Georgia Toffolo, MEET ME IN LONDON

Georgia Toffolo, MEET ME IN LONDON

Zibby is joined by British television star and author of the Meet Me In series Georgia Toffolo —better known to fans as Toff— to talk about how she always wanted to be a writer and what she plans to work on after the fourth and final book, Meet Me at the Wedding, comes out later this year. The two discuss which pieces of Toff’s personal life inspired her series, what it was like to write travel novels during the pandemic, and why she wishes she had waited a few more years before writing her first memoir.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Toff. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss all of your books, Meet Me in London, your whole Meet Me In series, Always Smiling, all of your stuff. I can’t wait to discuss. Welcome.

Georgia Toffolo: Darling, thank you for having me. It’s a total joy. I’ve been all excited.

Zibby: Aw, thank you. Everything sounds so great in your accent. You have the best voice ever.

Toff: I’m like a parody of myself, aren’t I?

Zibby: No, you are not. Since a lot of people who listen to this podcast are based in the US, although people listen from all over, and might not be familiar with your superstardom in the UK and everything like that, tell us all a little bit about how you got discovered, your TV stuff, and how, in addition, you became this fabulous writer. This is like, really? This too? Give us a little background. Start from the beginning. Where did you grow up? The whole thing.

Toff: I’ll start right at the beginning. It’s quite a nice story, actually. I grew up in Devon in the southwest of the UK, which is so beautiful and been a huge inspiration for my new book, I might add. I grew up there, small town, seaside vibes. I just had this obsession with living in London. When I was eighteen, loads of my friends went off traveling. I said to my parents, “I’m not doing that. I’m moving to London.” They said, “That’s absolutely fine as long as you go to university.” I couldn’t believe that I pulled it off, but I had a place confirmed at Bristol University to study law because I wanted to be a barrister. Anyway, off I trot out to London, happy as can be. I really wanted to get a job because, obviously, you’ve got to do that in your gap year. Someone said to me, “Would you like to be an extra on a TV show?” The TV show is quite famous in the UK. It’s called Made in Chelsea. I said, “How much?” They said, “It’s fifty quid a day.” I was doing the maths. I thought, well, that will do. That’ll pay for my beer money and a new dress every weekend.

Off I went to filming. Because, obviously, I was eighteen and quite spritely, I’d been going out quite a lot in Chelsea in South West London. I turned up to filming. The boys started shouting at me, the main famous characters. Oh, that tough girl, we know her. She’s always dancing on the tables, whatever. Lo and behold, I then sort of formed and moved into a main character on this show. September rolled around. My parents said, “What are you going to do? You’re obviously going off to university. You’re going to be a big, successful barrister.” I said, “No, I’m not doing that. I’m going to carry on doing telly.” They nearly died. I said, “Don’t worry. It’ll all work out well.” Here I am now in twenty-seven, fast-forward nine years, which is insane. I went on to do, it’s the second-biggest show in the UK called I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here — I ended up winning — where you live in a rainforest in Australia for a month. That, if I’m being really honest with you, catapulted my career, and I was allowed to do what I want to do. Writing has always been my number one. That’s how my books came about, in short.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, what a story. That’s amazing. So you went to the rainforest. You come back. You’re like, now I can finally do the books. Forget about the barrister path. That’s over and done with. Then what happened? You just sat down and you said, this is the book I want to write? This is very clever and funny. Maybe tell everybody about what Meet Me in London, the first one, is about because now you have this whole series around it.

