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He was born Graham Walker, but the slight hint of naughtiness
in his chosen stage name has proved to be highly appropriate.
Beginning as a holiday relief presenter on the Jack Docherty show,
Graham Norton rapidly overshadowed the incumbent,
becoming a sort of dirtier but equally perky version
of Terry Wogan,
and was soon hosting a talk show every weekday night on Channel 4.
He now occupies the slots vacated on BBC One and Radio Two
by Jonathan Ross,
and established an entertaining presentational duet
with Andrew Lloyd Webber in theatrical audition shows.
Part of the purpose of this interview
is to go back into your background.
Now, you're part of a relatively small group of people
who know a great deal about your background,
because you took part in Who Do You Think You Are?
I wondered where you were going with that. I was like, "What?"
No, "Who Do You Think You Are?"
I'm just interested, most people don't know very much
unless they do amateur genealogy stuff.
That experience, knowing that much more about where you come from,
is it useful or did it change you?
Not... I found it interesting.
What I didn't have was a real emotional connect with those stories.
-They really want you to cry on camera.
-Oh, they want you to cry!
Just rubbish questions.
"Will he cry eventually?"
It got to a point about halfway through where I just thought,
"You know what, I'm not going to cry."
Then there was a moment in Leeds where I was holding these documents
that went back to 1690, or something,
and it wasn't so much my family's connection with those documents,
it was just holding something which was written by a human hand
that long ago, which was sort of moving,
and if I had bothered I am sure I could have squeezed a tear out.
But, no, I did not. I resisted.
The fear of a lot of Scottish and Irish people, I think,
is that they'll discover they really come from Dagenham.
But, perhaps to your relief,
you discovered you are tremendously Irish.
We are tremendously Irish,
but when you went back to 16-blah-blah-blah,
we are from Yorkshire. Eventually.
Which I sort of knew,
because we were Protestants from Southern Ireland.
Er, but do I feel Yorkshire? No. Absolutely not.
You've got to give some credit,
we've lived in Ireland for a long time!
Let us be Irish.
So, I found it interesting, but not that...engaging, in a way.
I suppose what's happened in Ireland is so much changed so fast
in the '50s and '60s,
it's like somebody built a trench between us and the past.
It's really hard to imagine that in a lifetime
people were living like that,
and now everyone has central heating and lots of channels.
I was very interested in your memoir, So Me.
Barely five per cent is about your childhood,
whereas Paul O'Grady, for example,
wrote a whole book about his childhood.
Was that a policy decision?
That it was boring or sensitive, that kind of material?
It wasn't that it was sensitive.
Of course, now that I see people bringing out multiple volumes of the things, I feel like an idiot.
So, I shot my wad in one book, I'm a fool!
But, no, my childhood, I didn't find it interesting at the time.
So, looking back...
..I started finding my life engaging when I was about 16.
When I started having experiences outside of Ireland.
That's when I, sort of, came alive.
That's the amazing thing, I was quite thrilled by this,
you dispense with almost a decade in one sentence in the book.
"It was in Bandon that I spent my teenage years,
"mostly watching TV and reading."
And that's it. That's your adolescence gone.
Honestly, because I went back to my school recently, to do a prize day,
and, I thought, clearly your job on these occasions
is to tell amusing stories about your time spent at the school.
I really couldn't think of anything funny that had happened during six years. That's a long time.
I could remember a couple of stories about other people, but not me.
I really felt like I was just biding my time.
That's a story about how Ireland has changed, I think.
I'm now going to invade your privacy,
but we happened to be in the same make-up room once,
when you took a phone call from the school,
asking you to come and do the prize-giving.
That was that day! How weird.
But, you came off the phone and said they had specifically asked you
if you could address the question of being gay,
because they were worried they had people who were worried about it.
And I would never have guessed that,
I would still associate Ireland with being nervous of that.
I think in a way, they maybe thought that I wanted to talk about it.
That was the weird thing, whether we were dancing in a circle.
Certainly, when I did do the Prize Day,
there were pupils there who were openly gay.
Which, yeah, I'm with you, that surprised the hell out of me.
I wouldn't fancy my chances.
But, they were.
There were some recent past pupils and they were openly gay.
Ireland has changed so much compared to the Ireland I left when I was 20.
If, when I was 20, you'd said,
"Oh, would you like to spend time in this country?"
I would have gone, "No, I refer you to my ticket and passport.
"I am leaving!"
Now, I spend at least two months every year there.
And that experience, which is quite rare,
of being a Protestant in Southern Ireland, to an outsider
it does seem peculiar.
But, did you feel isolated for that reason?
You do, or, at least, I did.
Because it's that odd thing, we often lived in the country.
We moved around a lot, we had about 13 different houses when I was a kid.
Sometimes we lived in the country,
so there was an isolation inherent in that.
There weren't other kids to play with, that was it.
It was just me and a stick, wandering around.
