Neil Humphreys grew up on the world’s biggest council estate in Dagenham, England. His mum threw him into the Parsloes Primary School nursery and ordered him to fit in, so he took all his clothes off and asked to ride the rocking horse. When they told him to strip for P.E., he didn’t realise the underpants stayed on. They never did at home.
At 11, he joined the local football team, Barking Juniors FC, and played in goal because he wasn’t good enough to play anywhere else. He wasn’t that good in goal either and his manager spent the next three years trying to replace him. Neil moved on to Mayesbrook Comprehensive School, which considered itself one of the better schools in Dagenham because it had a really good basketball team. Neil was tall. Neil never made the basketball team.
He was immediately christened a “boff” by chav-prototypes because he knew his nine times table. The highlights of his secondary school career included kissing a popular girl for seven minutes without breathing, scoring against the Teachers XI and coming 13th in the annual cross-country run at Goresbrook Park. Several younger girls finished in the top 10.
His A-Level results made him a big fish in a puddle at Mayesbrook (now renamed the more hip Sydney Russell, though Neil will one day launch a campaign to change it to the Dudley Moore Comprehensive School). At Manchester University, his results made him distinctly ordinary. Destitute, average and sporting an awful bowl haircut in a failed attempt to look like Blur’s Damon Albarn, Neil pulled his socks up and left with a first class degree in history and a couple of prizes: one for the highest degree awarded, the other for the worst haircut.
After six months at a stockbrokers pretending to be a poor man’s Nick Leeson (who later gave Neil a cover quote for his first novel), he got the itch to travel with his best mate Scott in 1996. Their old Singaporean mate Dave suggested Singapore because it promised a warm climate and free accommodation. They immediately agreed, keen to visit China. Neil found work as a teacher and then a sports reporter with The Straits Times. His class sizes were around 25. Fewer people read his S-League reports.
Eager for a wider audience and inspired by Bill Bryson, he wrote Notes From An Even Smaller Island (Singapore through a young Brit’s eyes) in 2001. The book sold and, strangely, still sells to this day. A series of reasonably funny columns followed in TODAY newspaper asked and he eventually cobbled all the columns together and published Scribbles From the Same Island and his mother again bought enough to make it one of the best-selling books of 2003. Three years later, he decided to travel around a marginally bigger island and picked Australia. Singapore had better food; Australia had better marsupials. Wanting to leave on a high and with a George Lucas-like trilogy to his name, Neil wrote Final Notes From A Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore; his favourite book of the three.
He moved to Geelong, Australia because the Australian Government told him to if he wanted to keep his regional visa. Eager to do more than cut his lawn at weekends, he suddenly became a prolific author. In 2007, Complete Notes From Singapore was released. Technically, this is more of an omnibus than a book, so this may not count as an actual book. Neil’s tax accountant certainly thinks it does.
In 2008, Be My Baby: On the Road to Fatherhood soon followed and became a best-seller in Singapore and Malaysia. The book followed Neil’s offbeat journey to becoming a dad. He was eager to release something different. He was more eager to prove to his father-in-law that there was lead in the pencil.
In 2010, his debut novel, Match Fixer, was released. Match Fixer followed the fortunes of a former West Ham footballer sinking deeper into the murky world of football corruption, as he takes his boots from England to Singapore, via Australia’s A-League. Thanks to the productivity of Singapore’s match-fixing syndicates across the world, Neil’s novel continues to sell. He’s running out of money to pay the match-fixers. This novel may be developed into a documentary or a movie (whichever one pays … anything).
In 2011, Premier Leech was launched across Asia, Australia and the UK and garnered the best reviews of Neil’s career – and none of them were ghost-written by him. Premier Leech tackles the greed, sleaze and corruption tarnishing the English Premier League, where no footballer’s wife is off-limits, no bung is ever turned down and no corrupt businessman is ever denied the chance to buy into the money-making machine. When the central character sleeps with his best mate’s wife, Premier Leech examines how much the modern footballer is willing to sacrifice to stay in the game. In December 2011, FourFourTwo hailed Premier Leech as their Football Novel of the Year. Neil’s mum said the book had too much sex and swearing.
Meanwhile, he hauled his daughter back to Singapore in 2011 to ensure her Mandarin was better than his (she overtook him within three weeks).
In 2012, he released Return to a Sexy Island: Notes from a New Singapore, which topped the national best-seller lists for two months. In 2013, he co-wrote and hosted the TV series, Return to a Sexy Island for Channel NewsAsia, which was repeated in its entirety on National Day. Neil now has uncles calling him “that sexy one” at coffee shops and offering to buy him a drink.
In 2013, Neil published three children’s books – the Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase series – which proved popular with pre-schoolers and kindergarten kids across the region. The books have been launched in the UK and there are plans to turn the series into an animated TV show. He also released Secrets of the Swamp, a pre-teen adventure set in Singapore’s mangroves. A story where Enid Blyton meets George Orwell – there’s a first – the story was written in conjunction with Singapore’s National Parks Board to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
For three years, he has appeared as a Premier League pundit on various Singtel Mio football shows and is now part of Singtel Game On with Paul Parker and Richard Lenton. It’s a live, three-hour show that covers every Premier League goal. There are no ad breaks and no script. Some call it groundbreaking. Neil calls it a laxative.
In 2014, Neil is tweaking a couple of movie screenplays whilst writing around 30 columns a month for The New Paper, Men’s Health, Esquire, FourFourTwo, Young Parents, Dads For Life and Ex-Hammers’ retro West Ham magazine in the UK. He also gives school and college talks, seminars and workshops across the country and is a weekend swimming instructor to his daughter. He likes the last job best.
In 2015, Neil somehow found the time to release three new books. First, I REALLY Rescued a Goat to Save Chinese New Year came out as part of Apple iBooks’ global Chinese New Year promotion. The new book in the Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase series went to No.1 in eight Asian countries and has since been downloaded almost 200,000 times.
Then, Neil released Marina Bay Sins, the first crime thriller in his Inspector Low series, which became an indie iBooks best-seller in the UK and Australia, before the print version hit stores in Singapore and Malaysia.
And finally, his first Singapore non-fiction title in three years, Saving a Sexier Island: Notes from an Old Singapore, came out to appease those who believed he’d gone far too long without writing anything with “island” in the title.
He intends to spend the rest of 2015 working on the TV series for Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase and lying in a darkened room.