We’ve been working closely with Richard and Judy since 2010, striving to build on the success of their previous book club on their TV chat show to create a welcoming and inclusive book club that could suggest fantastic reads for everyone from a seasoned book worm to someone who may not have picked up a book since school. And who would’ve thought that seven years later The Richard and Judy Book Club would be Britain’s biggest book club, with more than 100 authors having featured in our favourite book-reading couple’s recommendations and tens of thousands of readers around Britain coming together to share their joy of reading with us and each other.
As a means of celebrating the tremendous success the book club has achieved, this January we held a party in London in which we brought publishers, authors and of course Richard and Judy together to reflect on the book club’s incredible achievements. With authors such as Robert Harris, Sarah Winman, S J Watson, Rick Stein, Louise Doughty, David Nicholls, Clare Mackintosh, M J Arlidge, Rosamund Lupton and many more in attendance, it was truly a wonderful walk down memory lane.
Lucy Menendez, the head of books at WHSmith, stood up to say a few welcoming words as the celebrations got underway, taking a moment to say thank you for the ‘jewel in the crown’ that is the Richard and Judy Book Club. Addressing the previous book club authors she said, ‘What’s so fantastic for the WHSmith team, as well as obviously for Richard and Judy, is just our delight in being able to bring your books to market, and to be able to do it in a way that helps our customers really discover some hidden delights. That gives us a lot of joy.’
After thanking the publishers and WHSmith staff for their input into the book club, Lucy then introduced Richard and Judy themselves, telling the room how she was ‘struck by how determined they are that the Richard and Judy Book Club lives and breathes a real independent passion for the best books that there can be.’ She continued, ‘Obviously as authors themselves, they get it more than we ever could, more than I ever could. They constantly have new ideas about what they’ve got to do, and we’re always discussing new ways in which we can keep the book club energised.’
Lucy finished her speech by asking the room to raise their glasses and give a big thank you to Richard and Judy, before they took to the stage themselves. Smiling broadly around the room, it was clear that the couple were pleased to see so many old faces from the book club together and Richard quickly focused his attention on what it is about the book club that the couple get a kick out of. ‘I think at its very core, it’s when we discover debut writers. And not just because they’re quite good debut writers, but because they’re bloody brilliant debut novelists and they can throw punches just as hard as perhaps Robert Harris… for us to be able to discover them and to give them a bit of a kick-start by putting them on one of our lists is a huge pleasure.’
Richard continued by commenting on the impact that the book club has had on its readers, saying, ‘A lot of members of the public come up to us when we’re out and about and say they hadn’t read a book for twenty or thirty years, but they walked into WHSmith and they saw our recommendations and it kind of made it a bit easier for them to pick a book. They weren’t intimidated, they took a book – sometimes it’s the first novel someone’s read – and it had got them on that train, on that journey. And that’s such a huge satisfaction.’
Judy also shared how thrilled she is with the book club, commenting, ‘I spend most of my time reading. If I haven’t got a book to read, I’m utterly miserable. So for me, this is a complete dream to do. I’ve loved doing it, I’ve loved the books, I love choosing them, and as Richard said, it’s particularly wonderful when we get a debut author who does particularly well.’ And as she looked back on how the book club has grown, she said, ‘It’s beyond our wildest dreams really. Once we stopped doing daytime TV, much as we adored our book club on TV and as much as we want to carry it on, we didn’t think […] we would be able to recreate the success. But astonishingly we have, and that’s many many thanks to WHSmith.’
Never ones to leave the stage without a big smile on their audience’s faces, Richard left us with another kick that he gets out of the book club; the look on people’s faces when they see Richard and Judy walk into a WHSmith store and think the book club cardboard cut-outs have come to life. ‘That’s the best bit’ he grinned, before the couple left the stage to a huge applause.
You can find out more about the Richard and Judy Book Club, including the latest selection of books here. And join in with more of our 225th Anniversary Celebrations throughout 2017 using the hashtag #WHS225.