How the BBC's Graham Norton Became a Master Interviewer — and a Novelist (Exclusive)

With the publication of his fourth novel, 'Forever Home,' Norton reflects on turning 60, hosting his talk show and why he has faith in young people

<p>Hodder & Stoughton; HarperVia</p> Graham Norton, the popular BBC talk show host, has published his fourth novel

Hodder & Stoughton; HarperVia

Graham Norton, the popular BBC talk show host, has published his fourth novel

Graham Norton became famous talking to strangers in public — at least, that’s the simplest way to explain it. As the host of his eponymous BBC talk show since 2007, Norton has interviewed everyone from Daniel Radcliffe to Rihanna to Dame Helen Mirren to John Cena. The 8-time BAFTA winner has also shouldered hosting duties for the BBC’s coverage of the Eurovision song contest and served as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.

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Along the way, the multi-hyphenated star has been steadily plying another trade: novelist. Today sees the publication of Forever Home, Norton’s fourth novel (he also published a memoir, The Lives and Loves of a He-Devil, in 2016). Like his previous novels, Forever Home is set in Norton’s own Irish homeland, in a small town outside West Cork, where Norton grew up. From an early age, he knew he wanted to explore the wider world, maybe try to make a life as an actor or comedian.

As a college student in 1983, Norton visited the U.S. on a student visa. A bus deposited him in San Francisco right during a pride parade. He hadn’t even really planned to go there; that’s where the bus tickets ran out. “But then, like a scene from a bad movie, the day I arrived I got off this bus and literally a flatbed truck of drag queens came screaming around a corner,” he told PEOPLE. “I was like, ‘I know they said it was gay, but this is very gay.’ So my first day in San Francisco was spent standing on the side of Market Street watching all the people walking by, the floats, the parade, Grace Jones on another flatbed truck. So it kind of blew my little Irish mind that all of this was happening.”

<p>Hodder & Stoughton</p> Graham Norton, 8-time BAFTA winner for his BBC work

Hodder & Stoughton

Graham Norton, 8-time BAFTA winner for his BBC work

Acting school in London was followed by a series of uninspiring jobs (“I remember I played a dead body in a training film for a telecommunications thing,” he says). He drifted into stand-up comedy, performing in clubs around the UK. A brief stint in the U.S. for Comedy Central sent him back to London. “Maybe it's different now. I'm sure it is different now,” Norton says. “But back then it was pretty soul-destroying compared to where we came from.”

He loves a lot of American TV, though, including Pamela Adlon’s Better Things and Bridget Everett’s Somebody Somewhere. And American celebrities are some of his favorite guests on his BBC talk show, which explains why clips of his shows are all over social media.

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Norton, who just turned 60, says that age suits him. “When I turned 40, I found that kind of challenging because I didn't know how to be a 40-year-old,” he says. “And 50 just felt like more 40. But I did think well, 60 is sort of... There's no pretending that's not old. And then I found that actually fine. The only difference I find is that now every little thing, every little...little jab in your shoulder, in your elbow to go, ‘What's that?,’ now you assume it's going to kill you, or that's the end of that elbow.”

It was aging that brought him back to writing, he says. “I liked writing when I was young, and I did sort of fancy myself the writer back then, but never had the commitment or the motivation or drive to do it,” Norton says. “And so it was only when I was turning 50, like all of those...the big ages with a zero at the end, I thought, what would I like to do? And I thought, well, I'd like to give this a whirl. I'll actually try writing a novel.”

<p>HarperVia</p> "Forever Home" by Graham Norton


"Forever Home" by Graham Norton

His newest novel, Forever Home, has twists and turns — and there is a dead body — but the pace and dialogue are lively, and the social satire very funny at times. “I’m calling it a dark romp,” says Norton, “because it gets quite romp-y.”

He likes setting his novels in the semi-rural small town life he remembers from his own childhood. “Everyone has got a gate, everyone's got a lane. And so you know who lives down there and you think you know all their business, and ‘Oh, he's having an affair, or she's a drinker.’ There's a lot of darkness. There's a lot of hidden stuff in these places,” he says.

The first several years after Norton left West Cork, he escaped into the anonymity of city life, escaping the closed-in feeling of everyone knowing his business. But then he got famous. “And so I went to London, became anonymous, and then apparently did everything in my power to stop,” he says.

He’s observed fame up close, both in his own life and among the guests on his show, megawatt stars who can’t leave the house without being mobbed. “It's an odd job because on one level you're very kind of high-status because your name is over the door. You run out at the top of the show. Everyone is clapping,” he says. “But the minute the guests arrive, you are low-status. Whoever they are, you’ve got to do your darndest to make them be funnier, more interesting, more famous than you are.”

<p>Martin Meissner/AP</p> Presenters Hannah Waddingham, left, and Graham Norton during the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest

Martin Meissner/AP

Presenters Hannah Waddingham, left, and Graham Norton during the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest

Norton says he doesn’t have a favorite guest, but some make his life very easy. Tom Hanks, for instance, says Norton, is such a pro that, “I could be a mannequin sitting in my chair. He's been doing it a long time and he's found a way, if not to enjoy it, then at least to give the impression he's enjoying it.”

In Norton’s Ireland, same-sex marriage was made legal in 2015 by a national referendum. “Seeing what's happened in Ireland in my lifetime is amazing,” he says (Norton himself was married in July 2002 to Jonathan McLeod). But he’s aware of the backlash.

“I think it seems to be the morality of society, they're always a bit of a pendulum. And some swings are bigger than other swings. Right now you're having a bit of a swing here,” he says, meaning the U.S. “But I think it will swing back because I would put my faith in young people.”

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Forever Home is available wherever books are sold.

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