On Monday January 20, I was lucky enough to receive a phone call late in the afternoon asking if I wanted to go to the recording of The Graham Norton Show that night – thankfully I was free and able to get to Waterloo on time so it was a shocked but immediate yes. PR people really do have a surprising amount of power…
My brother and I arrived at the London Studios for 7pm and were initially surprised to see the massive ITV letters outside the studio, inwardly checking if we were in the right place… “Graham Norton is a BBC show, right?”
In the shiny reception area we received gold wristbands and were led on a very convoluted route to another wing of the building and into the studio. I haven’t seen many TV studios but this looked like a pretty big one to me, and it was exciting to be there and buzzing with the rest of the audience. We were actually in reserved seats marked with a PR person’s name and Mark ended up answering questions from some neighbouring excitable Asian girls who wanted to know how we’d got our tickets.
After a while, Joe Bor, the warm-up comedian came out and our time with him was very enjoyable. He was genuinely funny, joking about his misfortune with women and playing a Guess Who style game with the audience to find himself a girlfriend. He also said hi to an elderly lady called Betty sitting near the front who is apparently at almost every show…
The real excitement started when Graham Norton came on the scene. He proved to us all that he really is a true entertainer – for example, he kept having conversations with someone through an ear piece but obviously we could only hear his end so he assured us that he wasn’t mad.
The first thing to happen was Katy B singing her new single, Crying For No Reason, which we got to hear two and a half times (Mark was very happy and couldn’t take his eyes off her). Her team wasn’t totally happy with the first take, she stopped halfway through the second time because she got a word wrong near the beginning which distracted her, and the third time was fine.
It was also interesting to see them filming the link to go after the song with her walking towards the sofa and Graham greeting her – this is harder to join up than it looks on TV.
Graham was very funny during the different takes as well – he supported Katy during the different performances and made us laugh when she stopped the second time, saying “I don’t remember the talking from last time…”
The guests soon descended onto the sofa and from here it was smooth running. Sir Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley and Lee Mack provided a lot of merriment between them, bringing some great anecdotes about the Queen, Melanie C, and working on the new Jack Ryan movie. You may think that Branagh and Mack are about as different as you can get, but they played off each other extremely well.
Towards the end, the group were joined by footballing legend Thierry Henry. He was less forthcoming with his answers than the others, treading more carefully around Graham, but to be fair his confidence on the show will not have been helped by Lee Mack, who referenced Bendtner constantly after Henry avoided a question about why he left Arsenal. This was hilarious for the audience but excruciating and annoying for Henry.
After Katy B had come back to join the chat and the red chair portion was filmed, the celebrities left the stage and Graham filmed a few trails – bits of him talking to camera and teasing or introducing the show. Then it was all over and he was gone almost as suddenly as he’d appeared.
Mark and I were then excited to join the other gold wristband wearers in the green room, passing Thierry Henry and Lee Mack on the way. There was an open bar so Mark was happy, and although none of the other celebrities turned up, Lee Mack was mingling and friendly the entire time I was there.
I was trying to pluck up the courage to talk to him for ages, which was made harder because he always seemed engrossed in conversation, but after seeing Betty and her elderly friends hovering near Mack, clearly wanting a photo and not daring to interrupt before retreating again, I found myself approaching him to tell him about them. He seemed grateful that I’d let him know and rushed over to take pictures with them. Soon afterwards I chatted to him again and he thanked me for pointing him in their direction, saying he felt bad for unintentionally ignoring them, so I was glad to have done a good deed for Betty.
It was fantastic to get a better picture of how chat shows work behind the scenes and what people are like when they’re not in front of the cameras. Sometimes it’s actually a good thing that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know – we had a brilliant, though unexpected, Monday evening.