Graham Norton interview

02 October 2015

With a new series of The Graham Norton Show on BBC1, the 52-year-old presenter talks to Saga Magazine about gay marriage, Strictly Come Dancing…and his beard.

Graham Norton on…

Not being scared of fame

'If you try to hide away and become a hermit, that’s when you go crazy. You get people jumping over your wall, trying to look at you. I feel if I’m out and about a bit and go to the pub occasionally, people have access to you so you’re not like a panda and they bother you less.

‘But I feel sorry for those kids who become famous when they’re very young. Imagine getting that amount of attention and money at 17. You’d go nuts. They’re never off-duty. People take photos of them everywhere that go online and are there forever. 

‘It definitely helps that I didn’t do anything that made any money till my mid-thirties. By then, I had good friends and a strong sense of who I was. So I was allowed to mess up off-stage.’

Taking the Tube

‘Driving in London makes me mad. You can’t do it. So I get the underground instead. That’s a good thing – we should all be out of our cars. I’ve had a couple of dodgy encounters, but you don’t need to do much to avoid them. For me, it’s head down. No one really wants to engage with anyone else on the Tube, anyway. Everyone is as worried as I am that someone might talk to them.’

Showbiz parties 

‘At the beginning, you think, “Wow, how amazing!” But you discover pretty quickly that they’re all essentially the same and not much fun. You learn to discriminate.’

His dogs, Bailey and Madge, bringing him down to earth

‘I remember one evening I was air-kissing Anne Hathaway in the studio at 8.45, and at 10.30 I was at home on my hands and knees trying to get diarrhoea out of the floorboards with a knife’

The Graham Norton Show

‘If I’m in, I’ll watch it. I feel like if I can’t be bothered to watch it, then how can I expect anyone else to? But I don’t think, “Marvellous, I’ll watch me” – I’m watching the production. It’s very interesting to see how they take certain things out or move them around. I don’t cringe, because it’s very well-edited.’

His favourite guests

‘What I like is when I don’t know anything about someone and they come on and they’re a great surprise. Chris Pratt, the star of Jurassic World, was just fantastic. He came on and did a The Only Way Is Essex impression. That was a highlight. 

‘My guest wish list is getting shorter and shorter. I don’t think we’ve had Jennifer Lawrence, who would be great, or Emma Stone [star of The Help and Birdman], who I love, too. We’ve never had Brangelina, either. But I don’t track it that closely. The fact that I know these people haven’t been on is already amazing! 

‘I do also have a list of no-nos, and no, I’m not telling you who they are!’   

Still getting starstruck

‘There are a few people whose movie-star bubble doesn’t go away. When George Clooney walks into the room, that remains a big deal. When most people come in, they’re soon just another person sitting there talking. Most of that aura goes away – but with Tom Cruise it doesn’t, and with Madonna it doesn’t.’ 

TV mistakes

‘We had Elizabeth McGovern from Downton Abbey on my show, and I called her Elizabeth Montgomery throughout.

‘Elizabeth Montgomery was the star of Bewitched and is dead, but Elizabeth McGovern never once corrected me, bless her. As a chat-show host, one of the few things you should know is the name of your guests!’

Not having politicians on his show 

‘If they go on Newsnight, I think, “Fair enough”. But if they came on my show, I’d think, “Aren’t you supposed to be looking after the economy and talking to the trade unions? Why are you sitting on my sofa telling anecdotes about your schooldays? You should be somewhere else talking about issues. Do your job!”’

Leaving his chat show

‘I still really enjoy it – it’s my dream job - so I have no plans to stop tomorrow. The best advice I ever received was, “Don’t quit the hit” – copyright, Dale Winton. If you’ve got a successful show, keep doing it. 

’It’s hard to gauge, though. You don’t want to leave too early, while the appetite for the programme is still there, but you want to go before people start saying, “Is he still on? Taxi for Norton!” The good thing is, if you miss that moment, someone will soon tell you!‘

Strictly Come Dancing

 “Everyone would like to go on Strictly if they thought they were going to be good. That’s why viewers love it. When the celebrities can waltz properly, people think, “That’s magic!” 

‘But I don’t think I could do that. You don't want to go on and look like you're recovering from an accident and it's physical therapy.’ 

Ireland legalising gay marriage

 ‘I was in Vienna for Eurovision watching the vote unfold on TV. So much had happened in Ireland in a relatively short space of time and to see CNN reporting on it, of all things, was amazing. It was a weird, wonderful, joyous day.’

Spirituality 

‘If karma does exist, I wish it were quicker. It’s too slow for my taste. I certainly don’t believe in an afterlife. When you die, you help the flowers grow, but that’s about it.’ 

His favourite TV programmes

 ‘I’ve been watching a lot of Ru Paul’s Drag Race (truTV). People compete to be America’s next top drag queen. It’s genius.

Becoming a drag queen is always an escape route from something else – they’re putting on a mask. So they all have fantastic back-stories – terrible things have often happened to them. You’re genuinely moved. Doctor Foster with Suranne Jones was brilliant, too.’

His beard

'It seems to have become A Thing with people. But there’s no real story there. I’m quite lazy, and I don’t like shaving. That’s it.’

The Graham Norton Show continues on BBC1, Friday at 10.35pm

Graham’s memoir, The Lives and Loves of a He-Devil (Hodder) is out now. 

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