Graham Norton presents his final Radio 2 show after 10 years

By Steven McIntosh
Entertainment reporter

image copyrightMalcolm Prince
image captionNorton took over from Jonathan Ross, who left the BBC in 2010

Graham Norton told listeners it had been a "privilege being part of your Saturday mornings" as he bid an emotional farewell to Radio 2.

The star will front a new show on Virgin Radio from January.

At the end of his final Radio 2 programme, he said: "Mostly, I need to say thank you to you, the listeners.

"It's been lovely sharing your lives and hearing your messages, and that's been the greatest joy of being on Radio 2, it really has."

He added 10 years had "gone by in the blink of an eye" and closed the programme by playing Reach by S Club 7.

"It has been a privilege to be part of your mornings," he said. "I'm getting emotional now. Someone told me I'd get emotional and I said 'No I won't.'"

He joked that it made him feel better to "think of the six flights of stairs" he will no longer need to climb to reach the Radio 2 studios in Wogan House in central London.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionNorton is not leaving the BBC altogether, and will continue to front his BBC One chat show

Earlier in the programme, Norton acknowledged it was "the end of an era", and read out messages from listeners who said they would miss him.

The chat show host then joked: "Just bear in mind, as you're doing your sadness, when I leave here today I'm leaving in a taxi not a hearse. We're OK. I'll still be in the world. I just won't be here. That's all."

Norton has signed a three-year contract with Virgin, which will see him present on both Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Radio 2's Saturday morning slot, one of the most high-profile on the station, will be taken over by Strictly Come Dancing co-host Claudia Winkleman.

Switching stations

BBC Radio 2 confirmed in November that Norton would be leaving at the end of the year - an announcement which took his listeners by surprise.

In fact, Norton had only made the decision himself in the preceding few weeks, after a chance encounter with his old colleague, Chris Evans.

image copyrightDan Charity
image captionChris Evans has presented Virgin's breakfast show for nearly two years

In late September, Norton was gearing up for the release of his third novel, Home Stretch. He gave numerous interviews to promote the book, including to Radio 4's Front Row and ITV's Lorraine Kelly.

But he was also booked for an interview with Evans, who had himself left Radio 2 for Virgin in 2018. Their conversation would change the course of Norton's radio career, as he recalled recently on The High Low.

"I did an interview with Chris Evans on his breakfast show," Norton explained, "and he was sort of teasing me saying, 'You should come to Virgin'. And the studios were lovely, you can see my house from the studio, and I thought, 'Oh actually, this is very nice here, and Chris seems so happy'.

"Then Virgin got in touch, and they mooted this idea of doing Saturday and Sunday. And I always thought on Radio 2 that it would be good to be stripped across the weekend. And I think in a way, at my age, I was so flattered that someone wanted me, and it just seemed exciting to have a new challenge."

One side effect of the move is that Norton will drop down the BBC's star salaries list, which is published every summer as part of the corporation's annual report. The star has previously said the publication is "not nice or comfortable" for those on it.

A decade of laughs

image captionGraham Norton took over the Saturday morning slot in 2010

Norton has presented his Radio 2 programme, broadcast between 10:00-13:00 on Saturdays, since October 2010. The slot is one of the most high profile on the station, attracting more than four million listeners, and traditionally hosted by a big name.

The Irish presenter replaced Jonathan Ross, who left the BBC after the "Sachsgate" scandal. But, Norton explained at the time, he was initially reluctant to host the programme.

"I didn't want to take over from Jonathan," he told the Media Talk podcast, "because I think Jonathan is brilliant and I loved that show, and that's what I said to them. And they explained, 'That's all very well, we get that, but if you turn this down now, this job doesn't come up very often. The last time it was 10 or 12 years ago, so you will regret turning this down'."

It was a fair point; Ross had presented the show for 11 years. And unlike youth-orientated stations such as Radio 1, which rotate their DJs quite regularly, presenters on Radio 2 tend to bed in for the long haul.

Norton gave in after some persuasion and has now hosted his Radio 2 programme for a decade, although Alan Carr and Melanie Sykes normally sit in during his extended summer break.

