'My Significant Others? Bailey the Labradoodle and my terrier, Madge'

He is one of Britain's best-loved and most ebullient television personalities. But what makes Graham Norton tick?
His hugely successful chat show is back on BBC One on a Friday night and doing great business. His more relaxed, though no less enjoyable, Radio 2 show has also returned on Saturday mornings. He continues to contribute an Agony Uncle column for a national newspaper and now he’s found the time to write a memoir, The Life And Loves Of A He Devil, which runs the gamut from dogs and divas to men and work.

Ah, work. The apparently inexhaustible Graham Norton can’t seem to get enough of it. He smiles that impish smile. ‘Yes, work comes first,’ he admits. ‘I’m extremely lucky in that I look forward to going to work every day and that wasn’t always the case. But I’m not Doris Day. There aren’t bluebirds permanently fluttering around my head.

‘It’s a tough business and you’ve got to have the nerve and the stomach for it. And, because I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am, I continue to prioritise my job over other bits of my life. That’s probably very foolish, something I’ll live to regret. Even so, I’d be reluctant to let go of what I’ve achieved professionally. If I were starting out again, I think I’d make the same decisions. I’m quite ambitious and I can be quite brutal. But I don’t think I’m ruthless. I hope not.’

Life is all about balance, of course, and Graham is once again single. Does he think work and fame militate against love? ‘I have to say yes when I look back at my romantic history. Perhaps I don’t expect my love affairs to last; maybe they have a finite time. Or it could just be that I have a low attention span. ‘

But I have a theory. I think there’s something about having a male partner that makes it more difficult. This will sound sexist but that doesn’t mean it’s any less true. If I were a straight man, my female partner would have a role in the eyes of society. She would be the mother of my children, my hostess, the person on my arm at red-carpet events. She would have a defined function.

‘That’s not the case, though, if your partner is male. Every man – no matter how young or fey – has something of the alpha in him so that all the things they thought they’d enjoy about going out with me in the end become loathsome because they hadn’t earned it for themselves. So, increasingly, that puts a strain on the relationship.’


It’s a clear-eyed assessment but rather a gloomy prospect for his old age. ‘You never know: I might meet someone who can roll with the punches. But there’s no point looking for anyone like that because that’s when it’s least likely to happen. If you go around with that blatant intention, it’s as if you’re advertising the fact that your life is somehow lacking; substandard. I mean, who wants to hitch their wagon to Lonely Boy?’

He most emphatically, he says, is not someone for regrets. ‘If you live your life full of regret, it’s a negative thing. It’s like you’re dragging a dead weight behind you. You need to make your peace with whatever it is and then move on. The only thing I do still regret is being offered the opportunity to see Nina Simone sing at Ronnie Scott’s. I turned it down. I thought there’d be another chance. But there wasn’t.’

Graham may not currently have a partner but he’s far from friendless. ‘I regard my Labradoodle, Bailey, and my terrier, Madge, as the nearest I have to Significant Others. They’re my heart’s delight. I have a theory that we tend to love our dogs differently because we know that it’s going to be a temporary love. Barring a bus hitting me, Bailey and Madge are going to go first. In a way, that makes you adore them more or, at any rate, in a different way.’

When more than 50 dogs perished in the arson attack on a rescue centre in Manchester, Graham was as appalled as the next man. Over one million pounds was donated overnight by members of the public. People around the world must have read the story and thought to themselves what a ridiculous nation we are. So what does he think that tells us about the British?

‘I also know there are children living in desperate deprivation. But there isn’t a league table of compassion. It’s not a question of either/or. You can give money to animal and children’s charities. Sadly, there are umpteen demands on our compassion. You just hope there’s enough to go around.’

Another of his personal delights is his native Ireland. ‘But I never liked it as a child. I always felt like a fish out of water and I didn’t know why at the time. I never felt part of where I was growing up in Bandon, Co Cork. I always felt “other”. Laughable as it may sound now, I put that down purely to being raised a Protestant. By the time I left, though, I realised quite a lot of it was to do with my being gay.

Graham-Norton-Oct31-01-590The hugely successful chat show host admits his job comes first

‘But now, I absolutely love it. I have a house near Bantry in West Cork with the best view in the world across Dunmanus Bay towards Mizen Head. When I go back for the summer, as I did again this year, I take the ferry with the dogs in the back of the car. With the various toilet breaks and pit stops for Scotch eggs, the journey takes around 13 or 14 hours but, as the car eases its way down the gravel drive and comes around the trees to find the view fully revealed, it is absolutely worth it. The engine turned off, the dogs released and bounding with joy across the lawn, I am as close to perfectly happy as I think I ever will be.’

When I ask him which is his favourite decade, he doesn’t hesitate. ‘Oh, this one. I’m having the most fun. But wouldn’t it be terrible if my best days were already behind me? I remember a particular Peanuts cartoon strip from when I must have been 14. Charlie Brown and Lucy were chatting.

‘She was saying: “You know, in every life, there must be one day that’s better than all the rest.” Charlie has a think and then says: “But what if you’ve already had it?” That struck me as quite a profound thought for a little cartoon. You’ve got to live life believing that the best is yet to come.’

Does he mind that his age now starts with a five? He was 51 in April although the body language suggests a man 10 years younger. ‘I know that 50’s a milestone but it just seemed a continuation of being in my 40s somehow. I did mind being 40, though, because there was no avoiding the fact that now I really was properly middle-aged. I’m dreading 60. That will feel like a kick in the head.

‘What’s odd about these birthdays is that you know they’re going to happen so it’s ridiculous when they come as a shock.’

Finally, then, how would he like his epitaph to read? ‘I wouldn’t mind not having one,’ says the never-less-than-surprising Graham Norton, ‘because it would be of no interest to me. I’d be perfectly happy if my gravestone was blank. As a matter of fact, I’d prefer to be scattered to the winds.’

Graham Norton’s memoir, The Life And Loves Of A He Devil, is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20.