Graham Norton chats about his Irish storytelling roots, a new second novel and why he really doesn’t mind not being invited to the after-show party…
“I Don’t Have Famous Friends!”
After 20 years as a chat show host, Graham Norton doesn’t get starstruck anymore. He’s become used to swapping banter with Hollywood A-listers, Britain’s showbiz greats and the planet’s biggest pop stars.
But now and then, he admits, sitting in his swivel chair and gazing at his star-studded sofa does give him a moment’s pause.
“It’s true that some nights when I’m sat there looking at that couch with those guests, I do pinch myself and think, ‘I can’t believe this is my show!’” says Graham with a chuckle. “It is incredible, and I try never to take it for granted.”
In person, Graham is just as witty and waspish as he is on the TV, although a more low-key presence. We’re meeting over coffee in central London to chat about the return of his chat show to BBC1 and the publication of his second novel, AKeeper.
Hob-nobbing with the rich and famous is a great job to have, but Graham insists that it’s pretty much confined to the chat show studio.
“I don’t have famous friends, and the stars don’t ask me out to dinner after the show, either!” he laughs. “In fact, sometimes I’ll see in the paper that they’ve gone out with each other after my show, but invitations don’t come my way.”
Having said that, Graham admits he did go to Kylie Minogue’s 50th birthday party in May.
“I swear I don’t know her very well and it didn’t seem like a showbiz party,” he says. “It was just really good fun, and Kylie sang!”
While the onscreen Graham is a chat-show legend with a twinkly Irish charm and a legion of snappy comebacks, offscreen he lives a quieter life.
He has a close circle of friends and lives alo ne e in east London with his belo ov ed pooches, labradoodl le BaileyB (14) and rescue terri er Madge, who’s slightl ly younger. He is eterna allyy single, and says any ppo otential boyfriend would hav ve to t pass the canine test.
“I couldn’t imagin e beingb with anybody who di dn n’t like dogs – even if I didn’t t ha ave dogs!” he says.
His idea of the perf fec ct evening, he says, is on ne spent watching telly with a glaass g of white wine and his do ogs sleeping nearby. “I jus st love the sound of them sno oozzing.”
Graham says dogs ddo on’t just offer company, bu ut therapy. “It’s good to shasare your life with a dog, be eca ause dogs are ‘mindfulness’ ’ upp the wazoo,” he says. “Whe en running around a field gooing ‘la, la, la,’ the dog has non ideai that the end will come. Dogs only live in the momen nt anda that’s a good lesson.”
He adds with a laugh h th hat they keep his feet firmly y ono the ground. “I can recal ll evenings when I’m kissi ing g Jessica Chastain on the so ofa and an hour later, pickin ng up dog mess from the kitch hen n floor,” he says ruefully.
Not content to have conquered the chat show w world, Graham has forge ed a career as a successful novelist. His 2016 debut ,a
“It’s good to share your life with a dog. They only live in the moment”
murder mystery called Holding, was a Sunday Times bestseller. His second, A Keeper, has just been published. It’s a story told over two time periods, that of a mother in the 1970s and her daughter now.
“It’s based on a true story my mother told me,” says Graham, referring to his mum, Rhoda (87). “In fact, I had to cheer up the ending – the true ending of the story was pretty miserable.”
His gift for storytelling clearly comes from his homeland. “It’s an Irish thing,” he says. “I grew up in rural Ireland and everyone was telling stories all the time about this neighbour or that farmer. The stories were just in the ether and some of them were stranger than fiction.”
Not only was he listening to those stories, but he has the gift for re-telling them in the form of a best-seller.
“I was tickled with how well Holding was received,” admits Graham. “I had no idea beforehand how it would go. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at how open the writing community has been.
“You’d think they’d be sniffy – there are only so many books published each year and writers are probably thinking, ‘We’d really rather people didn’t buy the books from the bloke off the telly’. I thought there might have been a bit of resentment, but no, writers are nicer people than that.”
Writing has given Graham fresh purpose and the glimpse of a new career when he decides to step down from his job as our favourite chat show host. Luckily, it seems he’s in no rush.
“I really do enjoy the process of writing,” says Graham. “But if it was my whole life, I probably wouldn’t like it – it’s very solitary and would drive me crazy. But as a part of the life I have, I found it hugely satisfying going into this world and recreating these months in other people’s lives. I’m very lucky to be able to combine writing and the chat show.”
With Bailey and Madge With guests Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Kylie and Tom Holland
TheGrahamNorton Show is on Friday nights on BBC1. Graham’s novel AKeeper is published on October 4 (Hodder & Stoughton, £20).