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ITV reflect on ‘The Life and Death of Lily Savage’


ITV reflect on ‘The Life and Death of Lily Savage’

A celebration of Lily, and her creator Paul O’Grady who died one year ago yesterday…

“I couldn’t think of anything more terrifying than Lily’s beady eye landing on you if you were in the audience. She could control a whole room with charisma but also with that kind of aggression. The genius of Lily, and of Paul, which is very difficult to do, is to be real all the time, and it comes across as genuine.

“I didn’t know anyone else like Paul. I mean, obviously very funny and unique, but did actually really care about injustices in the world and did a lot of kind things that no-one knows about. Lily could communicate with people…it was like talking to someone on the top of the bus, or at the bus stop. She was very down to earth.”

– Julian Clary

Paul O’Grady, who died a year ago (28th March), was a much-loved comedian, radio broadcaster, television presenter and an ardent animal-lover and professional chatterbox, who became a much-loved fixture of primetime television. But, for more than 20 years, he was also a razor-tongued drag queen.

This is the story of Paul through the prism of his famous creation, Lily Savage, an underground cabaret star who took mainstream telly by storm, against all the odds. Set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain, Clause 28 and the AIDS crisis, it’s the unlikely tale of how a working-class, gay man from Birkenhead created the unforgettable character of a Scouse sex worker and honed her persona on the stages of London’s underground gay venues in the 1970s and 80s.

A leading voice in the battle for LGBTQ+ equality, O’Grady endured police raids, the death of a generation of friends, and heart-breaking visits to AIDS wards (in character) before moving into television. From her big break on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast to mainstream success hosting Blankety Blank on Saturday nights on BBC One, Lily came a long way in 20 years – and so too did Britain. But then, at the height of her fame, something extraordinary happened: Lily Savage disappeared from TV, never to be seen again. Paul O’Grady hung up Lily’s wig for the last time in 2004.

“I first met him as Lily, not Paul, it was in Edinburgh and we were both doing publicity for our shows. Paul was already there dressed as Lily. We were friends thereafter…When he was talking away, I thought – was it Paul talking or was it Lily? I couldn’t tell the difference.” Sir Ian McKellen

Featuring personal accounts from Paul’s close friends and family, including, for the first time, his daughter, Sharyn Mousley, and, using Paul’s own words from earlier recordings, The Life and Death of Lily Savage tells the story of decades of hard graft bringing Lily from the fringes of London’s gay counterculture into the heart of the nation’s living rooms and discusses why Paul suddenly decided to kill Lily off.

With no guarantee that he would ever get work as ‘himself’, what possessed him to throw it all away? Featuring interviews with Paul’s sister, Sheila Rudd, friends Sir Ian McKellen, Julian Clary, Jools Holland, Jo Brand, Alan Carr and Graham Norton, together they unpick this forgotten chapter of Paul O’Grady’s extraordinary story.

“Lily made me laugh in a way that I can’t think of anything else that made me laugh. Everybody loved Lily and everyone wanted Lily, it was a big, bold move.” – Graham Norton

The Life and Death of Lily Savage, tonight, 9pm on ITV1, STV, ITVX and STV Player.

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