Born and raised in Ireland in 1963, Graham Norton has become a hit for his multiple TV shows, radio shows and as the host of Eurovision for the UK. His lovable personality resonates on every show that he stars on, whether he’s the centre of attention or just there as a support. It’s helped him to sustain a career in the industry that’s been going for over twenty years, and there’s no sign that it’s set to reach an end anytime soon.
The presenter is best known for his chat show The Graham Norton Show. It’s been on the air for over a decade now and continues to perform well in the ratings, even after twenty-two seasons. The success has been largely down to Norton’s brutal sense of humor and ability to connect with the guests on his couch (who he may or may not encourage to have a couple of stiff drinks to relax behind the scenes).
With such a strong variety of A-List names regularly being interviewed by the Irish comic, the show is one of the biggest of its genre to air in Britain. Of course, where there are big names, there are plenty of opportunities for some juicy information to come to light. If you’ve ever wanted the best gossip on The Graham Norton Show and the man who presents it, you don’t need to look any further than this list.
From drags to riches
Norton achieved overnight fame in 1992 after performing in drag as Mother Teresa of Calcutta at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. His stand-up comedy act fooled a religious affairs department into believing that he was the real deal, despite it being him with a tea towel on his head acting like an Irish housewife. The act propelled Norton to stardom, and he’s turned his 15 minutes of fame into a career that’s lasted over 25 years. In 2009, the presenter returned to performing in drag when he starred in the West End’s La Cage aux Folles for a three-month stint.
It’s scary to think that Norton’s career almost ended before it had even begun after he was horrifically attacked back in 1988. The TV presenter was living in London at the time when he was accosted on the street and stabbed, landing him in the hospital for over a fortnight. The incident was almost the death of him as Norton nearly bled out on the pavement, but thankfully he pulled through. Rather than let the attack phase him, he openly jokes about it on his show – this man is a fighter.
Years of uncertainty
Norton’s persona has always been that of a man comfortable with his orientation as an LGBT+ individual. His camp and sassy attitude is a large part of why many of us love watching him, but he hasn’t always been so comfortable in his own skin. As a teenager and a man in his early twenties, he struggled with his feelings of attraction, flitting between both genders for several years. He enjoyed several relationships with women, one of which was an affair with someone much older, but through his experiences, he discovered where his heart really lies.
Graham Norton is a man who loves his dogs. That’s not uncommon to find in the world of showbiz, but the presenter is a bit more devoted to his four-legged friends than some people might be. His love for dogs was rumored to contribute to his split from software designer Trevor Patterson after he showered more affection on his pooches than his boyfriend. Norton has two dogs, a labradoodle named Bailey and a terrier called Madge, the latter of which he adopted from Dogs Trust.
A year abroad
Graham is very proud of his heritage, but when he was 20 years old, he fled home to live in a hippy commune in San Francisco. He made the move while studying at the University College of Cork after a guest lecturer gave him a number for the place. As a young man who was somewhat lost, he found comfort with the people in the commune who welcomed him with open arms. Norton lived there for a good year before eventually deciding that San Francisco felt too small and he hopped back on a plane, this time to London.
One role to rule them all
Norton’s career could have gone in a very different direction in the early 2000s after the presenter auditioned for a role in the critically and commercially successful film series The Lord of the Rings. He tried out for the part of Samwise Gamgee, but was ultimately unsuccessful, and the character went to actor Sean Astin. Although Norton may be synonymous with presenting roles, this wouldn’t have been the first time he performed on screen as someone other than himself. He had a recurring role as Father Noel Furlong in the ‘90s sitcom Father Ted.
Money isn’t everything
Graham Norton is a staple of BBC TV these days, with his weekly chat show still averaging several million viewers as it approaches its 23rd season. However, the presenter hasn’t always been associated with the public service broadcaster, and there was once a time when he wanted nothing to do with them. He was so adamant that he preferred being with Channel 4 that he turned down an offer of £5 million. By the time Norton felt ready to transition to the BBC, that figure had dropped significantly.
His time with the BBC didn’t get off to a great start following some technical difficulties during his first night on the air. Although Norton’s show Strictly Dance Fever went off without a hitch, his microphone was left turned on when the show finished, meaning his voice was still being broadcast across the nation. While he may not have said anything rude or offensive, viewers at home weren’t too pleased when the first episode of the Doctor Who revival was interrupted by Norton’s voice asking, “Where do you want me?”
You might be aware of Norton’s autobiographical works that were released in 2004 and 2014 respectively, but the presenter has done more than just write about himself. In 2016, he published his first work of fiction in the form of the novel, Holding. Centered around an Irish village with a dark past, the book has been praised by reviewers for its authentic feel, well-rounded characters and comedic undertones. A new novel entitled A Keeper is due for release in late 2018 and is expected to be both “darker and funnier” than Norton’s debut.
