego, promptly sold it all around the world.
‘That was the best thing, that it’s been published in Germany, France, the US, as well as in Russia and China – countries where no one has any idea who I am.’
Sticking with the figures, there was apparently a ten-way auction between the big publishing houses, and the eventual deal (for this book and a second) involved a seven-figure sum – this was before Spielberg came on the scene.
Director Ol Parker, who made The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, is also on board. So will Richard be adding a fourth career – as an actor– to his portfolio? He has, he confides, high hopes of a cameo role in the forthcoming film ‘as a surprisingly tall police officer’.
As well as being Alexander Armstrong’s co-presenter on Pointless (pictured together), he hosts his own show, House Of Games, which is enjoying another successful run on BBC2
Having long harboured the desire to become an author (‘it’s the thing I’ve done that has meant most to me’), he’s clearly chuffed to bits at this latest chapter in his own life story. But when he gets into the sales figures and publishing industry jargon, he can sound dispassionate. It’s been quite the battle between his head and heart, he says.
‘I’ve found this quite interesting,’ he admits. ‘I’ve spent my whole career looking at charts – when you work in TV you get the ratings overnight and it’s easy to see if you have a hit,’ he says.
‘So, when all this happened with the book, that part of my brain was fully engaged. I could sit in meetings, with my business brain able to recognise a publishing phenomenon, and talk about marketing and sales figures.
Retirement home? Yes please!
Could Richard Osman possibly be the most grounded man in telly?
He very much has the measure of the industry he has worked in his whole life, and at one point we talk about the attractions of a retirement village, like the one in which his novel is set. He reckons he’d love to move into one some day.
‘I’m 50 now but because my children are grown up I feel older. The idea of living somewhere I can hang out with my mates, playing pool and cards and having people to watch box sets with, is hugely appealing.
‘It would be like being at university, but without having to work.
‘For some people the idea of living in a retirement complex would be a nightmare, but I’m a huge fan of them, and it does address that big issue of how we tackle loneliness.’
‘But the much bigger part of me is my heart. This is something that was very personal – far more a representation of me than anything I’ve ever done before. So that part of me was going, ‘Hurrah!’ It was odd to be feeding both sides of my personality – the hard-bitten businessman and the young boy from the south of England who never thought he’d amount to anything.’
What makes it sweeter is that the novel breaks a lot of the rules of publishing.
Debut authors are often told that publishers don’t want to read fiction where the protagonists are older. His gang-of-four are all in their 70s. And setting it in a retirement home? Please!
‘My philosophy is to break the rules,’ he admits. ‘I was just writing the book I wanted to write.’
He got the idea when he went to visit a friend of his mum’s in a retirement home, and was taken by the idea of all this potential drama contained within. While not consciously pitched at a female audience, he concedes that it all started with two female protagonists. ‘I grew up surrounded by women. My best friends are all women.’
His mum was one of the first to read it, and he awaited her response with trepidation.
Former teacher Brenda had raised Richard and his musician brother Mat (who went on to have success with the band Suede) after their father left when Richard was ten.
It was a defining moment in his young life. In an interview, he recalled his father calling him into the living room to say he was leaving, and admitted, ‘A big part of me is still in that room.’
Although many assume he is from a privileged background (Cambridge University brought him into contact with plenty of well-heeled contemporaries, including Alexander Armstrong), this was not the case. ‘There was no money, and my mum sacrificed everything for us,’ he says.
I refuse to work with people with huge egos
She loved the book, and she loved hearing of every big-money development.
‘Mum is the only one I can talk to about money,’ he admits. ‘She’s thrilled for me. I don’t think she tells her friends. I hope she doesn’t.’
Some people from modest backgrounds who have huge success can be embarrassed by their wealth. He isn’t. ‘I’m not someone who wrings their hands about having money. I’m thrilled, and my family are thrilled. To see the delight in my mum’s eyes. That’s the payback.’
Richard (pictured alongside his brother Mat in 1989) has long harboured the desire to become an author
That, and having him buy her house for her? Yes, he has done that too. ‘It’s such a lovely thing to be able to do, and I think a lot of people who are successful want to do it. It’s the first thing they want to do – before they buy themselves anything.
‘My mum knows that, whatever happens, there is money there and she will be looked after. That’s a powerful thing, and something I’m really grateful for. Not a lot of successful people will say this but there is a huge amount of luck involved in this business, and when you do get lucky you have to look after people.’
I hope Mum doesn’t tell her friends about the money
Will there be a Hollywood mansion on his own spending list now? It’s most unlikely. He’s putting in a new kitchen, but he says that growing up without riches has given him a grounded approach to money.
He’s divorced from the mother of his children, Ruby and Sonny, and is single after a more recent relationship with the jazz singer Sumudu Jayatilaka ended. He doesn’t like to talk about his personal life, but admits he thinks it’s easier to be a single man in your 40s than a single woman. ‘When I talk to my female friends about their dates I think, ‘That is unbelievable! What, he really…?’
Does he have celebrity mates? He thinks for a while. ‘I don’t know what this says about me, but I don’t really. My best friends are mates from school or work. I work with famous people enough, without having to socialise with them.’
Fame doesn’t impress him. ‘I’m impressed by talent. I’ve been there at the start of a lot of people’s careers [he singles out Michael McIntyre and Katherine Ryan] and I’ve sat there thinking, ‘My God, you’re a genius.’ But he’s also encountered those who are hugely talented – and hugely famous – but have egos to match.
‘I can’t bear that, but they generally get found out. If they have monstrous egos or – the worst crime – they’re rude to runners, I just refuse to work with them. I think you’ll find that if someone is wondering why a particular presenter isn’t around as much as they were, it could be because no one wants to work with them.’
He won’t name names, but out of interest how many famous faces has he refused to work with over the years? ‘Not many. Maybe eight or ten.’ When he’s finished leading the fiction charts, maybe he could write his memoirs and tell all.
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is out now. Richard Osman’s House Of Games, weeknights, 6pm, BBC2; Pointless, Monday-Friday, 5.15pm, BBC1 (except Wednesday, 5.15pm, BBC2).