Graham Norton admits it was tough growing up gay in 1980s Ireland

Graham Norton

Chat king Graham Norton has spoken about his youth growing up in rural Ireland and that it was not a good place to come out as gay.

The Cork-born star has been a mainstay on Irish and British television over the past 25 years and is one of the most recognisable gay men in showbusiness.

However, as a young man he did not feel able to openly be himself. The chat show host gave a revealing insight into his own experience of growing up gay in Ireland in the 1980s.

He admitted that it was not until he travelled to America that he felt confident to be himself.

The 58-year-old start explained: “I never came out. It didn’t seem practical.

“Living in a small town in rural Ireland in the early eighties there was no context for me to be gay in, so why tell anyone?

“I would just have been gay watching afternoon TV or riding my bike into town.

“With no prospect of being gay in the very important boy meets boy scenario, I felt it would just have upset everyone without any real benefit.”

The BBC host, who has interviewed world stars such as Tom Hanks, Cher, Will Smith and Margot Robbie throughout his illustrious career as a chat host, also explained that he was extremely inexperienced and knowledgeable regarding sex, and had to go to America to ‘learn the ropes’.

He continued: “Instead, I resolved to go to where the boys were. My plan was to take my J1 visa from university and travel to Los Angeles for the summer.

“I had a pen pal there, David Villapando, who had revealed in his letters that not only was he gay but that he was doing something about it. In fact, he was doing quite a lot about it.

“Every month or so I would receive what was essentially handwritten porn on thin blue airmail paper. It seemed that David would be the perfect person to show me the ropes.

“I know it seems ridiculous that the closest gay person I could find was five thousand miles away, but subconsciously, that was probably how I wanted it.”

“As I stepped bleary and aching from the bus with my backpack weighing heavily, a flatbed truck came around the corner with three drag queens waving and screaming on the back of it.

“Obviously, I knew that the city had a reputation for being gay, but nonetheless, this seemed a little overstated. It transpired that I had arrived on the day of Gay Pride.

“I walked up to Market Street and watched the parade go by. Actual Grace Jones was on a float singing to me. My Irish head and heart were close to bursting.

“In amongst the drag queens, leather daddies and grey-haired proud parents marching in solidarity with their children, I remember seeing some placards with the initials AIDS on them.

“When asked, the pleasant woman standing beside me on the sidewalk explained happily, ‘Oh, it’s a bad disease they get.’ I had a vague recollection of reading something about it deep inside the Cork Examiner. A type of cancer, I thought.

“Other groups on the parade were angry that the city had forced the bath houses to shut their doors.

“The day had slowly turned from being a celebration of pride to a closing-down party. Short of money and with no more ticket to ride, I never did get to LA.”