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Remembering Paul O’Grady


Remembering Paul O’Grady

Remembering Paul O’Grady

Presenter, actor and comedian Paul O’Grady has died at the age of 67.

The performer passed away on Tuesday evening ‘unexpectedly but peacefully’ his husband Andre Portasio said in a statement. 

“It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening. He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion.

“I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years.” – Andre Portasio

Paul had been due to present a second show for Boom Radio over the Easter weekend and was starring in the musical Annie, playing Miss Hannigan.

Hailing from Birkenhead, he began his career as a clerk in a magistrate’s court. Following an affair that led to the birth of his daughter Sharyn in 1974, he believed he was not yet ready for fatherhood and decided to go travelling around Europe.

In the 1980s he worked as a social worker during the day and toured gay bars with his drag act, Lily Savage, in the evening where she became an instant hit with pub and club audiences. Through hard times, and hard work, Lily became noticed and ended up getting guest spots on Channel 4 shows.

Lily became a rising star of the late-night output on the station. From presenting and doing turns on the entertainment series Viva Cabaret to presenting topical and taboo documentaries, including one on world sex and another on drugs, Lily could say things Richard Whiteley wouldn’t dare.

Paul, as Lily, was also one of the announcers on ‘Late Licence‘ the broadcasters’ late-night continuity at weekends.

He also guest-spotted in Brookside as Lily, just one of a number of famous faces to appear in the soap. This was preceded by a recurring role in The Bill as transvestite prostitute informant, Roxanne, between 1988 and 1990.

In 1994 Lily was a guest presenter on the music chart countdown, Top Of The Pops and it wasn’t too long after all these guest spots and a regular stint on The Big Breakfast that ‘Lily’ was given her own special “Live from the Lilydrome” in 1995.

Lily became a theatre star when she was banged up in the Prisoner: Cell Block H stage musical of 1996, this gave her a wider audience through the fans of the Australian soap. Paul’s character of Lily went from strength to strength appearing in sell-out tours all over the UK and various talk shows. She was also one of the subjects of LWT’s “An Audience with..” production which saw her mix with a celebrity audience.

In 1997 the BBC, on the back of the LWT special, gave Lily her own series, The Lily Savage Show. It led to Lily following in the footsteps of Les Dawson and Terry Wogan as host of the cheap game show, Blankety Blank. In 2000 Blankety Blank switched from the BBC to ITV. This move included the launch of a new show, Lily Live. It was screened later in the evening than her BBC version and gave Lily the chance to be more rude and abrupt, just like her Channel 4 days.

It was ITV that later gave Paul a chance to present as himself. He moved into documentary programming for the network with Paul O’Grady’s America and Paul O’Grady’s Orient. The shows were met with high acclaim, making Paul a star in his own right. After this, Lily seemed to be “retired” sent off to a convent. Paul was fortunate enough to become a personality in his own right, something that hasn’t always been forthcoming with ‘drag stars’.

In 2002 his world was rocked when he had a heart attack, but Paul being Paul he bounced back. He starred in BBC sitcom, Eyes Down which ran for two series; however, it came to an end when he struck gold in 2004 with The Paul O’Grady Show for ITV. The talk show became an instant success, bringing ratings to the 5pm slot that ITV hadn’t seen for years.

ITV had previously tried to find a successful show for the 5pm slot ever since that had lost Home & Away to Five in 2001 with little success. However, in 2006, the network lost their ratings goldmine when they failed to renew the presenter’s contract and Channel 4 were quick to snap him up.

ITV and Paul would later ‘make peace’ and he returned to them with both prime time and teatime versions of his chat show and also the long running series For the Love of Dogs filmed at Battersea Dog and Cats animal rescue centre.

A great pal of the late Cilla Black it seemed the only person to step into host Blind Date could be Paul, which he did for Channel 5 across four series.

Paul was also a successful presenter on radio. He had a 14-year run as a weekend host on BBC Radio 2, but departed when in a chase for ‘younger listeners’ Radio 2 bosses chopped six months off his output.

The chat show host was left unhappy he had to share his 5pm to 7pm Sunday slot with Rob Beckett, with each doing two three-month stints each a year. He returned to the airwaves on December 25th last year on commercial station Boom Radio and was due to host another Easter special on April 9th.

“Yesterday afternoon, I popped round to Paul’s for a good old catch-up. Surrounded by his beloved dogs, he was laughing, smiling and full of life. He was proud of ‘Annie’, so happy to be back on Boom Radio, and he was looking forward to so many new projects.

“And now he’s gone. I can’t believe it. We have lost a unique talent – and I have lost a dear friend. We were all lucky to have Paul in our lives. My heart goes out to Andre, Paul’s family, and friends.

“Oh how I’ll miss him.” – Malcolm Prince, Paul’s radio producer at Radio 2 and Boom Radio

Boom Radio noted Our thoughts are with Andre, his family and friends.The station’s co-founder Phil Riley, added, ‘There are few broadcasters who attract the love Paul did. The response to his last show was enormous – listeners felt he’d popped around to their house over lunch. That was his gift. Our thoughts are with his family and friends,’

Radio 2 said in a statement ‘We’re incredibly saddened to hear about the sudden passing of Paul O’Grady. Paul was a brilliant broadcaster and incredible comedian. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. We’ll miss you Paul.’

Paul was popular because he said what most of the general public thinks – and views which are very rarely heard on television. It isn’t often you find a presenter on ITV brave enough to slate the channel – live on air, Paul did. And the audience loved it.

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