Seven-time Bafta winner Graham Norton returns to host awards

He's known for chatting to famous folk, but for many, Graham Norton is star of the show. As he prepares to host this year's Baftas tomorrow – and possibly announce himself as a winner yet again – the Irishman chats to Gemma Dunn about acceptance speeches, after-parties and penning his first novel

Graham Norton after winning the Bafta for Comedy Entertainment Programme for The Graham Norton Show last year
Gemma Dunn

LOSING out on an award and having to master a gracious losing face – on camera – is no easy task but, it seems, Graham Norton has a plan.

"I'm on stage – and I'm announcing the category that I'm in!" quips the Irish television star, discussing his return as host of this year's Baftas.

"There's a bit of, 'I would really like to win this', and there is a bit of me that goes, 'F***!', when I don't, but at least I've got something to do with the rest of my evening. If you're sat in the audience and you don't win, that's a long night..."

Interviewing an interviewer is always a strange concept, but Norton, who was born in Dublin but grew up in Bandon, Co Cork, is a professional. And a really nice one at that.

When we meet, he's casually dressed in a blue shirt and jeans, and engaging from the off; his bearded face and quirky mannerisms comfortably familiar.

He chuckles, I suspect out of modesty, when I ask how he spends his time away from the merry-go-round of celebrity.

"My life is tragically simple. I'm either walking dogs, watching TV, or getting drunk. Or sometimes all three!"

But in the world of showbiz, the 53-year-old is a household name, known for his impish charm, quick wit and innuendo-laden gags. And he's certainly no stranger to the world of Bafta, having won seven previously – four of which were for The Graham Norton Show.

Beamed into millions of homes every Friday night, his ability to play – in his words – a "poofie chappie" and deliver A-list interview gold has seen him nominated again this year, and this time he's up against Stephen Fry, in the Entertainment Performance category.

"Here's an interesting fact: Stephen Fry has never won a Bafta," notes Norton. "Isn't that weird?

"It's interesting, the people who have slipped through the net. So Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen have never won a Bafta or Oscar. What losers!" he exclaims, launching into his trademark laugh.

"There are a lot of people who deserve a prize, so if Stephen won, I really couldn't grumble."

One nominee Norton (whose real name is Graham Walker) is hoping to see crowned, however, is Dr Foster star Suranne Jones, in the Leading Actress category.

"The others are all very good, but what's nice on the night, is if it's a big, popular win. Some of them give an amazing award-worthy performance in a show, but if you haven't seen that show, you will, by definition, care less. So if it's something like Dr Foster, it zhooshes up the evening."

And having hosted the BBC One ceremony nine times previously, he has a few words of advice for those yet to pen their winner's speech.

"Funny or moving is always good. Long lists of people you've never heard of: very bad. But yes: funny – lovely; emotional – lovely. Tick and tick. Tears are lovely because that's someone who cares. I mean, sometimes tears can be annoying, but genuine tears are always welcome."

If you're looking to let your hair down, the after-party is always "quite good", Norton, a former stand-up comedian whose 1996 turn as Father Noel Furlong in Father Ted brought him to public attention in Ireland, says.

"A quarter of the people are in a good mood, and they are having a nice time, and everyone else is just drowning their sorrows.

"I don't normally stay until the bitter end though, because it's literally a bitter end."

Celebrated for his humour and perfectly-timed sarcasm, Norton is used to brushing shoulders with Hollywood's elite, thanks to his red sofa chats on his prime-time BBC One series, The Graham Norton Show. But he confesses he still finds the Bafta gig "a nervy night" – despite an obligatory glass of wine.

"The audience is so star-studded that it's kind of, 'Oh God, really?' But I suppose doing it for this long helps, because you think: 'It'll all happen; I'll just get through it'.

"Years ago, when I used to do stand-up, I had little rituals," he reveals, "but the sooner you break those habits, the better for everyone."

Today, an experienced Norton has many strings to his showbiz bow – TV presenter (he'll be returning to host the Eurovision Song Contest this month, as well), comedian, actor, writer (he has published two autobiographical books; So Me and the award-winning The Life and Loves of a He Devil: A Memoir), DJ and agony uncle. But his latest endeavour, as novelist, has left him feeling a new kind of "nervousness".

Of his 'darkly funny' fiction debut – the title of which is yet to be released – he says: "I loved it. I really, really enjoyed the process of writing the book and it's so much more enjoyable than writing a memoir. It's fun.

"The odd thing is, I have no real need to publish it. I couldn't care less if anybody reads it; I'd be quite happy to print it all off, put it in a box and put it under my bed and just go, 'Yeah, I've written a novel, it's in there'.

"My pleasure came from doing it," he explains, "and now it will enter a grubby, depressing bit, where people are going, 'Meh, it's all right', and, 'Oh I found it a bit boring', and, 'What was that bit about?'

"I'm in a really nice moment right now, where I've finished the novel, and I'd quite like this process to stop now before the awfulness."

He's pragmatic about the outcomes, though.

"I would like people to like it. But equally, if nobody likes or reads it, all that will happen is I won't write another one," Norton muses. "Obviously my ego will be bruised and I'll be upset, but there won't really be consequences, other than the world will be spared another Graham Norton novel."

:: The House Of Fraser British Academy Television Awards will air on BBC One tomorrow.

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