“I always say I’d rather be miserable by myself than unhappy in a relationship.”
TRQ: Graham Norton, Born April 4, 1963
Trailblazing comedian, author, and talk-show host Graham Norton has been delighting audiences with his irreverent commentary and unique style for over two decades. His witty questions and amusing repartee have created chemistry with the likes of Madonna, Elton John, Cher, Lady Gaga, and many more. Norton’s LGBTQ+ advocacy has made him a beloved and celebrated figure in pop culture, and his journey has been nothing short of remarkable.
Born Graham Walker on April 4, 1963, in Bandon, County Cork, Ireland, Norton grew up in a Protestant family in the predominantly Catholic country. Moving frequently throughout his childhood, Norton learned to adapt and entertain, discovering his talent for making others laugh. Despite facing challenges such as bullying and feeling different, Norton’s childhood was filled with love and support from his family.
Norton describes his childhood as “by no means an unhappy childhood. I think kids are pretty robust, and my parents always presented the moves to me and my sister [Paula] as a new adventure.”
“I remember a former classmate has since said that I was popular at school, but I certainly don’t remember that. I got by okay and over the years realized I could make people laugh, too. That helped.”
Norton enrolled at Cork University at eighteen, planning to major in English and French, but had what he described as a “psychotic episode” and dropped out after the first year. Norton headed to San Francisco, where he briefly joined a commune and became engaged to an American woman. However, he soon recognized his true sexuality and broke off the engagement.
“Coming out was a huge thing for me. It’s very hard to explain to people who don’t have to do it.” As he explains, “I had always felt different, but I had put it down to being a member of a religious minority. But the essential cause of my feeling wasn’t the Protestant thing.”
Norton returned to Ireland to resume his studies at Cork University. After receiving his degree, he moved to London to study at the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama and to launch a career in acting.
One night, a gang stabbed him in the chest and left him for dead. Bleeding profusely and alone in the city, he managed to make his way to the home of an elderly couple who took him in and cared for him. The husband called the police, while the wife held Norton’s hand and comforted him through his pain and fear.
After recovering from the attack, Norton tried to get in touch with the couple who had saved his life, but the police would not give him their address. The memory of that traumatic night stayed with Norton, and he later said, “The big thing I learnt is that we don’t want to die alone.”
Norton faced years of hardship and struggle as he pursued his dreams in the entertainment industry. For eight years, he worked as a server and barman while auditioning for acting jobs with little success.
Norton’s talent and perseverance eventually led him to success in television. He landed an acting job on the outrageously funny situation comedy “Father Ted,” which premiered on Britain’s Channel 4 in 1995.
For the next two years, he made occasional guest appearances on the show in the minor role of Father Noel, an enthusiastic if not particularly bright priest. The comedy, which was subsequently telecast on American PBS stations, brought Norton to the attention of American and British audiences.
Norton also began performing stand-up comedy routines at a pub where he worked. He eventually gained recognition at the Edinburgh Fringe festival with shows like “Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s Farewell Tour” and “The Karen Carpenter Bar and Grill.” His “Charlie’s Angels Go to Hell” was so successful it moved to London in 1997.
That year, Norton filled in as a last-minute replacement for the host of a late-night talk show on Britain’s Channel 5. The unexpected opportunity turned out to be a major turning point in his career. Norton’s performance was so impressive that he won Best Newcomer at the 1997 British Comedy Awards, launching him into the public eye.
With this success, Channel 5 offered Norton the role of host for the quiz show “Bring Me the Head of Light Entertainment” in 1997. Although the program had a short run, it provided Norton with a platform to showcase his comedic skills, ultimately leading to bigger and better things.
In 1999, Norton’s dreams became a reality when he landed his own talk show on Channel 4. He quickly became a fan favorite, with his charming, campy, and wickedly witty personality captivating both celebrity guests and audience members alike. No topic was off-limits, and Norton’s ability to deliver clever double entendres kept viewers coming back for more.
Once he became a talk show host, Norton’s irreverent humor and willingness to tackle taboo subjects made him an instant favorite with audiences. He frequently invited beloved entertainers like Elton John, Cher, Bea Arthur, and Grace Jones onto his show, and pushed the boundaries with outrageous stunts like surfing sex sites on the Internet and talking to fetishists on the phone.
“It was hardly the most subtle of programs, and I was hardly the most subtle of hosts,” Norton later reflected.
But Norton’s approach paid off, and he won three consecutive BAFTA Awards for Best Entertainment Performance and two British Comedy Awards, among other honors. Despite his professional success, Norton experienced heartbreak in his personal life when he and his partner of five years, Scott Michaels, split up.
