One Day: Are Emma and Dexter Based on Real People?

What inspired the lead characters in Netflix’s new romantic series?

Leo Woodall and Ambika Mod reading One Day by David Nicholls behind the scenes of Netflix's One Day
Photo: Robert Viglasky/Netflix

‘Is it autobiographical?’ is usually a question that female novelists can’t escape, but when David Nicholls published One Day in 2009, it also plagued him. Perhaps writing in the romantic genre encouraged interviewers to grant Nicholls honorary-woman status? Lucky him.

One Day is the story of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, whose lives we dip into on the same date each year for a couple of decades. They first meet as students at their Edinburgh University graduation ball in 1988, after which their lives weave in and out of each other’s all the way into their mid-30s. The book was a word-of-mouth hit that was made into a very middling film in 2011, and has since been adapted into a terrific 14-part Netflix series starring This is Going to Hurt’s Ambika Mod and The White Lotus’ Leo Woodall.

Because Emma and Dexter become mildly public figures in the story – him as a notorious 1990s TV presenter and her as a successful Young Adult novelist – it’s easy to map various aspects of their fictional lives onto those of real people. What does author David Nicholls have to say on the matter?

Emma Morley

Speaking to a book blog in 2010, Nicholls explained that though One Day is “certainly not an autobiographical book”, there is a degree of personal experience on its pages, “both [his] own and that of friends.”


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