Er, but even if we lived in a little town, or something,
with other houses, I didn't know those children.
I remember we moved to Bandon the first time
and it was during the summer holidays.
And it was amazing, I played with all of these kids,
I got invited to birthday parties.
It was great, and then, come September,
there was much excitement about going to school,
and it was revealed that I would not be going to their school.
-Never really saw them again.
That was, kind of, the end of it.
We all recognised that we were different,
and that's what would happen now.
And I think there was a slight under-siege mentality
in the Protestant community.
Because if you married outside of your faith,
there was real pressure for the kids to be brought up Catholic,
priests would make people convert
and there was a terrible Bishop at the time in Cork.
So, there was a real sense of being,
You had to go to these special Protestant hops
or Protestant socials.
The idea was that you met a nice Protestant girl
and you'd have some Protestant babies.
And that was great.
I mean, how you could ever compete with a Catholic nation, I don't know.
But they were making an effort.
I think my sister, she got engaged to a Methodist
and even that was, you know, "Oh, well, it'll do!"
There's another little conversation alluded to in the book,
which is that when you say in an interview later on
that you're gay and Irish.
Your mother says, "I thought we weren't going to talk about that."
Because the deal was that she knew but your dad wasn't supposed to.
Well, the deal was no one talked about it.
So, when I did say something,
actually it wasn't even in an interview,
it was on TV.
It's so bad. It was on TV, I said something about being gay.
And then, you know, that weekend I was talking to my mum,
and I could tell there was a slight froideur on the phone.
I was like, "Is everything all right?" "No." "No? What's wrong?"
She said this thing...
"It would have been nice if you'd told us first."
And that's where I said,
"But you specifically told me not to tell you."
Because she had sent my sister,
I went home with a boyfriend once, I got off the train,
and my sister was there to meet us, and I thought, "That's odd."
My poor sister, driving us back, had to do this thing of,
"A message from your mother.
"You're not to upset your father."
So, obviously, my mother thought this was me coming home to come out.
This was my big reveal weekend.
It hadn't really crossed my mind.
But this was the message, don't upset your father.
I took that to mean, "Don't say anything." So, I didn't.
And so my mother said der-de-der, and I said, "Well, was Dad upset?"
And, she goes, "Well, it turned out he knew."
It was incredible to me that this couple had never talked about it.
It had obviously never been discussed.
And as we know, and you've reflected on and talked and so on,
It was in agony, even now for some young men and women growing up,
it's an agony when they discover that they're gay.
Did you've any of that or was it fairly straightforward?
No, I remember not wanting to be,
I remember, you know...
..being afraid that I was.
But, you know, hoping it was a phase.
Or, hanging onto the bisexual tag for a while.
It's a long time, and this makes me sound like Grandfather Time,
but you do worry for kids now that, in a way,
they're in such a rush to decide.
That they're not allowed to have a phase,
they're not allowed be bisexual.
Suddenly they're gay.
I think maybe it's a longer process than that.
There are more stops along the way than just deciding boldly
in one fell swoop.
A lot of the people I meet who grew up in Ireland at the time you did,
or certainly the period before that,
there was this sense of, true of Australia at the time as well,
of having to get away if you were going to do anything.
-Did you have that?
-Absolutely, I wanted to get out.
It felt like I didn't have options, really.
The sort of things I wanted to do, I didn't know how to do them there.
There were no drama schools.
I did apply to a school of journalism but didn't get in.
Leaving seemed easier than staying. So that's what I did.
Watching TV, which was my window on the world, we had British television.
England looked a bit like Ireland, I noticed.
In the New Avengers, it had hedgerows and that sort of stuff.
America just seemed thrilling, so, when I did get my ticket and get out,
America was my first port of call,
that's where I felt much more drawn to.
Also, it just seemed bigger and more exciting.
The decision to go into showbiz, first acting,
there had been hints at school.
You discovered at school that you enjoyed drama more than rugby.
Yes, I would say.
Our school was a very odd school in that it was obsessed by sport.
The whole curriculum was geared around sports,
everything, talked about sports.
If you were good at sports, great. Overall, our school was USELESS.
They won NOTHING.
They were terrible at it, and yet it had this huge importance,
apparently it's all changed now, Mark,
and they're very good at sports.
They win things. It's all come good.
But, yes, a particular teacher, a couple of teachers,
as always it's the English teacher who draws you out of yourself.
And I did some drama there, and enjoyed it.
I knew that was something I wanted to pursue.
So the decision to actually go and try to go to drama school,
that came out of San Francisco, did it?
Yes, that was a wonderful year of living in this hippie commune.
Which all sounds, er, like it should be funnier than it was.
But, it's a funny idea,
but once you are actually doing it it's just shared housing.
We'd have called it a big flatshare. They called it a hippie commune.
It's really just sharing expenses and not having home ownership.
What was fantastic, because I was 20, but from Ireland,
that makes you an international 13.
A real conservative, with a small c.