As his fame grew, Channel 4 expanded his show from once a week to five nights a week and renamed it “V Graham Norton.” The show was a hit, but Norton eventually left to pursue American television. He hosted “The Graham Norton Effect” on Comedy Central in 2004, but the show failed to find an audience. Despite this setback, Norton’s frequent reruns made him a familiar face to American viewers, particularly within the gay community.
In 2003, the BBC signed him to a multi-million pound contract, but it wasn’t until 2005 that he finally found a new television vehicle hosting “Strictly Dance Fever.” This marked a departure from his previous comedic work, as he focused on the contestants rather than his own comedic talents.
In 2006, Norton teamed up with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the BBC show “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”, a contest to determine the lead in the West End production of The Sound of Music. The program was an immediate hit, captivating audiences as they eagerly awaited the panel’s decisions.
Just as Norton’s career was taking off again, he suffered a personal blow when he and his partner of five years, Scott Michaels, parted ways. Despite this setback, the BBC outbid ITV to sign Norton to a “golden handcuffs” contract worth four million pounds, ensuring his presence on the network through at least 2009.
Norton’s star continued to rise, but he remained committed to his roots in stand-up comedy. Despite his busy schedule hosting various television shows, Norton still found time to perform in clubs and venues across the country.
Besides his work on television, Norton also dipped his toes into the world of feature films. In 2006, he appeared in Todd Stephens’s “Another Gay Movie,” a raunchy comedy showcasing Norton’s irreverent sense of humor. He also had a small role in Amy Heckerling’s “I Could Never Be Your Woman,” which has yet to be released.
Norton’s relationships have faced their fair share of challenges. He dated Kristian Seeber, who performs as the drag queen Tina Burner, and they split up in 2006. In 2013, he ended his two-year relationship with Trevor Patterson, and in 2015, he broke up with his subsequent partner, Andrew Smith. Norton has revealed that his ex-boyfriends often resented the role they had to play in the public eye.
Though at one point he found it difficult to imagine himself getting married, he has long advocated for gay and lesbian’s right to marry and adopt children. “I can’t believe how anyone could be against gay couples adopting children,” he has said. “Are there really people who think it’s best for children to be without a parent [rather] than to have a good, loving home?”
2007, Norton’s chat show, “The Graham Norton Show,” made its grand debut on BBC Two, much to the delight of his fans. The show had a similar format to his previous Channel 4 programs, and it quickly became a beloved hit. But the show’s success was not to be confined to BBC Two for long, as it moved to BBC One on 6 October 2009, in a new one-hour format even more enthralling than before.
Years went by, and Norton continued to entertain audiences with his quick wit and charming personality. In 2014, he released his second memoir, The Life and Loves of a He-Devil, which won the prestigious Non-Fiction Book of the Year award at the 2014 Irish Book Awards. It was clear Norton’s star was shining brighter than ever before, as he was also named in the top 10 on the World Pride Power list that same year.
But Norton’s talents were not limited to the world of literature and television. In February 2019, he joined as a judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race UK,” alongside fellow comedian Alan Carr. They were joined by permanent judges Michelle Visage and RuPaul, and together they made the show an even greater spectacle than before.
In 2021, Norton joined as a co-host of “Queen of the Universe,” a singing competition for drag queens. In February 2022, Paramount+ renewed the show for a second season.
Over the years, Norton has continued to speak out on important issues, such as transgender rights. In October 2022, however, he deactivated his Twitter account after receiving criticism from J. K. Rowling and her supporters for his views. Norton had expressed the need to “talk to trans people, talk to the parents of trans kids, talk to doctors” rather than relying on celebrity opinions like his own.
On July 10, 2022, he held a wedding blessing party with his new husband, Jonathan McLeod, at Bantry House in County Cork.
Despite the obstacles he has faced, Norton’s unwavering determination and his ability to find humor in even the darkest of situations have made him a true trailblazer in the world of entertainment. Norton will continue hosting a talk show, judging a singing competition, and speaking out on important issues, in his own words “I’m certainly not ready to retire.”
About the Authors
Troy Wise is currently a PhD student at UAL Central St Martins and teaches fashion and graphic design at London College of Contemporary Arts. His background is in marketing and is founder and co-editor of Image Amplified. He lives in, and is continually fascinated by, the city of London.
Rick Guzman earned his most recent MA at UAL Central St Martins in Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries. He currently holds two MA’s and an MBA in the New Media, Journalism and International Business fields. Co-editor at Image Amplified since its start, he lives in London, is fascinated by history and is motivated by continuing to learn and explore.