During an interview to promote the release of his new book, Home Stretch, Graham Norton shared how he felt compelled to leave Ireland in the 1980’s as he didn’t feel comfortable living here as a gay man.
In an interview with The Independent, the author and TV presenter also praised “all the people who stayed in Ireland to fight for the modern tolerant place it has become. I took the easy way out and left.”
In the novel, the lead character, Connor, moves to London and sees his life blossom after he comes out as a gay man. The character was based on Norton’s own experiences, as he elaborated, “I moved where the gays were. I went to London where nobody knew me, so there was none of that scariness, and there were gay bars that were just on the street so I could walk in, and meet other gay people.”
Norton acknowledged that as a “nation of leavers”, it was the ones who stayed behind and fought for better rights that are the ones who made change happen. “I don’t want to be glib about it, because those people who stayed, who went on the marches and did the petitions, are nameless and faceless and I’ll never get to actually thank them, but they did the hard work.”
“I am aware that Ireland isn’t Nirvana,” Graham Norton continued, “and I think if young people hear me talking they’ll think, ‘what is wrong with him? It’s horrible here…’ Well, try being here in the late ’70s! People should be proud of themselves. Ireland is transformed.”
Further in the interview, Norton was asked about a section of the novel where the character Connor fears his parents’ rejection. It reads, “How many gay young men had made the same excuses, when in reality it was all about their own self-loathing?”
When asked if that how it really feels, Norton replied, “You’ll have to talk to other gay men about that, but I think that is a sort of truism. It goes back to Panti Bliss‘s speech on homophobia, that we’re all a bit homophobic. We judge our own gayness harshly. Hopefully not any more; hopefully that is changing. But if you grew up in the society that myself and Rory grew up in, you’re not going to think being gay is a great thing. You’re not going to go ‘yippee!’
“You know it’s not a choice, you know it’s not something you did, but you feel like you’re less than. You feel like you failed. You don’t want to test people’s love, because you don’t love you.”
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