Everything was stupid, "Well, that's just crazy, that's mad."
It was wonderful for me to meet these people
who did open me up to other ways of thinking and looking at the world.
I remember meeting this woman, Erica,
she was there and must have been 40, and she was training to be a nurse.
I remember thinking, "How tragic is that?
"That that sad old woman would be bothering to learn how to do
"anything at this point in her life."
I must have, in some way, said this to her. I hope I phrased it kindly.
And she pointed out to me that when she qualified,
that, if she worked as a nurse till she retired,
she'd have been doing it for 25 years,
which, of course, was longer than I had been alive.
It was longer than I could imagine doing anything for.
And it was a bit of a "eureka" moment.
I suddenly realised I had time.
I had time to actually go down the wrong path,
I had time to make mistakes,
to do things that weren't going to go anywhere.
That kind of gave me the freedom to go back to Britain
and at least try to go to drama school.
And if I didn't get in then I'd think again,
and if I did get in then I'd take it that step further.
I think that's a really important lesson for everyone to learn.
There's more time than you think there is.
Now if Graham's mum could just go and make a cup of tea,
we're going to discuss the afternoon as a rent boy.
-So as long as she is making a cup of tea, we'll be OK.
The afternoon as a rent boy.
This was just as students do, as young people do, waiters,
to raise money?
Well, it was more than that.
It was also, in a way, er, to raise excitement.
It was also a way to have sex.
Which I know sounds so stupid and it sounds like I'm making a joke.
But, it seemed to me quite a good way to have sex because it was your job.
You were guaranteed that there would be some sex,
it was in your job description.
So I thought I could do this.
I remember the night... I had to go for a meeting with this man.
It got to a point where I thought,
"Oh, I think he's going to try and have sex with me."
And, again, it just sounds...
it all falls into tragic "small town girl from the Midwest".
I remember saying to him, "Oh, are you going to go all the way?"
And, he came up with such a terrible line.
He went, "Well, if you apply for a job as a secretary,
"you're expected to write a letter."
And he then said, "Oh, but..." that classic thing,
"..if you're uncomfortable, we can stop."
"OK!" I was uncomfortable! "Yeah, let's stop."
And I walked away from it.
I was so lucky that that's all that happened.
It's one of those things that makes me so glad, in a way,
that I'm not a parent.
Because, to know that your child can be out there in the world making such
Such stupid mistakes would just fill you with dread. At all times.
Welcome back to Mrs Norton(!)
We should have sent your sister out of the room as well.
She may know now.
When you went to drama school,
I talk to lots of actors and with some of them it's apparent
in the first year that they're going to be Mark Rylance or Ian McKellen
and they're going to play Hamlet and Henry V.
Were you, in theory, going to be that kind of actor?
Or was it always apparent that you would be a comic character?
I think it was apparent to everyone else, but not to me.
The one thing I actually learned in drama school over the three years,
seriously, the only thing I think I learned, was what I couldn't do.
I wasn't good at being serious.
And that I did have an aptitude for comedy.
The other thing I found out is that some people don't.
Some people really don't.
This thing that I had never valued, suddenly you realise,
Oh, hang on, this could be something I could use.
It's something that not everyone has.
That hadn't really struck me up to that point.
To that extent, drama school was useful.
But you did think at the beginning
that you were going to be a proper actor?
I went to drama school thinking I was going to be the next Kenneth Branagh.
-He was from Belfast.
Fiona Shaw was from Cork, there were...
..what I liked about it was that I could see
that someone who'd come from somewhere like I'd come from
and had done it.
You kind of thought, "It's possible."
You're not breaking entirely new ground.
Of course, once I started doing it, I realised it was not possible,
I was not that person.
One of the turning points in your life,
which could clearly have gone the other way,
it's the horrifying sequence in your memoir,
when you were stabbed in north-west London
when you were at drama school.
And, this did actually, my eyes did fill with tears at this point.
You staggered to someone's doorstep, and a man answers,
he calls the ambulance, the police, thankfully.
His wife comes down, you say, "..in a cloud of dressing gown."
and you say to her, "Can you hold my hand?"
Yeah, I remember saying that to her. "Can you hold my hand?"
And I think it's a real truism that no one wants to die alone,
because I had lost a lot of blood, and it was that...
I, I remember lying there, in the street,
and thinking, "Oh, no. I'd better get up."
Because it was hard to get up.
Once I was holding her hand, then I felt able to relax into it.
It really is your life force ebbing away. It's like going to sleep.
I lost over half of my blood. I was very lucky to get away with it.
All nurses and doctors must dread this.
You asked the dreaded question, "Am I going to die?"
What happened was, they said to me,
"Is there anyone you want us to phone?"
I thought, "Well, should they phone my parents?"
I thought, "Well, I don't want them getting all worried over nothing
"if I'm going to be fine."
This was all going on in my head. "Should I phone my parents?"
