How Norton puts Tubs in the halfpenny place
RTE stars envy his pay, but Graham has proved his worth across the sea, says Declan Cashin
As RTé's top presenters watch their hefty pay packets come under scrutiny once more, they might well be looking enviously across the water at the man who is in actual fact the highest-paid Irish star on television.
Graham Norton, from Bandon in Cork, is right now in the middle of re-negotiating a two-year contract with the BBC, and he's expected to take a pay cut just as he did when signing his last contract -- worth some €4.7m -- in 2009.
Prior to that, Norton's two-year contract signed in 2007 is understood to have been worth about €5.8m. Once this latest reduction is made, his pay is more likely to resemble the fee that the BBC initially forked out to poach him from Channel 4 in 2005, in or around €4m.
For his part, Norton seems to have accepted the inevitable. "Will I take a pay cut? Absolutely. God yes," he says. "There should be no special cases. Okay, I'm not thrilled at the prospect of a cut. I won't open a bottle of Cava to celebrate.
"But I'm realistic about the future of the BBC and how things have to be. I just have to keep going until my wages get to a level where I kind of go, 'I'm not going to do that any more'."
Norton's contract with the BBC covers his popular Friday night talk show (a slot vacated by Jonathan Ross), and his Radio 2 slot on Saturday mornings (also once presented by Ross, and which was covered by Ryan Tubridy last summer).
In addition, Norton anchors other projects for the corporation, such as taking over from Terry Wogan as compere of the Eurovision, and hosting the television Bafta awards.
Norton also runs his own production company, So Television, which produces his own talk show, as well as TV specials like the Bring Back series, hosted by Justin Lee Collins.
On top of his BBC pay, So Television made pre-tax profits of €734,800 in the year to July 2010, paying Norton a €584,140 dividend and €1.8m in production fees and royalties.
So what makes Norton worth so much money in the current climate? "The BBC wouldn't be paying him that kind of money unless he's proven himself to be successful," says showbiz agent and publicist Max Clifford.
"The only thing that justifies it is what he brings. Television is based on commercial success, and if he gets the ratings and the appreciation of the audience and the public, then that's what it's all about."
With the departure of Jonathan Ross to ITV, Norton has become the face of light entertainment on the BBC. "He is at least as influential (as Ross) was, and his talk show is probably better," said The Guardian about Norton earlier this year in its list of Britain's top 100 media personalities.
Clifford adds: "He's established himself now, and I think there's a big market for his personality, his humour, and his quirky style of presenting. It works."
Adjusting to life at the BBC wasn't easy for the gay star, who had made his name hosting the outrageous late-night talk show So Graham Norton (and later V Graham Norton) on Channel 4, an anything-goes arena where guest Mo Mowlam once conducted a wedding ceremony for dogs, and Joan Collins browsed sex websites.
"It's hard to go from talking about how many dildos you've got in your handbag, to how many people died on the Tube," Norton acknowledged at the time of his move to the BBC to front The Bigger Picture, which was an uncomfortable mix of celeb interview and current affairs punditry.
"Obviously the BBC has given him some time to develop himself," says Clifford. "It takes someone a while to let audiences get used to them, and to grow comfortable with them. He's proven himself to be professional and reliable, and so now the BBC is reaping the benefits of that investment."
Norton, who turned 48 this year, knows what he likes to spend his large salary on. Property is a big attraction. Norton's main base is in Wapping, east London, where he lives alone in a four-storey townhouse with his dogs Bailey and Madge. He also owns properties in New York and in Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex, and sold a holiday home in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2009.
What's more, Norton also owns a retreat on Sheep's Head in west Cork, where he tries to spend two months during the summer and Christmas.
"I like the house and I like the location, but I like the world it is in," he said in an interview last year. "I like shopping in Bantry. I like going to the pub."
In London, Norton likes to socialise in exclusive members' clubs such as Shoreditch House (annual membership of £1,200), and is known to drink cocktails at Claridges in Mayfair.
Norton has revealed some of the biggest indulgences that his huge salary grants him. "I went to New York recently, and the money I spent on the flight was stupid," he said earlier this year. "It was nice, but not that much nicer than sitting in the back of the plane. Plus, we all got there at the same time. Oh, and I drink nicer wines and eat in nicer restaurants."