Graham Norton opens up about being single in his 50s

He once described his dating life ''like failing all my relationship exams.''

Turn on the telly on a Friday night and there he is.

Warm, comforting, occasionally scandalous and always side-splittingly funny, Graham Norton has gone from bit-part actor and bartender to a 20-year chat-show veteran and global legend.

But while he’s made his fortune extracting the juiciest and funniest nuggets from the world’s rich and famous, Graham (55) himself has always remained something of an enigma – and that’s exactly how he’d like things to stay.

Often thought of as perpetually happy, the star admits there’s a certain level of acting in his role, comparing it to any other job and alluding to a more realistic reality.

“I’m at work. If your job is frothing milk, you’ve got to froth the milk. My job is to be a cheery chat-show host, so I’d better be that or I’ll get fired. If you’re going to leave the house and go to work, if needed, fake it.

“We all have our dark times,” he says soberly. “Maybe it’s because I’m Irish, but for me, dark times are private times. I might talk to friends, but I’m not going to write a newspaper column about it.”

However, due to currently being on the publicity trail promoting his second novel A Keeper – a melancholy yarn about a lonely Irish academic who returns to the Emerald Isle in the ’70s – the interviewer has become the interviewee and what emerges is somewhat of a lonely soul himself.

Living in London with his two pups Madge (after Madonna) and Bailey, Graham has been single for years – he once described his dating life “like failing all my relationship exams”.

But though he has always maintained solo life is best for him, in a recent interview, Graham admits to a small yearning for something more.

“Well, to share bits of my life, yes,” he tells. “I think that’s been one of my problems in the past, the full-on commitment. I’ve looked to relationships for everything – and they provide some things, but not everything.

“I think there will be significant parts of my life when I’ll be single,” he adds. “You meet people and bad things happen. Cher was on the show recently – she’s 72 now and she says she can date people for just about two years. I have a funny feeling I might have the same thing in my head. Two years, then it’s over.”

While on the show, Cher revealed her two-year love limit – Graham sympathises.

Instead, work has been his main focus for the last two decades, a career that has seen his personal star ascend to phenomenal heights – along with his bank balance. The host’s salary for his show alone cost the BBC more than $1.2 million a year and that’s not including the fees from his production company or earnings from others businesses, such as his involvement with Kiwi wine company Invivo.

And as he points out, the past few years have seen him “grow up” a little – a progression signified by his beard, which made its debut in 2015. “I look older, but better with a beard, so that’s why,” he explains.

Gone are the days of his infamous, hard-core partying, spurred by a dawning realisation that what was acceptable in his youth was maybe a little tragic by the time he got to his 50s.

“Falling asleep against a lamp-post when you’re 22, hilarious. If you’re 52, it’s quite depressing. You grow out of things – what you could get away with at 35 would just be unseemly at 55.”

But Graham’s still resolutely devoted to his show, which dominates ratings the world over – and has managed to resonate so well with Kiwis, it’s become something of a tradition for young New Zealanders in London to try to score a spot in Graham’s big red chair and share a funny story.

“Kiwis are very good at telling stories – that’s why they end up in the red chair a lot,” he says. “Plus, a thick New Zealand accent is inherently funny. I think it brightens up any tale. People are already laughing before any story happens.”

And we’ve got years left of spotting our own on the lauded chair if Graham has any say in it.

“You see friends who don’t work and they go a bit Billy bonkers,” he muses. “They over-analyse everything and become involved in the minutiae of their lives. It’s not very healthy.

“I’d just like to carry on while I’m still enjoying myself.”

The Graham Norton Couch All-Stars

It’s the question he’s asked every time he’s interviewed: “Who are the best and worst celebrities you’ve had on your couch?”

And while Graham’s had to be a bit diplomatic, we’ve rounded up some of his favourite famous folk – and a few of the flops.

The Best:

“Someone like Tom Cruise is incredible; he comes in and gets introduced to everyone and he remembers everyone’s name, so it means people backstage love him,” Graham says, adding that Will Smith and Tom Hanks round out his top three. “Tom Hanks can really tell a story and will talk about his entire career – even Turner and Hooch.”

The Worst:

Only one celebrity has ever been name-checked as a horrible guest, with that honour going to Mickey Rourke. “He was exhausting because he wanted to smoke all the time – it was so boring.”

But Graham also divulges a recent guest shocked him and his team by demanding 10 dressing rooms – one just to charge a mobile phone.

“That took our breath away – how someone’s life gets to where they can’t be in the same room as their phone is beyond me.”

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