I'm going, "errrrrr."
The only one bit of information that I needed to answer that question was, "Am I going to die?"
She, I'm hoping she was quite a young nurse, kind of went, "Umm..."
No! Just go with the "No."
Cheer him up. If I die, I am not going to sue you.
And if I live, I am not going to sue you. Just say, "No."
That's when I realised how serious it was. Yeah, it was bad.
I've seen this described in some places, the attack,
as if it were a hate crime or homophobic thing,
but they were after your wallet, weren't they?
It was just a mugging. It was just a mugging.
I was probably wearing an annoying second-hand suit.
But, I think mostly it was just a mugging.
They got something ridiculous, like six pounds or something.
Yeah, it's not worth dying for six pounds.
And the other thing, it just puts everything into perspective,
it happened in the summer.
I was going into the third year of drama school.
That's when you get cast in the final shows,
that agents are going to come and see,
and casting directors are going to come and see.
You can imagine there's a lot of slamming of toilet doors and crying.
Going "I'm not playing an old person again!"
And, I was just, "You know what, I am just happy to be here."
It made me very sane through that crazy last year of drama school.
It's like having a little secret.
I know this thing and you're running around crazy.
We get now into the showbiz years.
And the breakthrough role, there may be people watching who saw it,
Puss in Boots, in Harrogate.
Oh, my God. I wouldn't describe it as the breakthrough role.
In a way.
It was your first gig, wasn't it?
Well, no, I had done Shadow of a Gunman
in the Liverpool Playhouse the year before.
The roles just kept rolling in.
The next year I did Puss in Boots in Harrogate.
In a way it was a breakthrough role in that it was one of those,
I didn't like it.
You spend all this time waiting for the job and then the job arrives
and you think "I don't even like this.
"I'm not even enjoying this. What was all that about?"
Working in restaurants is more fun than this.
So, it did push me towards
writing my own stuff and going into comedy, I think.
One of the things that interests me with actors
is whether they can remember anything
from their first role, of the dialogue.
Some can recite the whole thing. Do you remember any lines at all?
I'm sure at some point I went "Whoa, Neddy!"
Or a "Come on, Neddy."
All of my scenes were with Neddy. I didn't have any scenes alone.
But, no, I can't go into streams, no.
And then another key figure in your life,
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who turned out to be pivotal.
That, I think, is when my life turned around.
In that I knew I wanted to write something to perform myself.
Then odd little things happened at the same time.
A guy I'd worked with in restaurants, Mike Belben,
he'd taken over a pub, The Eagle.
On Farringdon Road, just up from The Guardian,
and there was a space upstairs.
There was a gallery, so I thought "Well, now..."
So, I had access to a space. So, I thought,
"I could possibly write something and perform something."
I sort of half said it to Mike, Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.
Then, he put a date in the diary, he put in this date,
and, so, people started saying to me,
"Oh, wow, we're going to come and see your show..." on whatever day it was.
"OK!" It was good. It forced me to write something.
I didn't know what to write or do.
I certainly wasn't anywhere near doing stand-up.
I was still very much in the acting world,
and when I'd worked in restaurants, in between cleaning glasses,
I would put the tea towel on my head and pretend to be Mother Teresa,
to much hilarity(!)
I just thought, "At least that's an idea.
"Let's see how far I can stretch that very flimsy comedy idea."
I managed to kind of just about make it an hour.
By the time I'd played some sort of Belgian voice choir,
Bulgarian voice choir, sorry.
I had two friends playing little sisters.
There was a lot of candle lighting, and, sort of, pomp around it.
It was probably around 40 minutes of actual talking.
With a lot of guff around it.
And, once I was doing it, I was on a PR overdrive.
I just wrote to everyone and said I was doing this thing.
I cut up little bits of tea towel and put them on card, like relics,
and sent them out.
The PR was better than the show.
-Loose Ends on Radio Four did a piece on it.
Yeah, Emma Freud did it.
She was the first person to see me. She was incredibly nice to me.
She offered to help me, and introduce me to various agents.
Then another lady who saw the show there, Judith Diment,
she got me a space in Edinburgh.
That was kind of the start, then. Doing that first year in Edinburgh.
Another key job which perhaps turned out to be more than was intended
at the beginning was filling in for Jack Docherty on Channel 5.
Be honest, did you go in with the plan of replacing him?
Absolutely, no. Come on, no. I didn't.
It was a very odd experience, because I got behind that desk,
as, you know, the guest host, and I loved it.
I just, it really felt right, it felt like such a great fit.
It was a wonderful feeling and a terrible feeling at the same time,
because I had found my dream job, but it was somebody else's.
There's a theme here, isn't there?
Because it went well, the executive producer, Graham Stuart,
he then started developing a chat show with me
and pitching it to Channel 4, and that's where that show came from.
It grew directly out of The Jack Docherty Show.
Now, this is astonishing.
