This is one difficult woman to pin down. Not only is she the supremely capable mother of five ridiculously beautiful and intelligent children (Gabe 12, Elle 9, Sasha 5 and 3-year old twins Reuben and Jack) she’s also just finished writing her twelfth novel, ‘Meet Me in John Lewis’.
Add these fiercely time-consuming activities to an already exhausting schedule of PTA meetings, being the wife of the former President of the whole of Tellyland, throw in some pretty nifty baking on behalf of the local Primary Schools and WI; her tireless charity work and you start to wonder where this amazing woman gets her stamina from.
‘Three Omega-3 fish oil capsules a day,’ she winks at me through lashes that would delight a woman half her age. ‘And, of course, never say no to anything.’ Another wink.
From such humble beginnings - her father was a Butcher, her mother a Post-lady. (Nobody is certain as to what role her brother played and his presence in her life is something that her PR people have asked me not to touch upon) Debs Riccio is a force to be reckoned with and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She readily admits she’d also sell her own grandmother for another slice of fame (if her grandmother was still alive, of course).
She waves away a tray of celery and carrot with elegantly manicured hands and swears under her breath about the staff. This ‘staff’ it turns out, is actually her mother, who later assures me she enjoys being employed by her famous daughter. ‘I get to see the grandkids and, of course, it keeps my new hips moving’, she beams over a batch of freshly baked cinnamon muffins.
It certainly seems like the stuff of which dreams are made. At the age of 18, Debs’ undoubted writing ability was spotted by the, then Editor of Woman magazine, Richard Fitzwarren, when she sent in a short story entitled ‘Sidney’. This story was to change the course of her life.
‘It sounds like a terrible cliché,’ Debs says, stretching out long, lithe legs. She is wearing a diaphanous blouse, cream linen trousers and a pair of butter-cream leather open-toed mules. Every inch of her skin gleams with health and vitality. ‘And although I’m grateful for the chance Dickie gave me, I’m certain it would’ve happened anyway. I sent the same story to Give Me a Break and Bingo-Bongo. They’d have been blind not to have realised its potential.’
My china cup is re-filled with Lady Grey tea and I nod my thanks to Debs’ mother who curtseys almost apologetically before backing out of the room.
When pressed on the subject of her husband’s infidelity, Debs is naturally cautious. ‘He’s an arse,’ she says blithely. ‘Why would anyone sire five children and then start shagging the paid help?’
I assume she doesn’t mean her mother and decide to change the subject.
‘Back in those days it wasn’t very clever or fashionable to want to have a career,’ she tells me when I ask her about her aspirations as a teenager. ‘And lord knows my parents tried to warn me off of wanting to go to college or university. I mean…’ she leans in conspiratorially at this point and whispers over at me, ‘…it didn’t do them any harm did it?’ she jerks a thumb in the direction of the kitchen and suppresses a snort. ‘So I knew the only way I was going to make anything of my life was if I had enough determination and confidence to make a success of it myself.’
My eyes fall on the array of framed book-covers which decorate the wall beside me in the sumptuously decorated drawing room-cum-library. There is a discernable gap.
‘That’s my way of celebrating motherhood,’ Debs smiles beatifically. ‘There’d have been at least five other book covers up there if I hadn’t been quite so fertile. Of course I had my tubes clipped after the twins.’
Across the hallway I can see the children coming in from school through the heavy oak front door and hugging their grandmother as they pass her books, bags and lunchboxes. She starts to struggle with the double-buggy and when Debs follows my gaze, she leans over and toes the door shut in one elegant move.
She is clearly a focused woman I tell her, and I ask what she’s working on at the moment; where she finds the time and the inspiration with everything she’s involved with and she throws back her swan-like neck, runs a hand through thick, glossy caramel waves and laughs.
‘Oh, I’m always inspired,’ she levels her emerald green eyes at mine. ‘After all Life itself is such inspiration, isn’t it! The trees, the birds, the sun…. I could be, what, shaking the Queen Mother’s hand, or sitting on the loo and POW! inspiration smacks me right round the head….’
‘… it’s times like these,’ Debs continues, ‘that I thank the good Lord baby Jesus for giving me such a tremendous talent and such a terrific ability with which to channel my talents. Obviously if it wasn’t for the wonderful support of my readers and publishers then I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today…. but…in fact that’s what my latest book is all about…. wait… wait…. the hardships of growing up in the seventies; the cruel way children were forced to climb chimneys to make a living for their abusive parents; the excommunication of the Head of the Church of England and drugs pedalling on the urban subways of Hampstead Heath. I think my fans will be thrilled. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Riccio read.’
As I tread the gravelled driveway away from the side entrance of this magnificent stately home, I feel I have borne witness to something very precious indeed.
'And there's vampires too!' I hear a voice shout behind me.