Toff: It was my first venture into romantic fiction. Quite honestly, I was really nervous. I think it feels slightly in the public eye when you delve into the world of writing. It’s got to be good because if not, people will crucify you. It can’t slip under the radar. I want to just tell you quite briefly how it all started, particularly the Meet Me In series. I’ve always tried to really support any author. I got invited to go to this book launch. I was standing there. Someone said to me, “That lady over there is really high up at ‎Mills & Boon.” I’d been obsessed and have read Mills & Boon novels since when I was allowed to. Some of them can be a little bit naughty. I accosted this wonderful lady called Lisa. For the first time in my life I was just completely unapologetically ambitious. I said, “I think I’d be really good writing for you.” She was sort of like, who on earth is this girl? I said, “I’ve written a little bit. I’d like to show you.” That was how it started. The reason why I was pretty strong with my publishers that my first book had to be based in London, and in particular, South West London — you know how it is. When you first start writing — I needed a little bit of relatability in there. Not only did it sort of massage my confidence because I knew I was writing on authority about something, it was also the familiarity of it. You’ll probably think the same, but your first book is just so incredibly special. Meet Me in London has this amazing connection to me because it’s where, not only, I set up my home, not where I grew up, but also, it’s given me so much of my life, this area. I mentioned the show that I was made famous for. It’s called Made in Chelsea. My book is set in Chelsea in London. It’s just so special and wonderful. I give it to everyone who ever thinks about visiting London, even people who live in Chelsea. I say to them, “Go on, read my book and tell me where you can see my inspirations for lots of things.” I do just find it the most enchanting place.

Zibby: Wow. What was the big store? Is there an actual store that displaced a lot of the locals, or was that fictious?

Toff: No, there really is. I probably shouldn’t even admit this. I’ve just moved house, and I’m really close to it. It’s called Peter Jones. In the UK, we seem to have an obsession with John Lewises. Do you know what a John Lewis is?

Zibby: No.

Toff: Oh, no. My lovely assistant thinks I’m totally mad because every day, these packages arrive from John Lewis. It’s really nice homeware bits. Anything that you could ever want is in John Lewis, but it’s not too expensive. It’s not crazy, crazy money. Peter Jones, the shop that I based my department store on, is just off Stone Square. It’s the number-one store for John Lewis in the UK.

Zibby: Got it. Now I have all-new shopping things to do when we get off this Zoom.

Toff: Don’t. It’s a dirty obsession. Don’t start.

Zibby: What about, even, the bar that you have your characters meet in?

Toff: I changed that a little bit. When I first moved to London, I said that I was doing a lot of dancing on tables. It was this iconic nightclub on the King’s Road called the 151 Club. It hadn’t had a refit since the eighties, when I first started going there. Because of COVID, it obviously closed down. I know the owner now because I’ve been going there so long. I said, “It’s a complete travesty.” He was like, “Georgia, the place needed a lick of flames. It needed a proper clean.” The bar in Meet Me in London, I made it a little bit different. What the 151 Club and the inspiration for that was for me, it was our hub. I would go out on my own, and I know that everyone will be at the club. Amazing things happened there for me. You walk in, and it’s world’s worst music. Your feet stick to the carpet. Everything’s always broken. I love that juxtaposition because where I seem to have settled, everything is very polished in Chelsea. Everything’s super expensive. All the women, they’re sort of dripping in diamonds, all this stereotypical stuff. I loved the respite that the 151 Club — it’s really dark and dingy. It’s sort of like the bar that Victoria works in. It was really important that I got some of these special places in because, of course, as I carried on throughout my series and my other books, we ended up traveling all around the world. I wanted to make the most of being on home turf, if that makes sense.

Zibby: Yes. Tell me now about all the other books. Did you go to all the places? How did that come about?

Toff: It was pre-decided pre-pandemic. With my series, it was really important to me and my editor that the books would be able to be enjoyed in order, but also, if you picked up one in a charity shop in five years, it doesn’t matter whether it’s book four or book two or book one. They all needed to make sense. When we were plotting, of course, we had no idea what the coronavirus was. I was saying, it will be fabulous. I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii. I’ve always wanted to go to Tahiti. Let’s do those two. I hoped, at the time, that it would really cut my teeth writing fiction. I didn’t know what the islands smelt like or looked like and all these things. I was really excited to get stuck in — then, of course, it all happened, and I couldn’t. Google Maps became my best friend. Imagine the Tripadvisor reviews that me and my coauthor read. I just think when you’ve got people like agents on the ground writing really honestly, that’s also the only way that we got the books . Can you imagine how wonderful it will be for me when I finally get there?

Zibby: It will be amazing.

Toff: It will be amazing.

Zibby: I hope you film it. I want to watch you go there. I want you to do a show about it or something.