The levels of social embarrassment and discomfort here,
somebody could write a Dear Graham about,
but you were nominated alongside Jack Docherty for Best Newcomer.
Now, you say in the book that this was a clerical error,
that somebody had ticked the wrong box on a form, but is that true?
I hope it's true.
I really hope somebody didn't do that on purpose because not only
were we both nominated for Best Newcomer, but for his show!
I mean, it's like Curb Your Enthusiasm or something.
It's so... just awful.
You just thought, at the committee, when they sat around,
when the little judging panel sat around, even at that point,
wouldn't someone have said, "We can't give it to him
"because that would just be too horrible."
But they did. Show business really is that cruel, that mean.
Mind you, at least, when I won, I then got to leave the table
and get the prize, forgetting to thank anyone at Channel 5.
Went off for the photocall and everything.
My boyfriend, Scott, he was left at the table.
I just came back and he went, "It's been very quiet."
I can't imagine, it must have been awful.
There is a theme here because in this series,
most of the people I interview,
there are these quite astonishing incidents
of luck or charm or something bizarre happening that have
a huge influence on their career,
from which we can draw no conclusion except
that it just does seem to happen an awful lot in showbiz careers.
It does, but I remember the only panic attack I ever had
was once I'd got that Channel 4 show,
because the only thing worse than not getting your big break
is in a way getting it, because then you can screw it up.
If you screw up your big break, that's it.
You're so much worse off than you were
because you're standing at the sidelines going,
"If only you'd give me a chance, if only you'd give me a chance."
Then someone gives you a chance and you're crap.
You can't really be standing at the sidelines then going,
"Give me a chance, it will be different this time."
So, yeah, it really kind of freaked me out,
realising how important the success of that Channel 4 show was.
We found this man, Dale. Here he is.
Some of Dale's skirt pictures.
There's Dale. "This was the first time I wore a skirt in public.
"It's at a computer conference in Anaheim, California."
There it is.
Here he is. "This is just a fairly typical summer outfit."
I do think, Dale, it really isn't.
I love this one, right. Here's Dale.
Watch it now as it creeps into shot. Here's Dale.
Dale normal, Dale normal, Dale normal,
As a chat show host, at that time the tendency,
which actually remains, was to be heavily influenced
by David Letterman particularly in America,
partly because he did five nights a week and he had that kind of
comedy talk show, but he was an influence presumably,
and also Jonathan Ross?
All chat shows, in a way, were an influence,
but in a way, almost an anti-influence.
Look, you can't reinvent the wheel. It's a chat show.
Please welcome, blah blah blah, thank you, good night.
But the grammar of it we really felt we wanted to change,
so there was no desk.
There was no monologue.
OK, I've run out now, that was it.
Those were our big decisions. They took weeks, those decisions.
An important factor which, from very early on critics would...
the word "camp" would appear routinely.
Were you happy with that and was it indeed an aim?
It's never an aim to be camp.
There's kind of a weird thing.
I remember like if you would package a DVD or something,
they'd package it in pink fun fur
or it would have feather boas around it and stuff.
You go, "That's your camp. That's not my camp."
But they kind of think, "Oh well, he's really camp so let's do this."
Actually, if you look at the show, it was brown.
The whole So Graham Norton set was all incredibly muted,
It was drab.
It wasn't camp in any way.
The only thing camp in it was me, and some of the things I would wear.
It's all, too, I think that word "camp", in a way, it's much harder...
It's a harder thing, I think, for people to accept that they're camp
than to accept that they're gay, you know?
All gay personal ads start with "straight acting".
They never start with, you know, "camp guy seeks similar".
So it's a big thing to accept, "You know what, I am camp."
I liked the whistle, very nice.
Isn't it? Isn't it nice? It's very lovely.
I think I saw something on the back.
Oh, you're too kind.
Oh. C & A.
The thing that a lot of people still remember, I do,
but it was when you most put your three years of expensive
drama school training to use was in Father Ted, that handful -
not even a handful - three episodes, I think it is.
That was proper acting, wasn't it?
I don't know if it was proper acting.
It was a very odd thing
because it was the first high-profile telly thing I'd done.
It just goes to show, it led nowhere.
It led to two more episodes of Father Ted
but nobody watched it thinking, "Oh yeah, he seems really castable."
It was quite a specific job and it was a great job.
It's the coolest job I've ever had and I'm genuinely thrilled and proud
to have been part of that show,
which is kind of my generation's Dad's Army.
It's one of those classic sitcoms that will be around forever.
And still stands up now when you see it now.
Really, really funny. Fantastic.
# Ebony and ivory
# Live together in perfect harmony
# Side by side on my piano keyboard
-# Oh Lord, why can't we?
-Hello, Noel. What in goodness' name are you doing here?
Actually, this is our caravan, Noel.
Father Rourke said we could use it.
-Yes, I see.
-I think he must say it to everyone!
Hey, you lot - room for two more in the St Luke's Youth Group?
