Gra­ham Nor­ton may face his big­gest chal­lenge yet as he gets ready to in­ter­view 50 celebri­ties in a seven-hour­long chat show, writes An­drew Fen­ton, but one thing is for cer­tain – he won’t be short of big-star names to fill that daunt­ing list.

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - TV Guide - - COVER FEATURE -

THE GRA­HAM NOR­TON SHOW Sun­day, 9.30pm, Ten

SA­MUEL John­son rode a uni­cy­cle from Syd­ney to Mel­bourne to raise funds for breast can­cer re­search, while Lit­tle Bri­tain’s David Wal­liams swam the English Chan­nel for Sport Re­lief. And in March, Gra­ham Nor­ton will con­quer his own per­sonal Ever­est, with a seven-hour-long chat show for Comic Re­lief.

For­get ul­tra-marathons, for­get John­son’s new plan to uni­cy­cle around Aus­tralia. Nor­ton faces the gru­elling prospect of chat­ting to 50 celebrity guests, in­clud­ing Wal­liams and Dr Who’s Matt Smith, in the ul­ti­mate test of en­durance.

‘‘It’s me, sit­ting in a chair for seven hours,’’ he laughs in his cheeky Ir­ish ac­cent. ‘‘The only peo­ple en­dur­ing this are the au­di­ence.’’

Af­ter al­most two decades in broad­cast­ing, Nor­ton is at the top of his game with his Fri­day night show on BBC1 at­tract­ing the big­gest names in the world, from Johnny Depp to Madonna.

Just two months into the year, he’s al­ready chat­ted with Den­zel Washington, He­len Mir­ren and John Malkovich – and had a rather mem­o­rable en­counter with a word-slur­ring Mark Wahlberg who toyed with Nor­ton’s nip­ples.

The Ir­ish host also at­tracts the best mu­si­cal acts, such as Lady Gaga and Tay­lor Swift.

‘‘Sud­denly there are only 600 peo­ple there see­ing Tay­lor Swift with you and that’s spe­cial,’’ he says.

There’s a sim­ple rea­son they get so many high­pro­file guests. Rat­ings.

‘‘It’s BBC1, it’s a good de­mo­graphic, so if you’re try­ing to shift an al­bum or a film it’s a good show to go on,’’ he says, adding they try to keep promo to a min­i­mum. ‘‘Ev­ery­body has their spiel, we of­ten just let them get that out of their sys­tem and that’s al­most when the show starts. And then we’ll take that bit out!’’ he laughs.

While it looks ef­fort­less, an in­cred­i­ble amount of prepa­ra­tion goes into the show. Each guest is as­signed a pro­ducer and a re­searcher, who trawl through their back­ground look­ing for funny anec­dotes or in­ci­dents. The holy grail is a topic all the guests have an amus­ing story about. There are also ‘‘pre-in­ter­views’’.

‘‘If you de­cide to do some­thing on rab­bits and the pre-in­ter­view re­veals they never owned a rab­bit, it’s bet­ter that hap­pens then rather than on the show when I’ve got a hun­dred rab­bits in cages out the back which are now use­less!’’

Nor­ton has a ball dur­ing dress re­hearsal with the re­searchers stand­ing in for the celebs. ‘‘Those are the fun­ni­est be­cause I can be so rude to the guests! I get it all out of my sys­tem and say ev­ery­thing I want to say to them, and then on the night I’m good.’’

He ad­mits he some­times crosses the line: ‘‘Like at a din­ner party when you think of some­thing hi­lar­i­ous to say and you hear it and think ‘that just sounded mean’.’’ But they cut those bits out too.

Born in Dublin, and mak­ing his Ed­in­burgh Fringe Fes­ti­val de­but in 1992 in a drag com­edy act as Mother Teresa, Nor­ton’s most mem­o­rable early ap­pear­ance was as the in­cred­i­bly an­noy­ing Fa­ther Noel Fur­long in cult com­edy Fa­ther Ted. ‘‘It wasn’t really a turn­ing point. It didn’t really lead to any­thing.’’

His big break was as the fill-in host of chat show The Jack Docherty Show.

‘‘It was the first time I’d ever thought, ‘Wow, I’ve found the thing I want to do!’ But it was some­body else’s job.’’

Talk­show king: The many faces of Gra­ham Nor­ton.

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