Graham Norton has been providing the UK commentary for Eurovision for almost a decade now, having taken over from legendary broadcaster Terry Wogan in 2009. His humorous remarks make up for the frequently dismal outcome of the British entrants, and it turns out his predecessor offered him a word of advice before he took on the role. According to Norton, he only had one thing to say, and that was to “avoid having a drink until the fifth song.” The presenter tends to get very spirited during his commentary, so we’re not sure if he followed Wogan’s advice or not.
Graham always knows how to get the best information out of the stars on his sofa, but it isn’t just spur of the moment luck. During dress rehearsals, researchers sit in the place of the guests and relate relevant information back to the presenter. While Norton practices this back and forth and learns more about the people he’ll be interviewing, he often comes up with “something funny to say, or a good supplementary question.” It’s this preparedness that always helps him to dig deeper into the subjects that might have otherwise slipped under the radar.
Origin of the red chair
The red chair segment is one of the pinnacle moments in every episode of The Graham Norton Show. Fans sit down and tell an embarrassing story about themselves, with Norton and his guests potentially cutting them short by pulling a lever and knocking the chair over backwards. The bit was inspired by Ronnie Corbett’s armchair monologues from his sketch show The Two Ronnies, where the comedian would sit in a large chair and spend a lot of time telling a very simple joke. Graham added the chair tipping to put his own spin on it.
Say yes to the guest
As the face of his own chat show, you’d wonder whether Graham Norton has any say in who he gets to interview. When he hosted So Graham Norton on Channel 4 in the early 2000s, the majority of his guests were friends that he’d chosen himself. The same can’t quite be said for his BBC One show, although he does have some leverage in the process. “I have a hand in saying no to people rather than saying yes,” he admitted, claiming it’s best to be able to reject people who he doesn’t think will work for the audience.
We are not amused
Guests have rarely ever withdrawn from the show after agreeing to appear on it, but there has been the odd occasion where that’s happened. Most of the time, it’s just been an unfortunate turn of events, like when Nicole Kidman had to pull out because she fell ill. However, in 2007, actress Hilary Swank outright refused to go through with her scheduled appearance after finding out about “the nature of the show.” It’s never scared anyone else off before, but there’s a first for everything.
World record breaker
There’s a spot in the Guinness World Records exclusively for Graham Norton after his chat show marathon in 2013. At least, there was until this year. Norton hosted the 6-hour marathon in aid of Comic Relief, and in the process asked his guests a total of 175 questions while on air. This broke the record for the most amount of questions asked on a TV chat show, and also helped to raise over £1 million for charity. However, after five years holding the record, he was recently beaten by presenter Sreekandan Nair who asked a whopping 675 questions in the same span of time.
We’re all familiar with stage invaders who try to steal the spotlight and cause chaos, but we’re not used to them coming in such small packages. On two separate occasions, filming of The Graham Norton Show was interrupted by a fly making its way into a guest’s drink. It first happened in 2013 when one landed in Chris O’Dowd’s beverage and the actor ended up drinking it, much to the horror of fellow guest Kristen Wiig. A year later, it happened again with Luke Evans when Emma Thompson had to scoop a fly out of his glass.
Going a touch too far
Last year, one of Norton’s guests was subject to criticism after viewers accused him of inappropriate behaviour with another guest. During the episode, Adam Sandler repeatedly touched Claire Foy’s knee, and people watching from home claimed that the actress looked uncomfortable with the contact. Foy spoke out following the interview, assuring fans that she was “not offended” by Sandler’s actions, with representatives for the actor stating that it was intended to be nothing more than a “friendly gesture”.
Getting a leg up
It’s not often that people can cite a chat show as being responsible for bagging them a job, but Tom Hiddleston has Graham Norton to thank after landing a part in the latest Aardman animation Early Man. Filmmaker Nick Park was browsing through YouTube one day when he stumbled across a video from Norton’s show where Hiddleston was doing a series of celebrity impressions. Park was amazed by the actor’s versatility and convinced himself that Hiddleston would be perfect for a voice role in his new film.
With so many guests appearing on his shows over the years, it’s to be expected that some people weren’t as easy to interview as others. It’s the fear of every TV presenter to get stuck with someone tricky or boring to deal with, but Norton has a trick up his sleeve for whenever that happens. It involves giving them several drinks that have a bit more of a kick than the water that most guests are usually given on a chat show. If they get a little tipsy, it tends to help move things along.
The Mark Wahlberg incident
Speaking of which, during an appearance on Norton’s show in 2013, Mark Wahlberg had everyone talking about his antics which were believed to be the result of one too many drinks backstage. While on the show, the actor slurred his words and even sat on the presenter’s lap where he proceeded to rub Graham’s chest. Viewers were taken aback, but in a later interview, Wahlberg commented that his behavior had been “pre-planned” and that he’d discussed it with fellow guest Sarah Silverman before filming. “I was trying to do a ‘bit’, and some people took it too seriously,” he revealed.