Motion passed. Sit down there!
We'll have a bit of an old song. What will we sing? Will you sing one, Ted?
-No, I won't.
-Ah, you will. You've a lovely voice. Very like Celine Dion.
The two traditional dreams
of talk-show hosts on this side of the Atlantic
have been to do five nights a week,
which so many of them have tried,
Michael Parkinson wanted to do it, Wogan wanted to do it,
they were all prevented in various ways.
You managed that one, and then also to break into America.
In a different way, you did a bit of both.
The five nights a week thing,
that had been a huge goal for decades for broadcasters here.
Yeah, and I really wanted to do it.
But, the mistake was that I'd had a successful one night a week show,
and, I think, if you are going to do that five nights a week show,
it needs to be your big break.
That needs to be your first big job.
Because once you know how lovely life can be, doing one show a week,
it's very hard to quadruple your workload.
It's like joining the priesthood. It takes over your whole life.
You can't do anything else.
And America, which you did on the cusp of moving from Channel 4 to the BBC.
Were you one of those performers,
of whom we know many in British showbiz,
who really wanted to... America was what they most wanted.
I don't know if it's what I most wanted,
but when it came a-calling I wasn't going to go, "No."
It was exciting, the possibility of America.
At that point, I think Simon Cowell had just made it big,
and Anne Robinson had gone
and you just thought, "Well, this is possible.
This MIGHT just happen.
Of course, it didn't!
We went, we...
We had an extraordinary time, because we were a hot show.
Industry types in America had heard of us,
and they had to, in a way, take us seriously.
So we had about, I don't know how many days,
of just being driven around LA in this minibus
from broadcaster to production company to broadcaster.
Where they all pitched themselves to us,
it was like a beauty parade of who we would go with.
In the end we chose Comedy Central.
And looking back, that was our mistake, really,
was going with them.
We weren't a good fit.
But, equally, I am not sure if it would have been a good fit anywhere,
because working in America was so alien to us.
Because we'd had a hit show here,
we were used to all of the good things which come with that.
You can kind of call the shots, a bit.
People don't bother you very much, they just let you get on with it.
Whereas starting afresh,
as a newbie in the States, everyone wanted to tell us how to do it.
Everyone wanted a piece of it, and it sucked all of the joy out of it.
And so was that a knock to you?
..I suppose it was.
The good thing was we were on Comedy Central,
it wasn't like we were a flop,
it wasn't like going as the great big "New Big Thing",
on NBC or something
and then been cancelled after one week.
You know, we got our run, we did decent business for them.
We just weren't recommissioned.
It was kind of a non-story.
We certainly weren't the breakout hit they'd hoped we'd be.
-Hello, sir. What's your name?
-This is Eric.
HE LAUGHS HYSTERICALLY
You know, I've done a bit of stand-up.
Eric doesn't normally go this well.
It's a crowd-pleaser here, isn't it? Eric, ha-ha-ha!
You're a cheap date, aren't you?
Your big-money transfer to the BBC,
it became a standard article for all TV critics at that time
that you were the Prince Charles of broadcasting.
-Trying to find a role.
-That depressed both of us, equally!
You couldn't quite find the role,
they had you but didn't know what to do with you,
and all of these shows.
Strictly Dance Fever, When Will I Be Famous?
The One and Only, Totally Saturday.
None of them worked particularly.
The last one particularly didn't work, Totally Saturday.
I talked to you a couple of times during that period
and you kept up your confidence, but were you worried at that time?
Weirdly, you'd think I would have been. With that list.
"Really, you weren't worried?!"
I suppose because the jobs kept coming.
And things did get recommissioned.
Strictly Dance Fever came back a couple of times
and I don't know why I wasn't worried but I wasn't.
The BBC felt like they were still behind me.
It wasn't, you know,
you could imagine that thing where you buy somebody,
you put them out there and people go, "Oh."
It's slightly like you stink of fish and everyone just walks away
and pretends you don't exist
until your contract runs out and you're just not renewed.
I never got that feeling.
They always seemed very supportive and very keen to make something work
and they were committed to me. For whatever reason.
But that's how it felt.
In that way which is very common in football,
with players with big transfer fees,
you can see it weighs them down if they don't score goals
and it becomes a huge thing in the press.
Did you ever feel the burden of the transfer fee?
Well, I didn't.
Because, of course, for me it was a wage cut.
-You were getting less than at Channel 4?
So it was the opposite of a big-money transfer.
If I had stayed at Channel 4, I'd have presumably made more money.
It was just I didn't want to go back to doing five nights a week.
I suppose what kept me going through that was that I knew why I had done it.
I hadn't jumped ship for the money,
I'd jumped ship for the opportunities of doing different sorts of shows
that I wouldn't have been able to do at Channel 4.
So, I suppose that's the difference in that scenario.
Again, as so often the case, one of the pleasures and pains of showbiz,
you never know what's going to take off and what isn't.