The show has a very different identity to his BBC One chat show. On Radio 2, there's room for longer, more thoughtful, interviews, and while Norton's red sofa is reserved for Hollywood A-listers telling funny showbiz stories, you're more likely to hear in-depth interviews with authors and theatre stars on his radio programme.

Grilling Graham

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionActress and presenter Maria McErlane co-hosts the Grill Graham feature

In addition to the music and celebrity guests, the enduring popularity of Norton's show owes much to his weekly agony aunt feature, Grill Graham.

For this, he is joined by his superb co-host and long-time friend Maria McErlane. Their pairing is a masterclass in on-air chemistry and a firm favourite with listeners. Members of the public write in each week with a personal problem, and Norton and McErlane offer their advice before asking listeners to send in their own solutions.

Reflecting on his favourite letters recently, Norton said: "I either like them to be so stupid that you get annoyed by the person that's written in, like, 'Really? In the world we live in, that's the thing that motivated you to write in and ask for advice?' So I like those ones, 'My kitchen cupboard handles are funny' or something.

"And then I like the really devastating ones," he continued. "I remember one week we got a woman who had a terminal diagnosis, she was going to die, and she was looking for advice about telling her children and also spending time with her children in the time that she had left.

"What I loved about it wasn't that we got to give advice, it was the outpouring of support from the Radio 2 listeners, who are, by and large, a very nice bunch. So I was reading out advice from people who had been through similar things... and just sobbing on the radio."

On Saturday's final programme, McErlane said listeners had shared their "maddest, funniest, craziest and saddest problems with us, many of which will stay with me and Graham for a long time". McErlane has since announced she is moving to Virgin with Norton.

He might not miss the music

image captionNorton isn't as keen on all music on Radio 2 as he was on Chrissie Hynde, who he interviewed in 2017

Some of the most glorious moments of Norton's Radio 2 show have come when he is simply riffing off the music he's just played.

While Virgin, on the whole, plays rock and indie music, the wildly varying genres on Radio 2 have often prompted humorous asides from the 57-year-old.

  • After playing Billie Eilish's Bad Guy last month, a dark, bass-heavy and haunting song, Norton remarked: "That just screams Radio 2 doesn't it? Carol celebrating her 70th birthday will have really enjoyed that."
  • "This is new from Ty Dolla $ign. You know, Ty Dolla $ign?!" he joked on another occasion, knowing the hip-hop singer would likely be alien to the Radio 2 demographic. "Let's just appreciate the magic dust that Ty Dolla $ign spreads on everything he does."
  • While introducing All Day And Night by Jax Jones, Martin Solveig and Madison Beer, Norton wondered aloud: "Why does it take SO many people to make a record these days?"

His honest and often sarcastic comments usually reflect perfectly what his audience is thinking, and are a key part of his enduring appeal. Radio 2's mixture of new songs, classic songs, specialist music and the presenter and producer's own choices have provided lots of material for Norton to have fun with over the years.

Moving on

image captionClaudia Winkleman will take over the Saturday morning slot on Radio 2

Norton's producer, Malcolm Prince, told us it had "been a fascinating and entertaining 10 years", highlighting the show's outside broadcasts from Azerbaijan (for Eurovision), New York, and inside the Tardis.

"But Graham was always happiest in the studio at Wogan House where he could be himself," said Prince. "No matter how starry his guests have been, he always made them sound almost like one of us. It's been a privilege to produce Graham's show and, just like his millions of listeners, I'll miss his Radio 2 programme."

As we all will. But Norton is looking forward to doubling his airtime with Virgin, as he told Evans during a more recent interview on the How To Wow podcast.

"It will be interesting to find out who that Sunday audience is," he said, "because on Saturdays you get a sense that people are listening as they do things - they're ferrying kids, they're waiting outside a supermarket, whereas Sunday, I feel people are probably in their house more, they're reading the newspapers, they're getting lunch, but the radio is on.

"So I think that will be fun to have that six hours with people over the weekend, and you can carry things over from the Saturday. Those are opportunities that I didn't have before."

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