The Circle: Interview with Richard Madeley
OCCUPATION: Broadcaster, journalist and author
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Married
PLAYING AS: A profile to be decided by viewers at home
IN A NUTSHELL: Richard does not know what his profile will be in The Circle as the decision is in the hands of the viewers, but he is excited about taking on a new persona that might be “extreme and embarrassing”. He lives with his wife, fellow broadcaster and author Judy, and they have been married for 33 years. He and his wife share their time between Cornwall and London. They have two adult children, Jack and Chloe, who both encouraged him to take part in The Circle. He enjoys reading and writing and is currently working on his fourth novel. Richard was an early adopter of Twitter, which he describes as being like “going into a new pub” and has amassed over 200,000 followers.
MOTIVATION FOR ENTERING THE CIRCLE: Richard is fascinated by the idea that people in today’s society can form friendships and relationships before ever meeting in real life. He met his wife at work in a time before the web and social media. He wants to observe for himself how strangers get to know each other behind a screen. He’s also looking forward to having some down time away from his phone and emails. He’s hoping that disconnecting from the world outside will be like “going to a retreat”.
STRATEGY: Richard’s profile will be decided by viewers at home voting on The Circle app. He intends to go into The Circle as an “agent of mischief”. Richard has worked in broadcasting for over 40 years and is used to meeting people from all walks of life, which may work to his advantage when it comes to chatting with the other Players in the game. However, he intends to steer clear of difficult topics that could be misinterpreted on Circle Chat.
What appealed to you about taking part in The Circle?
I get asked to do all kinds of things all the time, and usually the answer is, "No, thank you," because it either sounds a bit boring, or I've kind of done it before. This is genuinely different. I was aware of the programme. I'd seen a little bit of the last series, and I read quite a lot about it. I was quite intrigued by it at the time and it got some very interesting write-ups. It's not your normal reality show. It's got quite a lot going for it intellectually as well as being a lot of fun. So, when they knocked on the door, straight away, I was quite intrigued. I wanted to know what they wanted me to do because it's not a celebrity show. My mission is to be an agent of mischief. I think I'm going to have certain tasks to do, but I don’t know what they are yet.
What was your family's reaction?
Judy is completely baffled because she hasn't seen any of The Circle, and she wasn't aware of the concept of it. So, at first, she was really baffled. Like I said, normally I say no to most reality shows, things like Strictly and I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and stuff. So she was a bit surprised as to why I said yes. Then when I explained it to her she kind of got it. But Jack, my son and Chloe my daughter, were thrilled. They thought it was a really, really cool thing to do.
Do you know if you're going to have to play a role?
When I go in the apartment, the viewers will be given some alternatives of who I can be. I don't know what those options are, but I know that the viewers will choose the most extreme and embarrassing one! This is going to be my Boaty McBoatface moment. You ask the public to vote on something like this, we tend to get an extreme result! So they're definitely going to cast me in a very strange persona, which I'm going to have to pretend to be. The whole thing just sounded really different, really funny and I thought “why not?”
What fascinates you about the theme of this show?
I'm actually fascinated by online relationships. I read the other day, I don't know if this was true or not, but I read the other day that in Japan more and more people are getting married having never met face to face. They're conducting romances and relationships purely online. They actually get engaged, and they arrange their wedding day and everything, before they actually meet in the flesh. Which is fascinating. Online relationships are a very new thing and it's going to be interesting to be part of that, and be part of seeing how people think that they get to know each other. But of course some of us, like me, are going to be pretending to be somebody completely different.
Is there anything about this show that worries you?
No, not at all. I'm much too old for that, basically! I'll just take it as it comes and try not the make a complete prick of myself!
What social media platforms do you use?
The only one I use, and I use it quite sparingly these days, is Twitter. I haven't got round to Instagram. I will be going on Instagram at some point, when I can be bothered to sit down and sort it out. That’s an itch that I've yet to scratch. But I'll definitely be joining Instagram soon.
