In the third of our six part interview series with TV presenter Graham Norton, the boy from Bandon reveals all to Barry Egan on his sexual awakening...
n 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.
Like a bolt of carnal lightning, Alain Delon came on the telly and slipped his shirt off — “which took my breath away; I may even have gasped” — to reveal eye-wateringly golden shoulders . . .
What was it about the aforesaid upper joint of a person’s arms that resonated so with him at that age? Forty years on, Graham Norton, who in his patterned shirt has his own shoulders well-hidden — though he is sporting a tan from a recent sun holiday, presumably — says: “Isn’t that the weird thing? It must be the same for straight people where you’re watching an image and you see something – you know, the way a woman’s blouse is sitting? When you’re tiny, it’s not a sexual feeling yet it is a sexual feeling, you just connect with it in a very kind of — ‘Ohh, what’s that about?’”
“And, they were golden,” laughs the blond bombshell from Bandon. “He had a beautiful tanned, impossibly smooth back. I didn’t know what I wanted to do about it. I didn’t know whether I wanted to touch him or whether I wanted to be him.”
Five short years on from that sexual awakening, he continued the French theme. The 16 year old had his first actual sexual experience in France by a lake with a pale young local lad called Claude a week before the end of Graham’s stay as an exchange student.
“Maybe it is something about French men!” he laughs now. “I have never encountered a French man since.”
Graham thinks about this statement for a milllionth of a second, sighs, then rolling his eyes, adds, “Well — I probably have! But not in any meaningful way.”
I compliment Graham on his imagination in the book, describing the Gallic frisson with the fellow exchange student thus: “Claude waved his penis at me like a fleshy baguette straight from the oven.”
“I was trying not to be too graphic!” Graham laughs now (you can see why, when young Graham won an All-Ireland school debating award, the judges pronounced upon his “wonderful sense of humour.”
In person, as on his hugely popular TV show, Graham manages a delicate balancing act between camp, cerebral weight and a near-pornographic wit.) Naughty Norton ratchets-up the homo-erotic joke-ometer yet further when he describes in the book his last weekend with Claude when they went camping in the Pyrenees: ‘As soon as the lights were out so was the baguette.’
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“We were in France!” protests Graham with a laugh now. “Baked goods! But he was not a shy man. That’s really what I was trying to convey.”
I ask him was he a shy man.
“Oh, God!” the king of the chat shows shrieks. “I remember when I came home from that holiday — and so little had happened, nothing really — but I was so wracked with sort of shame and guilt. And it is awful. I think back to how terrible I felt, how miserable I felt. You feel so bad that a kid could be made to feel that awful about something that is just fun really.”
He writes in the book of that time, ‘I was far from gay’.
“Because in my head,” Graham clarifies, “I was far from gay. If I was gay, I would have just had a nice time. And some people do. Some people growing up have lots of uncomplicated sex with boys and it is all grand and da-di-da. I just didn’t.
"It wasn’t a thing that straight people were doing either! No one was having sex. That just wasn’t happening. Clearly it was happening, but as far as we knew in Bandon, county Cork, we were not aware of anyone having sex.”