Toff: I know. I totally agree. Then what I’ve done — my series is a series of four. My fourth book, which is insane, which is called Meet Me at the Wedding, is coming out in April. You know because you’ve read it, but my books are about four young girlies. Each book really hones in on the story of each of my four main heroines. I really wanted the last book to be back where it all started in Devon where I’m from. It’s a wonderful thing. Victoria and Oliver from Meet Me in London end up having their wedding back in Devon in the last book.

Zibby: Aw.

Toff: I know. It’s just so incredibly special. Again, I was back on home ground. I started off my first book very much in my home now in London, went off traveling the world for the second two, and then ended up — we could call it that. We call it here — I don’t know whether you do this out where you live. We could call it “home home,” where you were born. Everyone gets it. I’m going “home home” this weekend.

Zibby: That’s funny. I love it. That series comes full circle, which is fantastic. I’ll be looking forward to that book coming out too. Will this whole thing be a movie? Is that in the works?

Toff: God, I would hope so. It’s every writer’s dream to see it, particularly for someone like me who lives and breathes television. I am incredibly biased, of course, but I think, in particular, Meet Me in London would lend itself to the most enchanting Christmas movie. Who knows whether it will happen? I know that it’s being explored, but you don’t want to sound like a right wally and be like, oh, yeah, it’s going to get turned into a film, when the probability of that happening is probably .01 percent. One can dream, right?

Zibby: I’ll dream with you. I think it would be very charming. There’s something very Hugh Grant about it. It’s like one those — Notting Hill — perfect, UK-based romantic comedies.

Toff: I would be a liar if I didn’t say that there was a bit of Hugh Grant, Colin Firth knocking around all of .

Zibby: Colin Firth, yeah.

Toff: Yeah, you know. So my type, by the way.

Zibby: You could have Bridget Jones make a cameo as an extra or something like that. Wouldn’t that be funny?

Toff: Darling, it would be the culmination of all of my dreams into one.

Zibby: Then when did you write Always Smiling?

Toff: Always Smiling was as soon as I did that jungle, rainforest show.

Zibby: Okay, so it was before?

Toff: That book, Jesus, it was intense. That was written in six weeks. It’s not to say that it’s not my finest work, but I think looking back, you could tell that it was rushed. There are certain things that were missed. I wonder whether I — I say this tentatively. I think it was a bit premature to write a sort of autobiography. I wish that maybe I’d have held off a couple of years because I’ve learned so much. So much has happened since then. At that time, there was a definite appetite for it in the UK. You’ve got it, so you know it’s not autobiographical in the sense that it’s a chronological write-up of my life. It’s more life lessons, which I’m really proud of. Lots of people said, when I was in the jungle — we call it the jungle here — that they loved my positivity. I wanted it to be kind of like a guide to always smiling. What an apt title.

Zibby: You know, I actually started my own publishing company. We do memoir and fiction. If you happen to want to write another memoir, I’m sure you already have major contracts, but if you want to talk about that, I would love it. It would be so fun.

Toff: I would love nothing more, but then sometimes I think to myself, I’m not done yet. It’s like, god, can I do another one and then another one and then another one?

Zibby: There are people, their whole careers are writing different memoirs about different things. You could do different topics. All to say, I’m excited for whatever comes next. This series is just about done. You’ve written. It’s coming out. Are you doing more writing after this? What’s the plan?

Toff: Yeah, I really hope so. Next time, I really fancy writing a trilogy. It’s been a lot with four books. I really get excited about there being an initial starting point, a big crescendo, and then tying everything up at the end. I’m really leaning towards a series of three next time. What that might be, I have all these crazy ideas. My poor editor’s like, “Georgia, that’s just not going to work.” I know that I want to carry on writing romantic fiction. However, throw in a bit of curveball. My team are always like, ugh, why can’t you just have a day off? I really want to write a murder mystery, but politically themed in Westminster, which is quite niche. I want there to be sex in it too. I just have this thing. You know when you feel like you’ve got that type of book inside you? I need to write it. Even if no one bloody reads it, I feel like people should. That’s my strange sideline hobby idea. I haven’t quite nailed down what — to be really honest, I feel a bit bereft. These four girls have been my life for quite a long time now. The thought of writing anything without them — over the past few days, I’ve been recording the audiobook version for my last book. I just feel quite strongly that these girls, whilst their stories have all come to a bit of an end, I feel like there is legs for more. I’m not quite ready to part from them, but it might just be time. I think maybe sometimes, you need to leave on a high. You just get so invested in your characters. It’s hard to just leave them when so many are at the beginning of things.

