I was a deeply happy child… until the day my dad walked out: In this poignant message to his younger self, Pointless star and Thursday Murder Club author RICHARD OSMAN recalls the shattering betrayal that changed his life
I don’t look back on being 16 with any pleasure, it wasn’t my finest hour.
I didn’t take school very seriously. I didn’t have a love of learning, but I understood that you’ve got to get A-levels and then everyone will leave you alone.
So, I did the minimum required. I was just growing into my height then — I was already around 6ft 4in, pretty big. So, I was becoming superawkward and self-conscious.
I always say to my son, and this is the advice I would give to me if I went back now, ‘There’s only two ways people are going to see you the first moment you walk into a room.
‘They’re going to say, “There’s a really tall guy”, or they’re going to say, “There’s a really tall guy who looks awkward about being tall”. So, you have to find a way to love who you are.’
Comedian and presenter Richard Osman, 50, has shared a heartbreaking memory of the day his father walked out when he was nine years old
There are some aspects of the 16-year-old which haven’t changed much at all. I was obsessed with sport, obsessed with lists. Completely obsessed with television.
I thought I loved music but the older I get, especially when I’m around people who really love music, I’m not sure I really like it all that much.
My brother (Mat Osman of Suede) was very cool, he was listening to Primal Scream, The Jesus And Mary Chain, he truly loved music. I think I just loved reading about it in the music papers.
Sport is my love, comedy is my love. And that hasn’t changed. So in that sense I haven’t matured as much as I might have done. Or perhaps I was just exceptionally mature then. But I don’t think I was.
I find it hard when I’m looking back at my childhood to have my dad in it in any form [his father left the family home suddenly when Richard was nine].
Maybe he’s sort of there in my head, Ek veronderstel, but he’s definitely not in my heart.
I remember very clearly when I was nine, and my world was a fairly great place, and I walked into the front room — he was there, my mum was there, my grandmother was there, which was weird, though of course I realised later that was for moral support — and they just said, ‘Kyk, your dad is in love with somebody else and he’s leaving.’
Ek het net gedink, ‘Riiight, okay.’ And he left and his entire side of the family never spoke to us again.
Richard Osman (links) and his brother Mat Osman. ‘My brother was very cool, he was listening to Primal Scream, The Jesus And Mary Chain, he truly loved music. I think I just loved reading about it in the music papers.’
Ek is regtig, regtig, really in touch with nine-year-old me, I can really access my brain then. I think it’s because I sort of went off in a slightly different direction after my dad left, I went off course.
Which is understandable because I had to find a way to fix the pain. And everyone else’s pain, which of course I couldn’t do.
I focused entirely on protecting myself, being overly careful about everything.
Luister, we all have trauma and I had a much lesser trauma than a lot of people have.
It’s our ability to deal with trauma that’s the important thing. And I dealt with it very badly. And this was 1979, when no one talked about such things. You got maybe a couple of days off school and then it was, ‘Reg, let’s get on with things.’
Kyk nou terug, I think everything up to age nine, that is the real me. It took me many years, but eventually I found that again and that’s how I feel now.
I don’t play much sport ’cause my eyesight isn’t great. But I love, liefde, love watching it. When I think of the companionship it has given me over the years, it’s just extraordinary.
I remember when I was 15, staying up till after midnight to watch the ’85 snooker world final.
Then two years ago, I went to do an interview for the BBC and Steve Davis set up the same famous black that he missed, in the final blast of the final frame, to lose that match. And he let me have a go at it.
I got down to the shot and I dropped it in. I didn’t do any kind of fist bump with him, I just said, ‘Steve, jy weet, that wasn’t so hard.’
O, if I could talk to my 16-year-old self now and say, ‘You’re gonna put away that shot in front of Steve Davis,’ my younger self would say, ‘You know what, Richard? You have lived a good life, my friend.’
N Paar jaar gelede, I went to see my dad. It was one of his brothers’ 50th wedding anniversary so I thought, ‘I’m going to take the kids, they should really meet the rest of this family.’ .
But it was so cold. There were lots of them standing around, talking about what an extraordinary woman my paternal grandmother was.
And they said to me, ‘What did you make of her?’ I said, ‘Honestly, she literally never spoke to me after my dad left, never sent me a Christmas card.’
So that’s not really a conversation they’re going to join in on. Some families are just like that.
The other side of my family fortunately, my mum’s side, are completely the opposite. Loving and open. So, I did all right.
I think if I was talking to my younger self, ek sou sê, ‘You know what? You’re a Wright, not an Osman. You’ll live like a Wright and you’ll have the same sort of career and life and kindness and happiness as a Wright.’
And that would be a massive relief to the younger me. I ran a big TV company for a long time [he was creative director for Endemol UK and executive producer on Deal Or No Deal, 8 Out Of 10 Katte, Total Wipeout and other big hits]. It was very successful so I was very happy.
Then someone said, ‘Perhaps you could actually be on this one [Pointless].’ And I was like, 'Ek bedoel, I suppose so. It doesn’t appeal to me but you try everything once, reg?’
I strongly remember being in the make-up chair outside Studio 8 at the BBC and hearing a murmur of audience and thinking, ‘This is absolutely mental.’
‘Iemand het gesê, “Perhaps you could actually be on this one [Pointless].” En ek was soos, 'Ek bedoel, I suppose so. It doesn’t appeal to me but you try everything once, reg?’”
Deesdae, I don’t particularly like an audience due to shyness, I find that quite difficult. But I know how to do it. And I’ve never done a TV show where I haven’t been me. That’s so important to me, after all those years of not being me.
Writing a book is the most nervous I’ve been. But if I told the 16-year-old me, ‘You will write a book,’ he’d say, ‘Ja, natuurlik, that makes total sense.’
Because 16-year-old me spent his entire time with a pen and a bit of paper, mainly writing jokes.
Younger me would be incredibly proud of writing a book but the first thing he’d say is, ‘How many copies have you sold?’
There’s a common idea of me being posh. I’m not posh, I’m just Southern. I grew up in a singleparent, low-income house — very, very happily, Terloops, there’s absolutely nothing wrong in that.
The Cambridge University thing doesn’t help. People think you have to be rich to go there. But it was A-level results that got me there, that’s all.
I think if I could go back to any point in my life it would be just before my dad called me into that room and said he was leaving.
Because I think I was a deeply happy child. I’ve spent a lot, a LOT of time, trying to trace my way back there since. And I feel like I have now.
So, I would go back to growing up in the 1970s, in that little house, sitting down with a little bit of paper and a pen and writing jokes.
I was nine years old and I’ve never been happier.
■ Interview by Jane Graham, extracted from Letter To My Younger Self, devised and edited by Jane Graham, published by Blink at £9.99. All profits go to The Big Issue. © Richard Osman 2021