Born in Clondalkin in 1963, Graham Norton grew up in Cork and after completing only two years of his English degree at University College Cork, spent a year in a hippie commune in San Francisco before moving to London to attend the Central School of Speech and Drama, whilst working as a waiter. After bit parts in Father Ted and appearances on various panel shows, his first chat show So Graham Norton aired on Channel 4 in 1998. Since then, he’s won multiple BAFTAs for his eponymous chat show on BBC1, now in its 16th year, hosted the Eurovision Song Contest since 2008 and has also written four novels. He lives in East London with his husband Jonathan McLeod.
Best childhood memory
We used to go on these caravan holidays. They weren’t really holidays as the caravan didn’t go anywhere. We would just go to the caravan. But I remember those days. They just seemed so not like our lives. They seemed quite carefree. My dad would go out to the local fisherman and get mackerel. And then my mum would fry up the mackerel and we’d have breakfast. It was that classic thing of thinking it was really sunny all the time. You somehow forget about playing cards in the rain.
Best day of your life
When I was a child, the cartoonist Charles Schulz did this cartoon, and it was Charlie Brown and Lucy. And Charlie Brown was talking to Lucy, and I was a kid looking at this. And he went, ‘you know, that in each life, one day must be better than all the others. ‘And Lucy goes, ‘Yes.’ And he goes, ‘What if you’ve had it?’ And as a child, that was such a depressing idea that somehow, your best day… you might have had your best day. So, I am very firmly of the belief that my best day is yet to come.
Best moment in San Francisco
I was living in a hippie commune. And I was living with these people who were twice my age. I was 20 years old, and they were in their 40s and they taught me so much about life. I remember talking to a woman, she was in her 40s and she was training to be a nurse, and I was thinking, ‘why would you bother learning how to do something?’ when you’re forty and she quietly explained to me that, actually, if I start being a nurse now and I retire, I’d have been doing it for 25 years, longer than you’ve been alive, you Irish git. That was a really good thing to know, when you’re 20 that actually, you’ve got more time than you think. And you’ve got time to fail, and time to start again. That’s something I wish I’d known when I was 20: you’ve got more time than you think.
Best Green Room moment
My dad only managed to get to one show. He had Parkinson’s, so travelling wasn’t easy, but before it got too bad. My mum managed to get him to London. You can imagine how hard that was. And it was my first season on Channel 4. The guests were Grace Jones and Judith Chalmers. Judith Chalmers was so lovely to my parents, and they were chatting on, and it was all marvellous. Then Grace Jones was on the outside of the green room wearing this enormous Philip Treacy thing. I said to my dad, ‘Would you like to meet Grace Jones?’ and he looked across the room at Grace Jones to look back at me and went, ‘No’.
Best Eurovision moment
When the Austrian singer Conchita Wurst won with Rise Like a Phoenix. It was wonderful. Eurovision is silly. It is a load of old nonsense. And it’s not to be taken seriously and yet every now and again, something will shine through. It was a real reminder that night, that countries aren’t their governments, because we kind of thought Conchita would win, but we just thought all those Eastern European countries and Russia and everything, they’ll never vote for a bearded lady singing a song. And actually, it made you realise, ‘Oh no, they did vote for her because, like I say, countries aren’t their governments.’ They’re made up of people. As commentators we were all up on our little kind of rabbit hutches at the top of the stadium and we were in tears because it was just such a beautiful moment.
Unless I’m in my car, I’m quite slow to anger. If I’m in my car though… it’s weird because I don’t know where it comes from or where it goes because I’m not an angry person. Now, I very rarely drive. I cycle everywhere so I don’t know what’s happened to that anger. I’ve not gone crazy; it’s just sometimes low-level fury when I drive. I’m not out of the car banging on someone else’s car. I’m not leaning on the horn or anything. It’s just I know that I’m in quite a feisty mood the whole time that I’m driving.