The one which took off was, perhaps to some people, the least promising of them,
the audition shows with you and Lord Lloyd Webber,
which, where as some of the others had been talked up,
that one people were quite sniffy at the beginning.
But that really did.
I think it was that double act, it was an unlikely double act, you and the Lord.
Like with anything that's a success, it's such, you know,
you can't explain it.
All of the various little bits of chemistry
that come together to make something a success.
Yes, I'm sure there might have been a bit of that. I do adore him.
So, that was genuine.
Also, you were genuinely interested in that world. The musical.
-Oh, really? I thought you were.
-I am now.
-I am now.
That's the great thing about Andrew, because he's such an enthusiast.
He's like a great teacher, he makes you think you care.
Because he cares enough for everybody.
When he talks about something, you go, "Yes, Yes!
"That is an amazing bit of performance!"
He did drag me with him into the world of musical theatre,
which I do really like now.
Andrew, this is your final and most important say of the series.
What must Rachel and Samantha do now?
I am going to first say
this is exactly the result I did not want to happen.
But what you have to do now is just be a star.
Show that sacred flame that a star must show in a moment like this.
It also had an amazing effect on the image of the Lord,
Lord Lloyd Webber.
Because, I have always got on very well with him
but he was an astonishingly hated figure
in some circles of the media and showbiz before that,
whereas it quite changed people's view of him, I think.
It did. It really humanised him, I think.
He used to be the butt, the punchline, of jokes on our show.
Did he ever mention that? No?
We did have a lunch, before it all got signed off
because I think he was a bit nervous of me
and wanted to see how we'd get on.
So, I went for a meet and greet, and it all went very well.
There had been an incident with Sarah Brightman on the chat show,
where she'd talked about the size of his cock.
Can I say cock?
-And you would think it would be a lovely thing.
-She was complimentary.
She was extremely complimentary.
You would think, "Why would anyone be upset about that?"
but, of course, in recent years he's explained why he was upset,
because his son was just starting prep school that week.
You forget all of the ramifications of anything like that.
It's not just two people talking, it's families, it's neighbours,
it's all sorts of things.
There are other questions about the Friday night show, now.
I am amazed at the extent to which it's worked, but you do something
which is technically quite difficult in talk shows.
You have the three people on the sofa from the start
and they have to interact.
I'm amazed the extent to which people are able to do that.
Do you have any resistance with people not wanting to do it?
Not that I'm aware of. Who knows what goes on behind the scenes.
We gave Madonna a clear run at the sofa, for most of the show,
but at the end we brought some actors from a movie on.
But, you know, frankly,
I had been looking for her for a guest for so long,
we'd have promised her anything.
But, by and large, I think most guests like it,
because you are less exposed.
Tom Hanks said that after the show, that he enjoyed the experience,
because on American chat shows you get your six minutes,
eight minutes if you're a big star.
It's all about you and if your stories don't hit,
if you don't kill, your eight minutes are over.
And then, "Did you see him?" "Oh, he was all right."
Whereas on our show, if you try a story and it doesn't work,
it doesn't matter.
You'll get another bite of the cherry later on.
Or, you can come up with a very funny retort to something.
If showing off is your game,
and for the vast majority of these guests that's what they like to do,
there are many more opportunities in this format than if it's just you.
and you have to do 18 variations of something like this -
"Buzz, if we don't get back there, I'm going to go absolutely berserk!"
That's what you have to do,
and then you look at the people in the booth and they're going...
They almost press the Talkback, they go...
"Hey Tom, that was great."
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
How much bargaining goes on beforehand?
"You can't mention what happened
"at the donkey sanctuary that time", and all that sort of stuff.
-Does that happen?
-It does, absolutely. Usually we'll agree.
We'll just say, "OK", we're not in the business of upsetting people.
I am not doing a Newsnight interview,
I'm not doing a Piers Morgan Life Stories.
It's a chat show. We're chatting.
We want to entertain people, we want some funny stories,
and yes, we'll tell people you're in a movie,
we'll tell people you've written a book,
but other than that, I don't want your life story,
I do want a biographical detail because it's an anecdote,
because it ends with, "..and then granny fell of the donkey."
But, if you've shot a donkey, I don't really want you to tell that story.
Unless it's amusing.
Do you ever have to pretend that you like a movie or a CD
more than you actually do, because the guest is on the show?
Yes, I do.
Does that feel uncomfortable?
It seems unnecessary, but at the moment - these things change -
at the moment there is a real thing with PRs
that you have to see the movie,
the guests will not be delivered to you
unless you have sat through the movie.
It's much easier to interview someone about a movie you haven't seen.
I don't know if you find this.
No, I would always insist on seeing it,
otherwise they're just selling it to you.
Just selling it to the public, aren't they?
-You have no idea whether it's any good.
Yes, and that's much easier than knowing it's terrible!
