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Graham proves a class act on return to school

TV star Graham Norton, savoured a hero's welcome yesterday as he paid his first 'official' return visit to his former secondary school.

The star studied at Bandon Grammar School in Co Cork as Graham Walker before assuming the stage name of 'Graham Norton' in the 1990s and establishing himself as one of Britain's biggest TV stars.

Yesterday, the star was visibly taken aback by the incredible warmth of the welcome shown him as he arrived for the special prize-giving ceremonies at his old alma mater.

Pride of place was accorded his mother, Rhoda Walker, who last saw her son at Bandon Grammar when he finished his Leaving Cert back in 1981.

More than 1,000 students, teachers, past pupils and parents gathered to cheer the BBC and 'Father Ted' star as he presented the prizes at the school's academic awards ceremony.

"It is very strange because it is the same -- only very different," he said. "It is like they have been building non-stop since I left.

"But the atmosphere is exactly the same -- you can still tell it is not a horrible place to be, it is a nice school and there is a really nice feeling among the staff and the pupils."

Norton said he was "very honoured" to have been asked to be guest of honour at the prize-giving ceremony -- and had no hesitation in giving up his entire day for Bandon Grammar.

"It is a very nice thing to be asked to come back and do prize day. So it would have been churlish to say 'no'.

"It is a day -- I'm around today. I will do this, it will go on all day and then I go away again. You can cope with that," he said.

Norton said he didn't recall being a comedian at school.

"Honestly, I don't know. Friends are going, 'oh, you must tell us funny stories about things that happened to you in school.' But either nothing very funny happened for six years or it was 30 years ago and I don't remember any more," he said.


The TV star was greeted yesterday at Bandon Grammar by principal David Sutton and vice-principal Sean Crowley.

Norton owns a holiday home in west Cork -- and uses his Irish breaks to rest and relax from his hectic British TV schedule.

However, the TV presenter previously admitted to childhood difficulties in growing up in the west Cork town.

In his biography, 'So Me', he wrote that at times it was more traumatic growing up as a young Protestant boy in Cork than being gay. He also wrote that religion had effectively turned him into a loner.

But over recent years, Norton has become increasingly involved in supporting the Cork arts scene and west Cork community -- even lending his weight to the battle to preserve acute services at Bantry General Hospital.

Bandon Grammar ranks as one of Ireland's oldest secondary schools, tracing its history back to 1641.

After leaving Bandon Grammar for University College Cork to study French and English, Norton told his parents he was going to the US for a break during his summer hols -- but then didn't return for a full year.

He moved to the UK in the early 1990s and made his mark via the Edinburgh Comedy Festival and appearances on BBC Radio 4 and Channel 5.

His camp style earned him a cult following.

After a starring role in the comedy 'Father Ted', he was given his own chat show on Channel 4 which Norton built into one of Britain's most popular shows before switching to the BBC in 2005.

He now hosts 'The Graham Norton Show' on BBC TV and presents a BBC Radio 2 slot.

Irish Independent