Relative Values

Nick Duerden

29 March 2020

The Sunday Times Magazine

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Submitted by: Hagar Itzikson

Relative Values

The TV presenter Richard Osman and his brother, Mat, the bassist with the band Suede, on fame and the father they barely knew. Interviews by Nick Duerden. Photograph by Paul Stuart


Mat

We were raised, Ricky and me, in Haywards Heath, a commuter-belt town in West Sussex. It was a strange place to grow up: no cinema, no gig venues, absolutely no culture whatsoever. So it was just the four of us at home, us two and Mum and Dad, until Dad left when I was 12. And then it was just the three of us.

I don't think I was actually that bothered when he left, though Ricky, being younger, was more affected. I suppose we dealt with it in a very British way: we never talked about it. We didn't really stay in touch with him, but he did make contact a few years ago, after becoming ill. He wanted to see us. To be honest, I didn't expect much from meeting up, and I didn't get much either. But then it had been too long, 30 years, and he was just an old man I had no connection with. He died shortly after, but I'm glad we made the effort to reconnect. At least we had that.

Growing up, Ricky and I were quite competitive. We shared a lot of similar interests. You wouldn't know it now, but Ricky was really into his music when he was younger. He had his own show on Radio Sussex at 16, and also wrote a column in Golf Monthly, Out of Bounds with Osman. When Ricky was interested in something, it consumed him entirely. He was academic, too, always the golden boy at school, and I suppose because our parents had been teachers and were obsessed with education, it was almost like a prophecy fulfilled when he ended up studying politics and sociology at Cambridge. Meantime I went to the London School of Economics to study politics.

When I talk to people about him these days, they always assume he's posh, perhaps because he's on TV and well presented. But the thing about Ricky is that he is entirely self-made. We grew up lower-middle-class, without much money. But he was always very driven and very clever.

When I went off to London with [childhood friend] Brett Anderson and formed Suede, Ricky stayed at home. I suppose I saw less of him for the next few years, simply because being in a band is all-consuming and not particularly healthy. But he loved Suede and came to all our shows.

He went on to become an important TV executive, though I never really understood what it was he did. He seemed just to come up with ideas for quiz shows all the time — Deal or No Deal and, of course, Pointless. His success never surprised me, though, because he genuinely loves television, Saturday-night TV in particular. Do I? No, I'm a snob. I meet many people in television who are always chasing mainstream success, but don't like it themselves. Ricky is the exact opposite. He loves the stuff he makes, which is why he's so good at it.

Watching him become a famous TV quiz show host in his forties has been a curious thing. It has made me realise just how much I took him for granted, and it's only by watching him on TV that I realise how funny — and geeky — he can be.

Until recently we've pursued completely different careers, but now we find ourselves both writing books at the same time. I don't particularly like crime novels normally, but his — which is very mainstream crime — is brilliant fun.

When we meet for lunch, maybe the odd person will recognise me, while practically everybody recognises him. What we tend to talk about mostly is work. In between our visits he sees my wife to talk about his love life. That's how the division in our family is split. It works.

Richard

Mat always says that he didn't feel much when Dad left. I suppose everyone deals with trauma in different ways, but for me it was certainly a terrific trauma. I can still remember Mum calling us into the front room to tell us that Dad was in love with someone else and was going to leave. I was nine at the time. I don't think you ever really get over something like that.

I tried to continue seeing Dad for the next few years, if only because nobody else looked as though they were going to try to fix things. But I don't think any of us handled the situation particularly brilliantly. Perhaps if I had been the older brother I'd have suited the dynamic a bit more and cajoled things along, but instead, being younger, I fell in alongside my mother and brother.

I suppose all I have ever really wanted to do was fix that schism in our family and create a bond. Perhaps that's why I had children young [he has a son and daughter, aged 21 and 19, from a previous relationship], while Mat went the other way and didn't have children at all.

Growing up, Mat was very, very cool. He was always into cool music, bands like Primal Scream and the Jesus and Mary Chain. My reaction was: "Jesus and Mary Chain? That's an unusual name for a band, very unusual..."

You could see that Mat always wanted to get out of Haywards Heath. He hated it, but I loved it. He wanted to be in London, which would have been the very worst thing imaginable for me — all that noise, all that traffic. I've always been the more introverted.

I've absolutely no love for the music industry — it's full of awful people — but I did love Suede and loved watching them become such a big, important band. Their success never surprised me, though, simply because they always had their eyes on the prize and were prepared to work their socks off to get it. And as far as them becoming particularly debauched in the early days, that's something Mat and I would never have discussed. We've never discussed anything horrible, ever. If he's in trouble, I don't want to hear about it. He can look after himself and vice versa.

It's interesting that, after a lifetime of non-competing, we are both moving into books. I've read his and I genuinely hope it will be the second-bestselling novel of 2020. If you read our two books side by side, you get an idea of us in all our differences and similarities. Mine has a very mainstream sensibility with a touch of darkness; his is very dark with a touch of the mainstream.

Perhaps because our dad left so early, there has never been closeness in the family — a lack of emotion, I suppose. Mat and I do have a semi-detached relationship in many ways, but the older we get, the more I value him. I love him and admire him. He's funny, smart and talented. And I always defer to him, always put him on a pedestal because he's the older brother. I did when we were younger and I'll still be doing it when I'm 81 and he's 84.


The Ruins by Mat Osman is out now (Repeater Books £12.99). The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is published later this year (Viking 114.99)


STRANGE HABITS

Mat on Richard: He has the least sophisticated taste in food. Even after 20 years of eating at fancy restaurants, he'll still stop for pizza on the way home.

Richard on Mat: His house is always full of an indeterminate number of cats. They just turn up and end up staying.