It's fine if you're doing a review,
obviously you need to see it, but if you are doing an interview,
I don't want to know that it's toe-curling.
Because I've got to look them in the eye and they know.
It's an awkward thing that could be avoided.
I could just look at the clip and go,
"It looks great! I can't wait to see it!"
You're one of the most natural broadcasters I've ever seen,
but on that Madonna night you did look nervous to me.
I was nervous, and the thing was, I didn't mind looking nervous.
I think everyone kind of thinks, "Yep, I'd be nervous too."
Were you frightened of her?
I was frightened of the show being bad.
But not...of her. Once she had agreed to do it,
and once I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Madonna!"
and then she stepped up, then that was all I wanted to happen.
Once those barriers had been crossed,
then I was only nervous about the show but not of her,
once she had agreed to show up, that was the main thing.
But you were less, I think it's inevitable,
we would all do the same thing,
you were less cheeky with her than you are with other people.
If somebody else turned up in gloves,
you might perhaps have asked why.
Maybe...would I? I don't know.
It's certainly, I suppose, if I had been more relaxed in the situation
maybe I would have.
But I was genuinely geeked and excited.
I know this is a bit tragic, but that was a big day for me.
We wanted that for a long time, it was Madonna Day.
It will be ever marked in my house as Madonna Day.
She's here, Holy Mother of God, it's Madonna!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
It's more important that we discuss the fact
that you've named your dog after me.
Now, I didn't name my dog after you!
Oh, really. I heard that you did. This is how rumours get started.
My dog is called Madge, but...
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
-What does that mean?
-It was a rescue dog, right...
It was a rescue dog and when I went to the rescue place
they'd already called her Madonna.
I thought, I can't have a dog called Madonna.
So, I called her Madge.
Does that help you separate things?
I have got two dogs,
what was I going to called the other one...? "Hmm" and Madonna.
-What's your other dog's name?
Do you get outrageous star demands?
The so-called "riders", about what they have in their dressing room
and all that kind of stuff?
No, not really.
We did have one person, who will remain nameless,
who asked for, I think, nine dressing rooms.
And on the day asked for another one for their mobile phone.
-To charge their mobile phone in.
-You're going to have to tell us who.
No, I can't. I really can't.
-Did you find the 10th dressing room?
-Yes, we did.
The mobile phone was very comfortable.
What did they do in all nine?
I have no idea, I think clothes, er, other people, I really don't know.
The other thing that in recent years,
technology has been very good to you in the talk-show format.
You've been able to make more and more use of stuff found online,
shared video and so on.
Funnily enough, I think that's winding down.
We're finding it harder and harder to find things.
It spreads so fast now,
because everyone has got a Facebook page, everyone's on Twitter.
There was a time when we were like your Facebook page,
we brought you it, we were the friend posting the funny video.
Now you don't need us as your friend,
you've got real friends who'll do that.
So, it's very hard now to find things
that people genuinely haven't seen before.
At the time we're talking, you're in your late 40s.
50th birthday in sight. Are you calm about that landmark?
I think so.
I think 40 is a much harder one to swallow.
You did that, there's a photograph in your book,
you did that fantastic birthday card for your 40th.
Where you are being helped across the road,
completely bald and senile.
I, er, you have to accept these things, I'm going to be 50.
And, actually, I feel good, and life is good.
So, it's better to hit 50 with all of those things in a row
rather than be hitting 50 with both your knees hanging off
and a broken neck.
Two relatively recent possibilities for gay men,
to go through a form of marriage, civil partnership,
and to have children, which is happening more and more.
Sir Elton John has done both of those.
Are either of those a prospect for you, do you think?
You never say never, who knows what will happen in the future.
They're not a prospect right now, as we speak.
The children thing, I think was, er...
It's like it's the same for straight people and gay people,
I think there's a window of opportunity
where it's a good idea to have children
and I think I've sort of missed that window of opportunity.
You know, at 50, I'm sort of getting to...
But you're far younger than Sir Elton, aren't you?
Yes, but...that's his choice.
I think people can have children whenever they want,
but, I suppose because it is a "decision",
it's not like somebody's just going to fall pregnant.
I would have to really decide, "This is going to happen."
So, you have to weigh up all of those things
in a way that, I think, a regular couple just having a kid, don't.
It's just, they just have a kid.
As you say, you can't have an accident.
It's very deliberate.
It would be a BIZARRE accident.
Good luck writing that into a movie script.
To take the title of an Elton John album,
are you at heart A Single Man? Is that what you are, do you think?
Er, I don't know.
A friend of mine had a line where somebody said to him
"Are you happy being single?" or, "Do you like being single?"
and his reply was, "Apparently I do."
Because he was.
At the moment, I'm not single. I'm in a relationship at the moment.
So, hopefully I'm not a single man,
hopefully that relationship will continue.
Equally, I am aware that I am quite good at being single.
I am self-contained. It doesn't drive me to despair when I am single.
Graham Norton, thank you.
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