Helen Mirren talks about her drag experiences, RuPaul gives Helen and Jack drag names, Jack Whitehall talks about working out with The Rock, Simon Reeve says his one man show turned out much bigger than he expected, and Alphabeat perform live in the studio.
On the first show of the new series, airing on Tuesday 8 October on BBC Brit (DStv channel 120) at 20:00, Graham welcomes Oscar-winner Dame Helen Mirren, the one and only RuPaul Charles, comedian and actor Jack Whitehall, adventurer and documentary-maker Simon Reeve, and Danish pop band Alphabeat.
Helen, talking about the scale and scope of her new Sky Atlantic series Catherine the Great, she says, “It’s huge and incredible. Telly has changed exponentially over recent years, so if you’re doing something on the wealthiest woman in the world, it’s got to be pretty spectacular.”
Asked if it’s true that Catherine was a sex crazed addict, Helen says, “She was incredibly politically clever, very courageous and she expanded the Russian empire considerably. She has been unfairly and incredibly maligned.”
Talking about her own Russian roots, she says, “You don’t have small talk in a Russian household. You talk about the soul and whether there is a God? You talk about deep philosophical stuff, so when I grew up and left home I found it almost impossible to talk. I would have found it impossible to sit here and not talk about really heavy stuff. It’s great now, I’ve learnt!”
RuPaul, asked if he is actually the world’s most famous drag queen, he says “I insist I am! I haven’t worked 37 years just to be a drag queen!”
Talking about drag names, he says, “I have named several queens over the years.” Asked to give Helen and Jack appropriate drag names, RuPaul deliberates before naming Jack ‘Jackie Black Ball’, and Helen, ‘Sir Lady Cheek Bones’.
Helen interjects with her own drag queen story, “There’s a real historic tradition of drag in London and I was growing up and first came to London on a Friday night there was often a drag show. There is a very famous drag pub – the Vauxhall Tavern – and when I first got together with my husband he had two young sons. I thought it would show these two young Californian boys something of the real London, so I took them to the Vauxhall Tavern. These poor kids were slightly in shock but they certainly remember it as being very cool. It was cool, and I love my London.”
Talking about working in the US with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Jack says, “He is the best man I have ever met. He is amazing and the kindest guy. He invited me into his travelling gym. The machines are enormous, and he had taken all the weights off for me and I still couldn’t manage them. I went into a corner and jumped on a bike and listened to my audio book. He’s wearing a chain around him, crunching all these weights and listening to rap music and I look like I’m pootling along like I’m in Call the Midwife! He looks over and says, ‘What are you listening to?’ I said, ‘Eminem’ but it was actually Michael Morpurgo!”
Asked about being back on tour with his new stand up show, Jack says, “I’ve been doing quite a lot of family films for the last two years and I’ve been quite censored, so in this tour the shackles coming off a little bit.”
Talking more about the tour, he says, “I love to put on a show, but this year I promised my promoter that I would keep it simple with just me and a microphone. This week I have just booked 20 dancers, a choir, two acrobats in a ring so I can fly. I want to be the Beyoncé of comedy!”
Simon joins Graham for a chat about his new one man show tour.
Asked about the show and how it came about, he says, “I was contacted out of the blue to see if I would like to speak at a few venues. I thought it would a few WI type places, which would have been wonderful, but it turned out to be much bigger than I expected. I am loving it. I’ve never done anything like it before.”
Talking about his early life, he says, “I had a difficult time in my teens. I was fragile and drank too much. I dropped out of school and was pretty hopeless and depressed. I had no idea what to do in life, but once I started working on a newspaper my world opened up for me.”
Asked more about how his career took off, he says, “I’d started working on investigations and doing undercover stuff on the paper and became interested in terrorism and started studying it. I have the very dubious distinction of having written the first book on Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Nobody read it when it came out in the 1990s but when 9/11 happened I was the only person in the world with a book on it and I was pushed onto tv to talk about what happened. That day everyone’s world changed so much, and my little world spun on that event. Later producers started coming up with ideas for me – some of them were ridiculous. One idea was for me to infiltrate al-Qaeda for a TV show!”
Alphabeat perform Shadow live in the studio, before joining Graham for a chat about their tour and album.
And finally, Graham pulls the lever on more foolhardy audience members brave enough to sit in the Big Red Chair.
The Graham Norton Show, BBC Brit, Tuesday 8th October 8 PM.
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