Worst childhood memory
I pretended to be sick and my mother knew I was lying so she frog-marched me down to the doctor. She’d done this with my sister. And the doctor had gone, ‘There’s nothing wrong with that girl,’ and so my sister was in even more trouble. So now it was my turn to be humiliated by the doctor. So, I got to the doctor, and he was examining me and I was saying I’ve got a pain in my tummy. And I’m going, ‘Oow, oow oow.’ And then I get sent out of the room and he’s talking to my mother and I’m sitting in the waiting room thinking, ‘Oh, here it goes, I’m in such trouble,’ and they call me back in and he says, ‘you’ve got appendicitis and we’re going to take your appendix out.’ And in that moment, you’ve got to decide, do I fess up and have two adults very annoyed with me. Or do I have a general anaesthetic and have an operation? So, I went with the operation? I was very young, but yes, I went ahead with it. But that moment in the doctor’s office wasn’t great.
Worst moment of your life
Getting stabbed in 1989. I lost half my blood. The bad moment I remember – because when it’s happening, is all just trauma – but then the morning after, I was in the hospital ward and I remember a nurse came up to me and said, ‘do you want us to contact anyone? Do you want us to contact your parents?’ And in my head, I was thinking, ‘well, I don’t want to worry my parents but equally, if I’m going to die, they’d probably like to come and say goodbye to me, because they’d be annoyed if I didn’t tell them.’ So, I said to the nurse, am I going to die? And she went, ‘Eerrrrm…’ and I was like, ‘don’t pause. This is not the place to pause. This is quite serious.’ So that was bad. But the positive of it was I was probably in my mid to late 20s; I was going into a third year at drama school, and it just put everything into perspective. They were doing the castings for the third-year shows; there were a lot of people crying and running into toilets and slamming doors. And I was just sitting there going, ‘I’m alive. I’m good. I’m golden.’ So, in a way, it kind of changed my life for the better.
Worst broadcasting moment
Before I did my first ever live show on the BBC, of a show called Strictly Dance Fever, just before we were going to go live, the news broke that the Pope had died. So, they went live to Rome, and they were doing a newsflash, ‘the Pope’s dead’, and everyone was in a fluster and running around and in my ear, I can hear, ‘okay, there’s got to be no applause when we come to the opening bit. Then there will be applause as you do your link, focus on the tension of the competition, rather than the excitement of competition.’ But look, the Pope is dead; we’re having a dancing competition; it’s never going to be great. What they hadn’t figured out was that the opening titles of Dance Fever was a black screen with a switch on it. And I walked on in a suit and flicked this switch and that meant all these neon signs came on and music happened. So, what people at home saw was someone in Rome sombrely saying, ‘Pope John Paul is dead, appearing on a plain black screen.’ Those letters appeared and then I walked on, flicked a big switch starting all his neon. It wasn’t my proudest moment.
Worst moment of homophobia
The terrible thing is that you live slightly in fear. That you’re very aware of where you are, what’s going on and how you’re appearing. It’s a low-level thing. But it’s always with you, although it’s less now, as now my defining characteristic is that I’m old, whereas when I was young my defining characteristic was that I was gay. When I was a young person I was hyper-aware of where I was and who I was talking to.
Impatience. And I’m quite judgemental, but I’ve got a bit better at that. I have ironed out some of my judginess. I used to be judgy about everything. Now it’s just people on scooters. Left to my own devices I would, bring in a law, to get rid of them but you’ve got to go, ‘No, those people are enjoying their adult life on a scooter. I must let them enjoy that. And that’s good.’ So, I’ve learned to swallow that.
Worst advice received
I remember somebody told me to drink vodka soda, because it has the fewest calories. You’d get drunk with the fewest calories, but it tastes horrible, so that was bad advice.
I’ve made some terrible dating decisions. I’ve certainly dated some awful people. One of them went to the papers, which wasn’t great. That was a poor choice on my part.