What are your thoughts on social media? Do you like it, do you think it's a force for good or a force for evil?
It's clearly a mixture of both. I was one of the first people to go on Twitter when Twitter started. At first, I really enjoyed it. Twitter was a really good place to go, it's a bit like going into a new pub with a load of completely strange people you've never met before, but you sort of got on and you're going in there in order to get on and have a drink together and have a chat and a laugh. Then of course it changed. And now Twitter's not a good place to go. There are still some nice people there, but it's like going into a pub where people deliberately slop their drink over your foot, or stub their cigarette out on the back of your hand. So Twitter's kind of gone bad, sadly. But I don't think that should condemn social media as a whole. I think basically it is a force for good. It's a force for contact, it allows people to express themselves in a way that they might not feel free to if they were in a face-to-face conversation. I think it has a lot going for it, but I do think it needs to be more accountable. So I think provided it's responsibly done, I think it's all for good. And it's the future.
The issue of online trolling has been in the news lately, what’s your take on that?
I'm kind of ahead of the curve on this, and I've spoken about this before. Like everybody else in the public eye, I was getting my fair share of trolling. I had to decide quite quickly how I was going to treat it. I decided instinctively that people who are trolls and send abuse and incredibly rude messages to you are pretty sad, pathetic people. I just don't respond because they don't matter. They're completely pathetic people. I think they're mostly middle-aged men in their underpants in their parents’ box room still living at home. I've been saying that for years and years. Being trolled doesn't make you the person that they're describing you as. It's never affected anything career-wise that I've ever done or not done. It's just irrelevant. So just ignore it.
What else can be done to make social media a kinder, nicer place to hang out?
Well it's a good question, and it's actually beyond my pay grade really to answer that. I don't know. I think that it should be impossible for somebody to be accepted on a mainstream social media site like Twitter without providing full personal details. That doesn't mean they have to then declare that to the person they're tweeting. But if they say something that's libellous, that's threatening, that in any way falls into criminal behaviour, then they can be identified and prosecuted. I think if people knew that, then they wouldn't do what they do.
Do you chat to celebrities online?
Only people that I know because obviously through the job that I've done for the last 30 or 40 years, I know a lot of celebrities. I've never contacted somebody because they're a celebrity, I've only contacted them because they're a mate. I've got a lot of celebrity email addresses in my library. But I've contacted and been contacted by trillions of celebrities, but only because I know them, because they're friends.
Who is your favourite celebrity on social media?
I quite like Bryony Gordon, who's a mate. She writes for the Telegraph and she's very interesting and thoughtful, she has some quite interesting stuff. Also I like Emma Barnett, the Five Live presenter. I know her quite well, and she can be very pithy on her posts, and can be quite funny.
Are you really careful about what you tweet and who you talk to online and that sort of thing?
Yes, yes I am. I have a rule that I don't tweet, or even text, or even email anything, anything at all, that I wouldn't be perfectly comfortable seeing on the front page of the Daily Mail the next day. It's a really, really simple rule to follow. For example, if I want to say something about somebody that's unpleasant, or very, very critical or controversial, I'm not going to put it in an email because emails leak. I could say something to a colleague about someone else in the public eye, and their laptop could be stolen on the Tube that evening, and accessed. And suddenly what I've written can become public. So I don't put anything in writing, whether it's a text, a tweet or an email, that I wouldn't be completely comfortable reading the next day in a national tabloid. That's a really simple rule to follow. If you've got something difficult or controversial or tricky to say, say it face to face, don't put it in writing.
Is there anything that really bugs you about social media?
No, only that some people think it gives them a license to be incredibly rude, cruel and threatening. I just think that is something which we actually can address. I don't think it's complicated. I think we can address that, we just haven't got round to it, because basically we're too lazy. But I think we will.
Were you popular at school?
