(left to right) Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rosamund Pike, Graham Norton, Michael McIntyre, Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland during the filming of the Graham Norton Show at The London Studios, south London, to be aired on BBC One on Friday evening.


WHILE yours truly was living in London at the turn of the millennium, an up-and-coming Irishman was making waves on late-night television. With his love of sexually charged innuendos, a fascination with fetishism and his flamboyantly camp presenting style, Graham Norton left early audiences divided between bursting into fits of disbelieving laughter, and firm tut-tuts of prudish disapproval.

Over the years, So Graham Norton (1998-2002) evolved into V Graham Norton (2002-2003) and then Graham Norton’s Bigger Picture (2005-2007) – with ever more outrageous inserts and an increasingly A-list roster of guests – until, finally, the world was introduced to the more simply stated The Graham Norton Show. (His plethora of other television and radio projects notwithstanding.)

Nine years and five Baftas later, Naughty Norton is still going strong. So much so, he not only holds the coveted prime time Friday night slot on British television in the proverbial palm of his hand, but he is one of the most popular BBC programmes right here on South African soil, too.

A firm fan from the start, it was with a sense of giddiness that I found myself seated in the very London studio where all the proverbial madcap magic unfolds, for a recent recording of the show. Not least because Coldplay frontman Chris Martin (magnificent), Oscar-nominated actress Rosamund Pike (a true lady), comedian Michael McIntyre (literally laugh-out-loud) and, later in the evening, musical theatre legend Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber were on the line-up (it was all I could do not to burst into a rendition of Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina).Be still, my star-struck heart!

That we blithely skipped ahead of the train of devotees congregated on the chilly London winter-night streets – all of whom were hoping against all hope to secure a seat in the “general populas” section – only added to our sense of (temporary) prominence. As, too, did seeing our names on seats specifically allocated for us as we entered the studio. Yup, it’s the small things… Hashtag VIPs.

But there was no mistaking the real celebrities in this crowd, as Norton and co took to the stage amid loud cheers from the audience. Perhaps the most enlightening element of the behind-the-scenes experience was the realisation that, while Graham may, for all intents and purposes, be the star of his own series, it is far from a one-man show.

From the plethora of production “bodies” buzzing about, seeing to all the nitty gritty minutiae, the seating co-ordinators and the floor manager doing his rounds to ensure all was in order, to the chap who gets the crowd going before the cameras start rolling and the security personnel who keep an eagle eye out for the flash of cellphone cameras (no photos allowed for fear of revealing too much on social media before the episode airs – although in true journalistic form, yours truly still managed to sneak in a shot. Cue evil laughter…), it rather felt like being in the eye of the storm, as all this controlled chaos swirled around us.

It was, however, Norton who all those gathered came to see in live action – even if it could be said his guests out-ranked him in international star power. That we were fortunate enough to sit in on a shoot that featured such easy-going, amenable personalities who bounced very well off each other, further fuelled the sense of surrealism underpinning this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Not least because, as Norton himself pointed out prior to Rosamund et al taking their seats: “Be nice. They are humans after all and they are also very nervous coming out here.”

Well, whaddya know? Even the big players feel the flutter of butterflies in their bellies.

As for comments from my foreign colleagues that Chris Martin in particular was “hostile” simply because he would defer back to Graham when asked what he wanted to do, I can but scratch my head on that one. As my second-in-command can attest (having interviewed him when Coldplay toured South Africa five years ago), Martin is arguably one of the most amenable, unassuming blokes you’re ever likely to meet in showbiz circles. Even if his jeans are far too tight!

Catch Season 20, Episode 7 of The Graham Norton Show on Tuesday ?at 9pm on BBC Brit (DStv channel 120).