Graham Norton will be double-jobbing as presenter and commentator at this year's Eurovision Final in a few weeks time. The Cork-born presenter, writer and winemaker will be doing his usual live commentary on the BBC, but he'll also be jumping in to present the show at the Liverpool Arena on the 13th of May. He tells Brendan O’Connor how it came about:
"Like so many things in life, I got this idea from the late, great Terry Wogan, because when they last did it in Birmingham, Terry did this. He did the commentary and hosted. So, they asked me to host and I thought, I don’t want to host, and then I was thinking, I’ll kick myself, because I’ll never get a chance to host again. What the hell, I’ll do it."
After more than three decades as a stand-up, comedy actor and chat show host, Norton isn’t taking his success for granted. He says he had to try and pull off both roles, just in case another presenter started snapping at his heels:
"I thought, I don’t want to give up the commentary gig entirely, because the chance of somebody else being better than me are quite high and then I’ll have lost my gig! I’m doing most of the commentary and then I think during the voting sequence, Mel Giedroyc is going to take over and I’ll be onstage with Hanna Waddington, doing the voting, the 'douze points’ bit."
Norton’s wry Eurovison commentary might need to be dialled back a bit, as his BBC employers are running the show along with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Graham admits it’s going to be a challenge to get the tone right:
"It is going to be harder, because normally you just laugh at it if it's bad or boring, but this year the BBC have made it!"
Graham turned 60 a couple of weeks ago and the ‘roundy’ birthday set off a whole discussion about ageing and how he's taken a while to get used to the new number:
"It still freaks me out I suppose. It seems weird to think that I’m 60 – old people are 60 – I’m not old."
Graham says that life is great at this age. He is happily married and he feels more comfortable with himself now than at any other time:
"I am more settled now. Literally, I didn’t know how to be me when I was 40. My life was in a kind of chaos. I’d left Channel 4, I was sort of in New York, working here. I was single, you know, my life was all over the place. I feel much more settled at 60"
Graham spends a couple of months every year in West Cork, not too far from where he grew up. There was a time, he says, when he wanted nothing more than to leave it all behind:
"I couldn’t wait to get out of there. When I was leaving in the '80s, if somebody had said that I would willingly come back and spend time there, I’d have thought they were nuts."
His father’s illness drew him back to spending more time in Cork was, he says. Graham’s dad died of Parkinson’s disease in 2000 and he says it hit him hard:
"The saddest thing that’s happened to me in my life was losing my father."
Graham says it made sense to him to come back to Ireland more often, to spend as much free time as he could with his mum Rhoda and his wider family. He says he began to feel differently about his home place after his dad died:
"When he died, that was such a traumatic time, but the people in Bandon were so good at it, it made me kind of fall in love with Ireland in a way again, because it reminded me that lots of that small town stuff that I had been running away from, it has benefits as well. It can be really claustrophobic and limiting, but also really supportive and lovely."
In Graham’s most recent novel Forever Home, there is a character whose storyline partly reflects his dad’s experience. The book has been describes as a 'comedy noir' and is set in a town curiously like Bandon in Cork. Graham didn’t seem at all upset when Brendan told him he was "late to the party" as a reader of his novels. In fact, Norton says he’s been happy in the past to benefit from low expectations of the quality of his work. He does wonder aloud though, just how low did those expectations sink?
"When people started say that, you know, ‘Oh, the books are good,’ I kind of thought, I wonder how bad they thought they were going to be?!"
Graham says he’s enjoying married life with his husband Jonathan and he has no intention of adding host of The Late Late Show to his CV; he's very happy with the jobs he’s got for the moment:
"I’ve got a few gigs and I love them all."
Graham talks about a presenting a new comedy gameshow, his relationship with his mum and why he thinks hosting The Late Late Show is one of the hardest gigs in showbiz in the full interview here:
Graham’s book Forever Home is now available in paperback and is published by Coronet.