Interview with Graham Norton – Published in The South China Morning Post

The television talk-show host says it wouldn’t surprise him if China entered the contest and reveals why getting his guests tipsy on air is a good thing…

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Eurovision has been screened in China for the past two years and Australia has been given a wild-card entry. Would you like to see China enter, too?
“The Eurovision is a wonderful thing, but one thing it doesn’t need is any more songs in it! No one at the end goes, ‘If only that had been longer!’ Will China enter it? I would not be at all surprised. It would make sense from Eurovision’s point of view because it’s such an enormous market – and also, in a way, it would be quite nice to have China join in because I find Eurovision a very optimistic way to look at the peoples of the world.”

You’ve described yourself as a “borderline alcoholic”. Is there any relationship between how much wine you have in your glass on the show and how badly an interview is going?
“I suppose if there’s less wine in my glass, it’s because it’s going well because I’m talking less … so I’m drinking more. Isn’t it terrible, but I like it when the guests drink. Mark Wahlberg has been on the show and I’m pretty sure he was drunk. When I walk out and say hello to the audience and I see drinks lined up on the coffee table, I’m thinking, ‘Oh good’, because I think it sends out a signal that they intend to enjoy themselves. There’s going to be an element of pleasure for them, even if talking to me is hell.”

You have a very British/Irish sense of humour. Why do you think it works so well internationally?
“I don’t know why it works anywhere. I can pretend, ‘Ooh, my show is so popular,’ but it’s the guests that are popular. I remember growing up in Ireland, and if I’d been watching my show, I would have thought it was impossibly glamorous that these people were in a room talking together. And I think that’s still true, that London does seem like a showbiz capital – for how much longer, we don’t know…”

If you could speak to your younger self, what advice would you give?
“Young people think it’s got to happen now. But the ’plugging away’ years are not wasted. You’ve got more time to fail than you think, because you’ve got time to start again. You know, at 53, I’m a debut novelist, whereas my 30-year-old self would have thought, ‘Oh, Why bother? You’re 53, you’re almost dead.’”

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In all these years of doing the show, what has it taught you about people?
“The guests I feel like I have actually encountered or can have an opinion about tend to be the ones who properly listen to the other guests and aren’t just sitting staring at the monitor waiting for their own face to appear. A lot of the guests do do that! I don’t know if it’s a celebrity thing or just a vanity thing. If you put a dog on a couch, it would look at itself on a monitor as well.”

Which anecdote from your life would you tell if you were in the infamous red chair?
“I have one anecdote and it involves a dog and a condom and it’s in my book. I would probably pull the lever on myself before we got to the end of it.”

You get up close to the Hollywood A-listers. How often are you thinking there is too much plastic surgery going on here?
“Honestly, I don’t think ‘up close’ is ever the issue. If you look at them on telly and think, ‘Jeez, what happened there?’, you‘re thinking exactly the same thing sitting in a chair beside them. Then there’s someone like Jennifer Lopez … she looks Photoshopped in real life! It’s ridiculous that someone can be that beautiful. But in terms of the plastic surgery thing, I’m looking at what you’re looking at. I mean, I’ve never seen a bulldog clip at the back, or anything.”

How do you deal with guests who come on the show with pre-conditions of what they will or won’t talk about?
“The only time I thought that we should have stood our ground was when Janet Jackson was on not that long after Michael Jackson had died. Obviously we didn’t want to talk about it, but I felt it should have been acknowledged in some way because it made me look rude. But we are about having a perfectly nice time. We will tell people, ‘You’ve got a film out but please tell us an anecdote about, you know, finding a spider in your ear, or something.’ It’s a light-hearted, frivolous show.”

Would you miss doing the show if it ended?
“I don’t think I’d miss the applause, I think I could live without that. But validation for everyone is important and someone caring where you are at some part of the day. As it happens, my job has a ridiculous amount of validation – it’s people sitting in rows, clapping, going ‘Yay!’. That’s often the hardest thing about retirement – you don’t have anywhere to be and no one gives a shit where you are! I think that’s why retired people make so many doctor’s appointments! It’s genuinely so they have somewhere to be!”

Series 20 of The Graham Norton Show starts on BBC Lifestyle on October 15 at 10pm. Also, bottles of sauvignon blanc “personally blended by Graham” are available from Victoria Wines (info@victoriawines.com.hk)

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