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Before he became better known as Mr Norton, Graham Walker was born in the village of Clondalkin, near Dublin in Ireland on 4th April, 1963. His father Billy was a sales representative for Guinness, so the Walker family were on the move for much of Graham’s younger years. At the age of 12, he was sent to school in Bandon in County Cork, where he excelled in debating and drama. He was keen to escape school at the earliest opportunity and, at the age of 16, headed off for a job in a pottery – although when this didn’t work out, he ended up peeling apples for a meagre wage in order to make ends meet.
After winning a place at University College, Cork, Graham settled into studying for a degree in English and French. But he found college life lonely, and struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, he dropped out and headed for a commune in San Francisco. After an adventure-filled sojourn in the US, Graham then travelled to London where he secured a place at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Although he started out by training to become an actor, it soon became very obvious that his talents lay in making people laugh instead of impressing them with his Hamlet. In 1992, Graham Norton (as he had now become after a name change to satisfy the British acting trade union Equity) took his one-man show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Making a splash as a drag act, his appearance as tea towel-bedecked Mother Theresa got him noticed and he was nominated for a Perrier Award. His foray into the Fringe provided a springboard into the world of radio and he made a number of appearances on BBC Radio 4’s Loose Ends. He also went on to play the camp, jolly Father Noel Furlong in the classic priest-based sitcom Father Ted.
But he really hit the jackpot when Five (then Channel 5) launched in the UK in 1997. When the channel’s regular chat show host, Scottish comedian Jack Docherty went on holiday, Norton stepped into his shoes and won an award for his trouble, stealing the best newcomer gong at the British Comedy Awards that year.
He then went on to guest star in the comic quiz Bring Me the Head of Light Entertainment and the game show Carnal Knowledge, but topped all of that in 1998 when he joined Channel 4 to present his own cheeky, innuendo-laden show, So Graham Norton. He followed this up with another smash hit in the shape of V Graham Norton, which ran for five nights a week, every week for a considerable period of time.
His success on Channel 4 led to the BBC signing him up to host shows including the Saturday night reality TV offering Strictly Dance Fever, Graham Norton’s Bigger Picture and his own eponymous chat show, The Graham Norton Show. In 2008, it was announced that Norton would also step into Sir Terry Wogan’s shoes as the regular UK presenter of the Eurovision Song Contest.
At the BBC, he added to his reality show host CV by fronting How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, Any Dream Will Do, I’d Do Anything, and Over the Rainbow alongside West End musical legend Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. In 2009, Graham hit London’s West End himself, starring in the cult musical La Cage Aux Folles.