PAUL O’Grady – he was the epitome of showbiz and comedy. He was a great entertainer, a working-class hero and a kind-hearted charitable man who loved animals, but he was even more outrageously funny in the stuff that was too hot for TV broadcast, which appeared on TV companies annual secret “Christmas VHS Tapes”- shared only with a select few in the media industry – plus Royalty.
It’s an old saying in the showbiz world “never work with children or animals”, yet Paul made both seem easy.
His smash-hit teatime show The Paul O’Grady Show entertained millions in the late 2000s from children to adults and even old age pensioners. He was the last of the showbiz greats who would appeal to all ages.
He did this without a script. He was pure class, and Britain is dimmer today without dear old Paul. He was able to shine and unite like no other star. Just look at todays biggest selling papers. The Sun and The Daily Mirror – both paying tribute to our national hero, Paul.
Paul, who was born in Birkenhead – started his career not in show business, but as a social worker. That’s how many people think he understood society so well.
He then became a regular at the Black Cat and Madame Jo Jos and the in-house MC at the legendary Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London.
That led to the Edinburgh Fringe and a Perrier Award nomination in 1991 (she lost to Frank Skinner), and that led to, well, everywhere. By 1992 Lily Savage was doing late night cult telly and comedy shows.
When a famous drag bar was raided by anti-gay cops in the 1980s who were wearing rubber gloves out of the fear of AIDS – he joked on stage “oh, we have someone to help with the washing up” – even without the live red light glare of the television cameras our Paul was able to make people laugh.
He was a regular on Granada TV’s This Morning with Richard and Judy when it was based in Liverpool in the 1980s as Lily Savage and won over students and housewives with his hilarious live appearances once appearing drunk during a wine segment.
Savage, who was billed as the heavy-drinking, drug-abusing former hooker who even fronted an advertising campaign for Schweppes’ Oasis drink with the tagline “open, pour, be a whore once more” said last year that wokies would “instantly cancel” the foul-mouthed ‘slag’ the moment she took to the stage.
He later went on to host Blankety Blank on the BBC as Lily and was the first Drag Queen to host a prime time show on network television – however, it was those in the audience of the recordings that saw the true hilarity of Paul.
One producer who worked on the show told Politicalite last night that it was the “blanks’ they couldn’t put in to the actual broadcast that we’re the best bits – the outtakes when Paul was being ruthless and savage.
Paul was famous for his off-script hilarity and he once caused the audience and production staff to laugh that much recording one show at Television Centre – that the executive producer was forced to send everyone – including the stars and the audience home and resume the recording at later date.
One famous anecdote in the telly world was the day of filming Blankety Blank when all the production team went off for lunch. They wondered where Paul had gone, and he turned up back at Television Centre were he had bought a dog in the dinner hour.
He later fronted An Audience with Lily Savage infront of royalty such as Princess Diana – and was given a talk show “The Lily Savage Show. He was the first drag Queen ever to make it big in the mainstream media and the entertainment industry, yet his biggest break came when he was himself.
In 2002, he was a regular guest on ITV1’s Today with Des and Mel with Des O’Connor and Melanie Sykes – a year later, O’Connor was forced to temporarily leave the programme amid health concerns and with the series still on air, ITV asked Paul to stand in for Des, and he became a massive hit with daytime viewers.
After impressing bosses, he was invited to meetings at The London Studios with top ITV execs who pitched Paul the idea for a new project to rescue the networks ITV1 5pm/6pm slot that was being ”savaged” by Richard and Judy – who had quit This Morning in 2001 for a Channel 4 teatime show.
This is how The Paul O’Grady Show was born… and it was an instant success often bagging some of entertainments biggest stars, some from America too!
The show pulled in millions for ITV1, but he was unhappy and was poached by Channel 4 after creative disagreements with ITV.
He told the Daily Mirror at the time: “My contract with them ran out last month, but they expected me back with a new series in March.”
“We worked very hard on the show to keep it strong, but a lot of people have said to me that ITV just took me for granted. I just felt they weren’t keen on me.”
“Channel 4 were really enthusiastic. I was blown away. They said I could make my own programmes with my own production company Olga TV which ITV had never allowed me to do.”
In response to Paul leaving for Channel 4, angry executives at ITV tried to destroy his new show by airing repeats of The Paul O’Grady show at the same time and allegedly banned him from using their studio space.
He told the Daily Mirror. “I’m not working for these petty tyrants anymore. The ban is pure spite.”
“I’ve told them I won’t be doing ‘The Soap Awards’ or Simon’s show. I will lose money but I would rather be sweeping the streets than working for ITV.”
An ITV source told the paper in 2006 that the broadcaster has no problem working with Paul, and it was just a case of no studio space being available.
Despite the row, the public sided with Paul and his show pulled in even more viewers with him winning prestigious industry awards. He later reconciled with ITV and was handed his own prime time talk show, and then launched his biggest television hit – For The Love Of Dogs where he had royal appearances.
ROYALTY AND STARS PAY TRIBUTE
PAUL was a good friend of Queen Consort Camilla who recently appeared on his For The Love of Dogs show.
The Royal Family said: “Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Paul O’Grady, who worked closely with Her Majesty in support of Battersea Dogs Home providing lots of laughter and many waggy-tailed memories.”
Good Morning Britain’ broadcaster Susanna Reid fought back tears and said Paul O’Grady died “far too early” as more stars pay tribute to the late presenter.
Susanna Reid fought back tears as she paid tribute to Paul O’Grady.
The ‘Good Morning Britain’ star spoke about the late, great presenter – who was also known for his drag queen persona Lily Savage.
She said: “You can acknowledge the humour and the love and compassion that he brought at the same time, as we mourn his loss, far too early.”
Her co-star Richard Arnold hailed O’Grady as a “trailblazer” and added: “Looking back there, there’s so many fond memories.”
MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis also appeared on the show and said: “You don’t know whether to smile or be sad right now, I’m torn between those two emotions because he was such a funny man and when you think about him it makes you smile he was funny, and then you remember he’s gone.”
He had earlier wrote on Twitter: “Quite shocked and saddened to wake up to the news of Paul O’Grady passing. #RipPaulOgrady. A funny man, with incredibly quick wit, who made millions laugh.”
Meanwhile, comedian Les Dennis tweeted: “So sad to wake to the news that Paul O’Grady has died. He was a true comedy great and his twinkly, mischievous presence will be missed by so many. RIP dear Paul.”
‘Top Gear’ star Paddy McGuinness remembered O’Grady as someone who was “just great to be around”, paying tribute to the way he became “an icon of British TV”.
He wrote: “Paul O’Grady let me stand in for him on his chat show over 15 years ago. He was always supportive, kind and just great to be around.
“Paul started in the pubs and working men’s clubs but finished has an icon of British TV. I’ll miss him very much. Rest in peace Paul.”
‘Britain’s Got Talent’ judge Amanda Holden tweeted: “Woken up to this sad, sad news. I loved Paul. He was brilliantly opinionated, searingly sharp and very funny..
“I loved our conversations ..I can’t quite believe it. Thoughts with Andre and their family ..”
And former ‘X Factor’ star Joe McElderry said: “I was stood in Paul O’grady’s dressing room @TheatreRoyalNew less than 3 weeks ago! He was full of life chatting and being so wonderful as always! so so sad! And such a loss! A true showbiz entertainer! May he rest in peace (sic)”
O’Grady’s partner Andre Portasio revealed he died “unexpectedly and peacefully” on Tuesday evening.
He 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.”