"The theme for the night is 'What did the Actor say to the Bishop?' Let's start the show," commenced Cork's Church of Ireland Bishop Paul Colton, before coyly asking Graham Norton "Am I your first Vicar, your first Bishop," and thus setting an immediate tone of some sly innuendo, and much hilarity, for the hour-plus 'Evening with Graham Norton'.
Their sparky communion, and occasional confession, was held live in front of 400 paying guests, locals, devotional fans and one bulldog puppy. In fact, it seemed the only key demographic missing was the entertainer's mother who, Graham reveled, was boycotting the evening as "she was devastated to hear who was appearing here with me this evening: Her Bishop? Paul Colton? She's appalled: she thought: 'Has he no higher calling than this?"
As it turned out, the Bishop has a calling at least equal to the wit of the man whose second, 'bad boy' autobiography 'Life and Loves of a He Devil: A Memoir' was the ostensible reason for Norton's appearance at at yet another writers' love-in.
"The last time I read a book as assiduously as this, it was 'As you Like It,' for my Inter Cert," said Bishop Colton, holding up his much annotated copy of Norton's latest book, studded with tiny pink sticky-tabs' to flag sections he wanted to comment on...mostly on topics like dogs and boyfriends.
"It looks like a gay hedgehog," retorted Norton when confronted with the evidence of a book of some revelations, consumed by a cleric in a , ahem, dog collar. Settling into his hosting duties, Bishop Colton suggested the last time he had handled a similar-seated questioning gathering like this one was back in the 1990s, when he had a parish in Dublin, and "my congregation were all returning missionaries. "As I am, myself," shot back his laid-back guest.
The father of twin boys in their 20s, Bishop Colton told Graham Norton his book had, for a while, caused marital disharmony in the Colton household. Bishop Colton's wife Susan got to read their just-acquired copy first of Norton's latest book, on a trip to visit to St Louis, but she inadvertently left it in their hotel in Chicago "so that now, in a Four Seasons Hotel bedrooms, a copy of He Devil is snuggling up next to a Gideon Bible," the Bishop told the risque writer.
"I'd like to start with two apologies," Norton said at the outset of his chat and experience of being a guest facing the questions instead of asking them. "One, to the actual writers here, I do feel that my appearing at a literary festival is one of the Signs of the Apocalypse. The other is an apology to the Bishop, for making a man of the cloth read this tawdry tale. It's worse than the Old Testament, So, apologies." And, with that out of the way, the evening was off, at a trot,
Life is very, very simple but we can we can over complicate it: the wag of a dog's tails is a simple thing, the actor suggested to the Bishop, adding that if you're a dog, "you're hungry, you're horny, or you're angry.
And, he rhetorically asked "what kind of gift would you have to give to a partner or a boyfriend - say, a holiday? an open-top sports car? an amazing penthouse apartment? - to get the same reaction as giving a dog a five-day old sausage out of the fridge?"
One or two boyfriends and, ultimately disappointments get passing references in the 'He Devil' book, Norton admitted but added there were quite few more boyfriends who never made it as "I thought it would annoy them more by not being in it."
And, having fled Ireland as a gay person in the early 1980s - "I spent my teenage years listening to a clock ticking, asking 'when can I get out of here'?" - Norton admitted to shedding a few tears in a hotel bedroom in Vienna while hosting the Eurovision, watching CNN when the same sex marriage referendum was passed in Ireland, and celebrated that night in Dublin Castle .
. "It was beyond comprehension that it had happened in my country, in the country I grew up in, it was just phenomenal." Ireland has transformed itself into something else, Norton said, "I much prefer this version of Ireland It wasn't a country saying 'oh, we love the gays; e were just to the front of the queue when it came to the issue, it was ''we love the modernity.'"
So, what about marriage? someone in the audience popped Graham the curve-ball question, would he like to get hitched?
"Being 52 and single can make you feel like a loser, like I've failed with something there, but then I look at some of my friends relationships, and that doesn't look like winning to me" he deadpanned. He doesn't have any desperate yearnings, and dogs aren't a surrogate either, he'd said earlier , but in fact, Norton said he finds weddings a bit embarrassing, what with those wedding vows: "That's pillow talk, keep it indoors. Don't say that out loud in front of strangers and friends. If I ever got to the stage where I could say those words to another person, then maybe, I might...."
So, current loves? Well, West Cork and time in Ahakista are favourite places and times, and Ahakista Regatta is coming up in two week time in front of his house and lawn down there, he happily anticipated, while noting his English visitors to hsi waterside holiday home might have a slightly different, grander notion of what a regatta is. "It's basically a piss-up, with a Tannoy," he adjudged.
What's it like being famous? To a 'local' audience Graham Norton retells an answer he gave to a young woman at Bantry Youth Group: "It's like being from Bantry. everyone knows you. In Bantry, you are all famous, like you have this thing, you are in SuperValu and you say, no, I don't have time for this today. Well, it's like that, on a slightly bigger scale."