I wasn't unpopular, but I was never the most popular boy in the class or anything like it. I stayed in the background really at school, I was a bit of an outsider. My dad was a public schoolboy, my mum was Canadian, and I went to a school in the East End, I went to school in Romford and then I went to school in Bow in Mile End. I always felt a little bit like a fish out of water, so I kept my own counsel. I suppose it was one of the things that led me into journalism. I became quite observant, I used to watch more than take part. So I wasn't unpopular, but I kept a low profile.
In terms of The Circle, have you got a game plan, any idea how you're going to play it?
No, I don't. At the moment, I don't know who I'm going to be. I suspect I'm probably going to have to be a woman. I’m only guessing here. I suspect I'll probably have to be quite young in order to fit in. I think what I'm going to have to try and avoid doing is not attempt to be cool or clever, or as we used to say, a very old-fashioned phrase, a wise guy. I think I've just got to take it as it comes, basically be quite kind while I'm talking to people and stay away from difficult topics that can easily be misinterpreted.
If, for example, you’re told to pretend to be a 19-year-old female student, how will you get your head into playing that role?
I'll have to think back to when I was 19, which will help. I'll have to think back to my daughter when she was 19, which was about 10 or 11 years ago. And I've got a good, close relationship with Chloe and I can remember quite a lot about what she was like as a 19-year-old. Obviously the language, the idioms, the slang, all of that has changed, and I can't get into that, because I'll give myself away straight away. But it's funny, I was just going back over some emails that my daughter had sent me in the last few months, and actually she doesn't use any slang at all, she just talks normally. So I think the key is not to try too hard, and just to talk in normal language, and not drop into affectations and slang.
How do you feel about going in there knowingly misleading people?
It's a game, isn't it? It's not real. An expression I've used so many times in my career, it's only television. It's not actually real life, it's just a game. It's just a game being played on television. So in that sense it's very much like a game of cards. It's like a game of happy families or poker or anything like that, where you're actually bluffing. It's a game of bluff. So I don't have any issues about that at all, because like I say, it's not real.
You're going to be living alone in your own space. How do you feel about that?
I am really looking forward to it. I am so looking forward to going offline and not having my phone, and not having to check my emails every couple of hours and reply to them and everything. Obviously I've not been able to tell anybody that I'm going to be going offline.I know when I come out there will be a mountain of bloody correspondence to deal with. So I don't care. It's going to be really nice. You aren’t allowed a laptop in there, so I’m going to have a typewriter, because I want to get on with my novel. I'm miles behind with my fourth novel, and I want to do some writing whenever there’s a bit of downtime. I'm taking my guitar with me, because I've got out of practice on my guitar and I want to get up to speed on that. So I'll be playing guitar, I'll be writing my novel. I will actually really enjoy just disconnecting from the world and everybody for a bit. I'm really looking forward to it. I mean I may come out of it and say, "God that was like being in prison, that was horrible." But I don't think so. It's a bit like going into a retreat, I feel like a bit of a monk going into a retreat.
You're being filmed 24/7. Do you think you'll forget that the cameras are there?
I'm sort of used to that, if you think about it. I was doing some rough sums in my head, I've done thousands and thousands of hours of live television. And not just reading the news, but shows where you have to be you and respond as you, like This Morning and the Richard and Judy Show on Channel Four. Where part of their success, if you like, is because we were being ourselves. We weren't just being professional presenters reading links and asking scripted questions, we were being us. So I'm sort of used to that. I'm used to being on camera, and it being live, and not being able to take it back. You can't edit it if you've said or done something that you feel you shouldn't have done, you just have to live with it.
Do you think this will show a different side to you that fans perhaps haven't seen before?
I don't know. I suspect that people who know me will just think, that's him being him. I suppose they'll see a more deconstructed side to me. See me cooking for myself, and yawning, and scratching my arse as I come out the bedroom and all that. But again, I don't think that's a big deal, it's just telly.
View the article on the Channel 4 Press Site here