Zibby: Look at Sex and the City making a comeback after all this time. These characters live on.

Toff: Maybe I give them a bit of a break and then come back. I don’t know. I’m just not done with these four girls yet. I know that.

Zibby: All right, interesting. Very cool. London hasn’t gotten back to a place where you can start dancing on tables again, right?

Toff: Oh, yeah, it has.

Zibby: It has?

Toff: Oh, darling, I can’t believe it. We’ve been in, pretty much, normality since — we had this Freedom Day last summer where the prime minister made quite a big call to just open up everything. There was a bit of a wobble before Christmas with Omicron, or however you say it. No, we are completely normal. Life couldn’t be more normal here, which I’m personally really happy about because I think for young people, it was all quite hard, wasn’t it? Dancing on tables galore. Nightclubs have been open for months. I’m even exhausted from going to nightclubs. I don’t want to go anymore. I’ve been too much.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I’m like, oh, I don’t know, should we just have lunch here?

Toff: I know. I just can’t believe how fortunate we’ve been. It’s been really quite amazing.

Zibby: That’s great. What advice would you have for an aspiring author?

Toff: I wish I’d have said this to myself years ago. Just write. Even if you think it’s gobbledygook, I’m telling you, if you’ve got the passion and you’re putting pen to paper, it won’t be a job lost to rubbish. I know that there’ll be something brilliant in there. Write about anything. The way that I got into romantic fiction was solely because I adored romantic fiction. Never pigeonhole yourself. Never be like, oh, god — if you’re quite into politics, for example, don’t think that you have to write about politics. Start with something that you really, really love. I think the rest will fall into place.

Zibby: Do you love Sophie Kinsella? Who are some of your favorites?

Toff: Love Sophie Kinsella. How on earth could you not? I grew up reading Jilly Cooper. Do you know Jilly Cooper?

Zibby: Yes.

Toff: I adore her. For me, that quite British — there’s always a bit of a Colin Firth, Hugh Grant character, Rupert Campbell-Black. That was what I really, really adored reading growing up. Also, I do love a murder mystery. I’ve got quite into that locked room — what’s the word I’m looking for? It’s called locked-room murders. Is that it? You know what I mean? What I’m trying to say is when you know that someone in the house did it. I think they are locked room. Locked-room mysteries, that’s what they’re called. You know that someone’s done it on the premises. I love all of that type of stuff.

Zibby: Very cool. Amazing. What are you reading now? Anything?

Toff: Very strange, dear. I’m reading a cookbook, but it is the most joyous, exquisite cookbook I have ever, ever, ever read or held. I don’t even know whether it should be described as a book. In my opinion, quite strongly, it should be. It’s called Midnight Chicken by a girl called Ella Risbridger. It basically documents the way that she tackled her depression. It all started one night when she was sat on the floor in her kitchen desperately sad and not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel. She sees this chicken on the side and thought, well, that’s methodical. Maybe that will take my mind off it. The way that she writes about food and her emotions — I feel quite strongly that the connection between food and our emotions is a thing that should be spoken about more. It’s a really special book. I love it, too, that she’s quite a young girlie. I think that’s quite special.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I can’t wait to read that now. That sounds amazing. I’ve spent a lot of time on the kitchen floor or various bathroom floors in a state of .

Toff: Right? We’ve all been there. What I found quite extraordinary is that I can’t cook at all. I can just about do scrambled eggs. For someone like me to be enjoying a cookbook that much, it must be quite special.

Zibby: Thank you for the recommendation. Toff, this has been so much fun. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Congrats on your new home and your books. I can’t wait to hear about the wedding. I really want to watch this whole thing on the screen, so I’m rooting for you. You’re so charming and so great. It’s great. Congratulations on everything.

Toff: Darling, it’s been a delight. Thank you so much for giving me your time. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: You too. Take care. Buh-bye.

Toff: Bye, darling.

Georgia Toffolo, MEET ME IN LONDON

MEET ME IN LONDON by Georgia Toffolo

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