This is a short piece about my dear friend Matt Richell, who died in a surfing accident two weeks ago.
Matt was a brilliant, funny, charismatic and faithful friend. Complex too, but we all love a bit of complexity. We grew up two doors apart, yet if I met him tomorrow I imagine we’d become pals.
Matt had substance, and presence. And great teeth.
My friend was flying high. He had a lovely wife in Hannah, plus Jude and Gracie. They had created a wonderful life together on the other side of the world. Last year Matt was made CEO of Hachette Australia. Hachette is a huge publishing house and Matt’s leadership was already leaving indelible marks.
His death upsets the natural order. By rights we should have been laughing and joking into our dotage. But not anymore.
Right now I feel his presence in everything I do.
Last week I flew to Sydney and gave a short tribute to my friend. You’ll find it below.
When I was eight years old a boy with a glorious head of hair called Matt moved two doors down from me. We didn’t speak for a while, but I used to see him, sitting in the garden, reading.
“Matthew loves to read doesn’t he?” my mum would say. “Why can’t you be more like Matthew?”
Over the coming months we became tentative friends. I would pop round to his house and we’d listen to Nik Kershaw and Bucks Fizz, or he’d pop round to mine – and talk to my dad about books.
We attended separate senior schools but remained good pals, dropping in on one other to say hello. Occasionally our paths would cross during inter-school sporting contests. By his own admission Matt wasn’t a natural sportsman but what he lacked in talent he made up for in bravery and application. His hair at this stage was still present, but showing signs of wear.
During the university summer holidays we would play endless games of muck-about cricket with Fraser and Tim, before relocating to the pub and slaking our thirst. These were innocent times and we laughed a lot. Wherever Matt went there was always laughter. But more than that, I think we all realised that here was a truly special person who would go a long way, and be loved in the process.
Then we all left university and ploughed our own furrows. Those of us who knew him at the time will remember this as the period when Matt became ‘cool’. Matt’s coolness was a topic of heated discussion. “How come he’s gone cool?” we would ask. “Does he still like us?” and of course, “How can I be cool like Matt?”
Luckily this coolness was only skin-deep. Up until then Matt and I had only goofed around but increasingly I found him to be someone I could really talk to. We both lost a parent around this time – Matt losing his lovely mother Judith – and this brought us closer together. I will tell you now that I was very much looking forward to continuing this discourse with my dear friend for many years to come.
Matt would have been a great person to stand next to on an occasion like this; supportive, dependable, sensitive, but also funny. He would have brought light to the darkness with a well-timed quip or observation. I keep wanting to talk to him about today, only to remember he’s the reason we’re here.
Three weeks ago Matt and his three best men – myself, Fraser and Foz, for whom I speak today – all met up in London for a game of table tennis and a few drinks. Hannah said he spoke with great joy of that occasion. It was a special night, intensified by the rare treat of seeing our friend in London. Little did any of us know just how special it was.