Bandon walking on air as favourite son returns

It’s been quite a journey from Bandon Grammar School to the BBC.

Bandon walking on air as favourite son returns

And it is quite the way back from the Big Red Chair to a microphone stand on a trailer speaking to a huge crowd of people who proved they would turn out in virtually any weather just to see you.

But it could not have been a more fitting tribute.

This was a man who told the crowd about the itchy feet he had as a teen to get out of Bandon.

Now the place was turning out to open a walkway which runs right along the direction he ran.

And his old neighbours had decided to name this riverside walkway after him.

Graham Norton is more used to performing in the comfort of his television studio. And people are more used to watching him curled up on the couch on a Friday night in.

However, both he and his fellow townspeople braced themselves for a less relaxing environment and between them still managed to generate enough warmth to brighten a dreary, drizzly day in Bandon.

The opening of the walkway was billed as part of The Gathering, which is supposed to be about celebrating Irishness.

Fireworks, Riverdance along the quays, and a naval flotilla into Cork Harbour tick some boxes.

Yet there is something even more traditional about festival speeches from a tarpaulin-covered trailer on one of the most miserable afternoons of the year.

And if you are going to have festival speeches from a trailer, it helps to have one of the best talkers in the business.

He spared nobody’s blushes and spoke with the humour and honesty that got him to the top.

This was before he cut a red ribbon held up by two assistants and officially opened his own riverside walk.

As he said of Bandon minutes later: “You would be amazed by all the changes but the feel of the place is still the same... it is about the best of both worlds.”

For a man who spends every Thursday night filming in the company of A-list movie stars, he seemed genuinely chuffed by his latest gig.

He was joined on the walk by his mother and his sister — and everyone else who came out to see him.

He joked about how he was heartened by the river as a youngster, as it showed him a way out of Bandon.

But he said the “weird loner” had grown up and loved coming to spend his summers in West Cork.

And if a pretty riverside walkway in his home town is not enough to immortalise him, then the thousand or so photos he pleasantly and politely posed for should do it.

After the walk, Bandon proudly paraded its son through Kevin O’Leary’s car showroom.

There, he hosted a press conference that was taken over with questions from his fans, who had their own curiosities to satisfy free of the filter of the media.

When this was over, Graham was marched right up to the top of the show room and then he was marched back down again.

With each step, another camera phone was produced.

The tidy towns committee, who will keep his walkway looking its best, was given a bigger smile than most.

Even after most of the crowd had taken a snap and left to stroll back along the walk, cars pulled up with guests from a nearby wedding.

Graham’s grin did not slip for a second, perhaps masking a slight sense of panic that at any point somebody who had yet to master Sky Plus would bundle him into one of the show car boots and bring him home for an on-demand service.

For a youth who could not wait to get out of Bandon to start his travels, the town could not wait to have him back.

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