In parts one and two of our six part video series, Graham Norton chats to Barry Egan about his memoir, 'The Life and Loves of a He-Devil', the darkest days of his career, his father's death, and falling back in love with Ireland.
Graham Norton is sitting at a table in a fancy office of his publisher’s on the 15th floor of a building on Euston Road in London surrounded by copies of his shiny new book.
Asked did he learn any truths about himself from writing it, he shrugs his shoulder. From examining himself in such forensic emotional detail in The Life And Loves Of A He-Devil, does Graham like himself?
“I don’t dislike myself!” he laughs.
That’s a very Irish answer, I tell him.
“But I think mostly in life, that is how you approach it, isn’t it?” he replies. “Do you know what I mean — I’m not happy; I’m not unhappy. And I think that’s good. If you loved yourself, that would be terrible! So if you don’t hate yourself I think you are in a pretty good place.”
There is quite a serious side to the hilarious Corkonian we see charming Robert de Niro and Madonna and Cher on the telly every weekend.
He says the lowest point in his life “was a hideous break-up with my first serious boyfriend,” he says referring to an Australian called Ashley. “That was pretty grim. And actually, this bit doesn’t really feature in the book because there are no stories about it. It was just horrible.”
This hard time in London coincided with when he was starting off in his career, and great things were not expected of him at that point.
“This was before I was doing stand-up — it was in restaurants, and literally the restaurants were shutting down. I was working in restaurant that were closing!” he quips like Groucho Marx in his prime.
“I was writing shows to take to Edinburgh [the annual festival] but not making any money at all. They were pretty dark days, where I was thinking: ‘What am I doing? Is this worth pursuing at all?’”
What kept him on that path, he isn’t too sure.
“If I’d been my friend,” he recalls, “I would have taken me aside and gone: ‘Give this up!’ So I don’t know. I suppose because every now and then I would get a word of encouragement or someone would say something nice or I would get a new gig or be invited to a different festival. But in terms of how it would become a career or how — to use that phrase — I would monetise any of this, I had no clue.”
How does one monetise oneself without losing a bit of one’s soul?
“Everybody monetises themselves, just by showing up. ‘You big sell-out! Look at you, making the coffee for the people paying!’ Everybody is a sell-out. That’s the point. If it was just fun, you’d be there anyway.”
Writing the book, Graham saw, “weirdly”, these patterns about his life that he didn’t know were there. “Like there had been far more funerals in my life than I knew there were,” he says. “When I look back, I don’t think: ‘So much death!’ But,” he laughs, “there has been quite a lot of death.”
“I didn’t think that 9/11,” he says referring to the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, “would pop up in my story as much as it does. But I suppose that does for everybody. Everyone’s life is divided into before 9/11 and after 9/11.”
Yet everyone didn’t have Dolly Parton with them, as Graham did in America, on that most terrible of days. “In fairness,” he smiles, “I do have quite a good 9/11 story that I was in Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, with the woman herself when the towers came down. We could have been in the tip of South America, because we seemed so far away from what was going on in Manhattan. It was extraordinary.”
Having left Ireland in 1983/84, Graham spent very little time back at home in Cork - until his father fell ill.
"Already my relationship kind of changed with Ireland, coming back as an adult, money in my pocket, whatever." he says.
"When my father died I sort of saw our community through those adult eyes and appreciated things about it that the teenage me would have rolled my eyes at; showing up at door with a bottle of whiskey, a cake, platter of sandwiches, shaking your hand, saying 'sorry for your loss'.
"All that stuff I would have just hated. It would have seemed so parochial and small time to the teenage me but the big change that came out of it was that it kind of made me like Ireland again."
He had fallen out of love with Ireland?
“I was never in love with Ireland. I grew up just expecting to leave. Like really from a very young age, I was out,” he says meaning determined to get out of Ireland to somewhere else.
“I didn’t like it very much. I didn’t feel I fitted in. I didn’t feel at home. And I knew if I was going to feel at home it was going to be somewhere else.”
The Life And Loves Of A He-Devil by Graham Norton is published by Hodder & Stoughton, price €28.99 hardback
In his new memoir, the intriguingly titled The Life And Loves Of A He-Devil, Graham Norton is back in his front-room in Bandon, County Cork, again as an 11 year old. It was a Sunday night he'll never forget. At 8pm precisely he had a sexual epiphany courtesy of RTE, and a movie called The Yellow Rolls-Royce.