Graham Norton’s school days: I got the acting bug in Bandon Grammar School

BBC TV chatshow host returns to Co Cork alma mater to launch new book on school

Graham Norton with students from Bandon Grammar School, where he launched a new history of the school by principal Ian Coombes. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Graham Norton with students from Bandon Grammar School, where he launched a new history of the school by principal Ian Coombes. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

 

Chat show host Graham Norton – who was visiting Bandon Grammar on Monday for a book launch – said he could never have imagined that he would end up being the school’s most famous son.

Norton, who formally launched Bandon Grammar School – A History, said his six years at the Co Cork school had left a lasting imprint on him.

He said his schooldays, which ended in 1981, weren’t the happiest days or the worst times of his life, and he had a normal share of teenage angst intermixed with doses of laughter.

If I was in school now I would be very excited that some bloke off the television was wandering around

“I feel sorry for anyone whose schooldays were the happiest days of their life,” he said. “ You have peaked very early.”

He admitted that it was a “little weird” to be held in high esteem at the school, given that it stems from the fact that he “just happens to be on television”.

“If I was in school now I would be very excited that some bloke off the television was wandering around . . . and sure it is grand to have an afternoon off. So that would have been a double whammy of excitement for me.”

The BBC host said that in the late 1970s, Bandon Grammar favoured sport, even though they weren’t “particularly good at it”.

Not the sporty type

Not being the sporty type, he grasped any opportunities that came his way in the arts.

“We did do the odd play. I loved doing the plays. It was one of the things where I got the bug. If you see someone like you doing something it makes it more possible. I remember [award-winning actor] Fiona Shaw. She was from Cork and went to London and to drama school. That made it seem like something I could do.”

It’s a walk down memory lane and you can look at pictures and look at names and see who is dead

Norton paid tribute to current principal Ian Coombes, who wrote the comprehensive history of the school, having himself been educated there.

“I am back here today because this book is extraordinary. This school has been going for nearly 400 years. It reads as an academic book but there is also social history,” said Norton. “For lots of people, it’s a walk down memory lane and you can look at pictures and look at names and see who is dead.”

Mr Coombes said Norton’s talent as a writer had been nurtured by English teacher Niall McMonagle, who was in attendance at the book launch. He said Norton was also a natural on stage.

“I saw Graham in the Importance of Being Earnest and he was incredible. You would have said if anyone was going anywhere, it was Graham.”