Nortonmania ran wild in West Cork as BBC presenter and comedian Graham Norton returned to his old school.
Norton was back at Bandon Grammar to open a €1.5m extension, which includes a block of 10 new classrooms, a technical graphics room, resource rooms and an IT room.
There was Nortonmania for his visit with teenage girls nearly crushing the diminutive star as they clambered to take photos with the famous past pupil.
Immaculately dressed in a biscuit-coloured pin-striped suit and pink tie, Norton took it all in his stride. More gentleman than cheeky chappie, he seemed to have all the time in the world for the pupils.
“You know teenagers: it’s any excuse for a day off. Or half-day in this case. So I think it’s more about that than me,” he said, laughing.
Norton, who was reared in Bandon and attended University College Cork, was just in the county for a few hours before heading back for his Radio 2 show this morning.
During his speech, he left tears of laughter rolling down teachers’, pupils’ and parents’ faces when he recounted anecdotes from his school days.
Lavishing praise on the board for the amount of development since he left 30 years ago, Norton, who was Graham Walker then, said he found “it hard to recognise the school that’s here today”.
“It is like they have been building non-stop since I left,” he quipped.
“There were a lot of prefabs back then,” he reminisced, remembering one particular day when a former teacher, Brian Price, ‘Beaky’ he called him, “was drawing a map of the Holy Land on the blackboard, freehand”.
“As he moved over to Israel,” he told everyone gathered in the new hall, “he put his foot on a particularly damp bit of the chipboard floor and he went right through it.
“But now. Teachers take note. Such was that man’s dedication that he kept on drawing Israel. All the way from the blackboard right down to the floor. If Israel really was that big, as it appeared on that map that day, the problems in the Middle East would be long over,” he quipped to roars of laughter.
Norton, who has spoken in the difficulties of growing up as a Protestant in West Cork, wasn’t short on advice for angst ridden teenagers — assuring them most of their fears will never materialise.
“I had this weird thing where I was terrified of the future. I remember when I was 13 or 14 the threat of nuclear war preoccupied me a lot. I was constantly encouraging my mother to buy more canned food. As if you could survive a nuclear winter with a tin of beans and a good book.
“Nowadays you’ve got climate change, global economic meltdown, or, if all else fails, a meteorite hurtling towards Earth. I know it sounds glib to say it but don’t worry. The world keeps going. There might be rough terrain but it doesn’t stop. The truth is: if history teaches us anything, it’s crap happens. And then more crap happens. And it’s usually the same crap.”
The crowd, including an array of priests who had blessed the new building, convulsed with laughter.
And then as he came to the end of his speech, Norton decided he, too, deserved a small accolade.
“I also want to give myself a large pat on the back for getting through this speech on the opening of a new building — without saying the word ‘erection’.”
The crowd howled with laughter. Among them was one of his former classmates, Diana Scott. She described Norton as “a genuine sort of a guy”.
“He was always brilliant on stage. He was always good fun. He had the lead role in any play we did. He was also really good at debating. But when he first started out and was really, really outrageous, that wasn’t the real Graham. The Graham you see now on BBC is more the real Graham..”
Meanwhile, Norton, who will host the BBC’s coverage of the Eurovision, said Jedward were in with a shot of victory. “Good luck to Jedward in getting through their semi-final. Waterline isn’t quite as good as Lipstick but then it’s not a great year. They might do well. They could surprise a lot of people.”
And what about the British entry, Engelbert Humperdinck? “His problem is he’s singing first. That’s a real problem. It’s a really suitable song... [but] what I love about Eurovision is that you cannot second guess it. Anybody could win that thing.”
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