I thought other writ­ers would say: ‘Oi! Clear off! Go and do your chat show!’

As chat-show favourite Gra­ham Nor­ton be­comes a fully-fledged mem­ber of the lit­er­ary set, he tells HAN­NAH STEPHEN­SON about how his sto­ry­lines echo life’s highs and lows

Burton Mail - - Book Shelf -

AD­MIR­ING the sky­line of Lon­don from his pub­lisher’s impressive of­fices, Gra­ham Nor­ton looks tanned, trim, and ready to re­sume work af­ter a long sum­mer break.

As well as be­ing the most pop­u­lar chat-show host in the coun­try and one of the na­tion’s favourite ‘agony un­cles’, he’s now in­gra­ti­at­ing him­self with the UK’s lit­er­ary glit­terati, hav­ing just penned his sec­ond novel, A Keeper, fol­low­ing the best­selling suc­cess of his first, Hold­ing.

“What’s been in­cred­i­bly surprising to me is how will­ing other writ­ers have been to wel­come me into the fold,” Gra­ham re­veals.

“I thought there would be a bit of, ‘Oi! Clear off! Go and do your chat show!’ But ac­tu­ally, they’ve been in­cred­i­bly wel­com­ing.”

He’s now on the cir­cuit of book fes­ti­vals and in­dus­try events and is de­lighted that other top Ir­ish writ­ers, in­clud­ing Mar­ian Keyes and John Boyne, have been very com­pli­men­tary about his lat­est novel. “If a nov­el­ist started a new chat show, I don’t think I’d be as nice,” he ob­serves wryly.

It seems ev­ery­thing Gra­ham touches turns to gold. He is the third high­est paid BBC on-air star be­hind Gary Lineker and Chris Evans, and his pay-packet has been well scru­ti­nised over the last few years.

Evans is leav­ing Ra­dio 2 for Vir­gin, and BBC Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Tony Hall re­cently said that his pay rev­e­la­tion was a fac­tor in his exit.

Gra­ham, how­ever, has no in­ten­tion of jump­ing ship at the mo­ment, de­spite the at­ten­tion his Gra­ham on his chat show with guests Sir El­ton John, Carey Mul­li­gan and Stephen Fry

own salary has at­tracted – but he con­cedes that he doesn’t think he’s worth what he earns.

“If I was my agent, I wouldn’t be earn­ing what I earn – but that’s why I have an agent. I don’t feel I have to de­fend it. When I heard it was go­ing to be hap­pen­ing (his pay re­vealed), part of me thought, ‘Oh, I should just walk away from this,’ but ac­tu­ally when it hap­pens, it’s just news for a day and then it’s gone – you just get on with life.”

For now, the eight-time Baftaw­in­ner is happy to carry on pre­sent­ing his pop­u­lar Fri­day-night chat show and Satur­day morn­ing Ra­dio 2 show – along­side his agony col­umn in a na­tional news­pa­per and, of course, writ­ing nov­els, hav­ing al­ready penned two mem­oirs as well.

The lat­est fic­tion sees fe­male pro­tag­o­nist El­iz­a­beth Keane re­turn­ing from New York to her child­hood vil­lage in Ire­land, fol­low­ing the death of her mother. Once back, she dis­cov­ers a bun­dle of let­ters spark­ing ques­tions about her pa­ter­nity, the father she never knew and the secrets her mother never told.

The story is told in two time­lines: Then (40 years pre­vi­ously, telling the story of her mother and how she first met her father); and now, as she jug­gles her own com­pli­cated life with an ex-hus­band and teenage son.

Gra­ham, 55, could have taken some of the sto­ry­lines from his own agony col­umns, as he weaves lonely hearts, con­tem­po­rary sin­gle par­ent­hood, sui­cide, men­tal health is­sues and frac­tured re­la­tion­ships into the tale. At times, it’s quite dark.

“We all have dark times. Maybe it’s be­cause I’m Ir­ish but, for me, dark times are pri­vate times. I might talk to friends but I’m not go­ing to write a news­pa­per col­umn about it.”

While his sto­ry­lines aren’t ac­tu­ally from his agony col­umn, he can see the con­nec­tion, and notes: “What’s in­ter­est­ing about the agony col­umn is peo­ple’s re­silience and what peo­ple can cope with – and I al­ways find that in­spir­ing.”

Ra­dio 2 lis­ten­ers will hear Gra­ham and fel­low co­me­dian Maria McEr­lane mull over readers’ let­ters on his Satur­day morn­ing agony slot, of­ten tak­ing dif­fer­ent stand­points on is­sues, and there is much laugh­ter on the show.

“Some­times we go over the edge,” Gra­ham ad­mits. “It all de­pends on what the prob­lem is. Some­times the prob­lems are just stupid so you can ridicule peo­ple, but if it’s a real prob­lem and you feel that peo­ple have ac­tu­ally prop­erly writ­ten in for our help, then you have to be re­spect­ful.

He laughs loudly when asked if he takes him­self se­ri­ously as an agony colum­nist.

“I don’t have qualifications. I’m 55, I’ve been around the block and I take the Telegraph col­umn se­ri­ously be­cause there’s a duty of care there. In one let­ter out of three, I would sug­gest that peo­ple do talk to a proper coun­sel­lor or con­sult a doc­tor. I still stick my oar in but then I’m cov­ered.”

The novel comes out at the same time as a new sea­son of his chat show, and he con­fesses there are guests he’d still like to wel­come onto the sofa for the first time.

“An­gelina (Jolie) is al­ways wel­come, so is Brad (Pitt), even though they’re not to­gether any more. We still have never had Ju­lia Roberts, as far as I know, but these con­ver­sa­tions al­ways make me ner­vous as I think, ‘What if we have had them on but I’ve for­got­ten?”’

Away from the TV and ra­dio stu­dios, Gra­ham lives hap­pily in Lon­don with his two dogs, and although he could af­ford to re­tire, he doesn’t want to.

“You see friends who don’t work and they go a bit Billy bonkers. They over-anal­yse ev­ery­thing and be­come in­volved in the minu­tiae of their lives. It’s not very healthy,” he re­flects. “I just want to carry on while I’m still hav­ing fun.”

Gra­ham Nor­ton

A Keeper, by Gra­ham Nor­ton, is pub­lished by Hod­der & Stoughton, £20

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