“He’s so good to the area; he does so much for charities and is really the most down-to-earth person,” said one audience member as the star took time out from a two-month getaway at his holiday home in nearby Ahakista to take to the stage at the Maritime Hotel.
The table was turned on Norton, 54, who proved himself as voluble a guest as presenter in his interview with RTÉpresenter Sinéad Gleeson, but although he was speaking at the festival in his capacity as a novelist, audience questions were on everything from whether the star actually blends his own-brand wine, to his favourite celebrity interviews.
His large crowd of fans and well-wishers were joined by award-winning novelist Zadie Smith and her husband and Tyrone poet and novelist Nick Laird, who was in town to read at the festival.
Norton’s 2016 novel, Holding, has been hailed by reviewers as a credible literary debut. Set in the fictional village of Duneen — which is an amalgamation of his home town of Bandon and the villages of Ahakista and Durrus, which are close to his remote holiday getaway on Sheep’s Head — the book’s plot revolves around the mysterious discovery of human remains. It includes characters that Norton says remain true of village life to this day: An inept, overweight garda looking for love, and spinster sisters with a tragic past.
It may be his first novel, but the star has written two previous memoirs, So Me and The Life and Loves of a He-Devil.
Looking tanned and fit, Norton regaled his appreciative capacity crowd with anecdotes on presenting the Eurovision in Ukraine, which he said was “terrifying”, and favourite celebrity interviews.
He paid tribute to Terry Wogan, saying his fellow Irishman was “in my head the whole first year of presenting the Eurovision; he really did invent that job and make it what it is”.
While the BBC’s salary revelations put Norton in third place with a minimum take home pay of £850,000 (€945,650) per year, behind Chris Evans and Gary Lineker, he warned that fame is a fickle thing.
“Most peoples’ fame is quite brief, and I’ve had a bigger slice of the pie than most. It goes away; you do plan for a future that doesn’t include being on the telly and being on the radio.”
Norton’s inspiration for his book may have come from a walk he took near Bandon with his mammy, but he ended up writing it in London — despite his plans to draw on the landscape of the Sheep’s Head as he wrote. Having planned to write his novel on his annual holiday to West Cork, his dreams of a bohemian writer’s retreat were foiled by an accident that left him unable to type, he revealed.
“I was washing my Irish Man of the Year Award and it slipped,” he said.
“A big shard of glass sliced a bit off my finger. My kitchen was beginning to look like CSI Durrus by the time I decided I needed to go to the hospital, so I wrapped a towel around it and drove to Bantry Hospital.”