THOUSANDS lined the streets from as far away as Manchester and Liverpool to pay their respects to Paul O’Grady as his coffin moved through the Kent village where he made his home.
A horse-drawn carriage slowly made its way through his home village of Aldington to St Rumwold’s Church in nearby Bonnington, Kent.
Mr O’Grady’s husband Andre Portasio was emotional as he rode in the carriage drawn by two black horses and decorated with a wreath of their dog Buster, with one of their other dogs, Conchita, on his lap.
Nine limousines followed with a cortege including motorbikes behind them.
At the church, pallbearers carried the wooden coffin adorned with a wreath of lilies, while O’Grady’s daughter Sharyn Mousley entered with a young man holding the wig of Lily Savage – her father’s drag alter ego.
The service opened with the sound of trumpets before You Gotta Get A Gimmick from the 1959 musical Gypsy, featuring lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, played.
Reverend Canon Roger Martin welcomed family and friends including comedian Julian Clary, actress Dame Sheila Hancock, and the late Dame Barbara Windsor’s widower Scott Mitchell.
Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood and comedian Alan Carr were also among the celebrity attendees.
Comedian and TV presenter Jo Brand arrived with soap star Cheryl Fergison, followed by actress Linda Henry, who plays Shirley Carter in EastEnders.
LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell wore a purple shirt and black tie, while TV presenter Gaby Roslin sported an all-black ensemble as she entered the Grade I-listed church.
A trio of puppies from the Battersea Dogs And Cats Home greeted friends and family arriving for the funeral.
Celebrity chef Andi Oliver and Coronation Street star Sally Lindsay were among the mourners petting the animals.
Personal notes from family, including O’Grady’s daughter, were left outside the church attached to wreaths of lilies, in an apparent nod to the star’s alter ego.
BATTERSEA DOGS IN GUARD OF HONOUR
Dogs from Battersea Cats & Dogs Home- cavapoochon Barney, chihuahua Betty, Labrador Elsie and shih tzu cross Digby – also watched the procession pass through.
Dog lover Paul also received a guard of honour by dogs from the Battersea Dogs and Cats home as part of his funeral.
Rebecca MacIver, centre manager of Battersea, Politicalite: “Obviously it has just been a huge shock as Paul was a huge part of our family. We had been working with him for more than a decade. We felt it was incredibly important to be here with some of our dogs to pay our respects.”
“I met Paul. He was just such a warm, kind and genuine person. He met Barney and Betty. There was absolutely no difference with Paul when the cameras were rolling and when they were off. “
“Paul just found the joy in what we do and we were always laughing and joking with him. It has been really overwhelming to be here, seeing that so many people and dogs have come to honour Paul because he looked after us so well. It is very special to be a part of it.”
One woman, who did not want to be named, told Politicalite she had travelled from Chester on Wednesday with her two half-poodles Gertrude and Theodore and stayed in a hotel overnight to be there to watch the procession.
She added: “I am from Liverpool and all my life I never got to see him for different reasons.
“I was supposed to go and see him soon but sadly he died before I was ever able to see him.
“I think he was just a lovely guy. He was such a wonderful person and I have followed him all my life.
“I waited and waited to go and see him but I waited too long. I decided I would seize the day so I didn’t have any more regrets.
“Being here is about feeling confident and strong because he was that person. When my daughter said she couldn’t get the time off work to go I thought: ‘I am going anyway.’
Retired nursery nurse Bridget Baker, 69, told Politicalite: “He was a good person. You could always have a laugh with him. Everything was funny.
“He was always just genuine. I knew him a bit – he was just a lovely, friendly guy.”
Gina Kearney, 76, who has lived in the village for 47 years, told Politicalite: “I met him last year at the dog show. He was very friendly and bubbly.
“I would see him in Tesco and Waitrose and walking through the village, he would wave to you like he was your neighbour.”
Chris Healy, 73, explained how she had met O’Grady at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern 40 years ago when he was performing as Lily Savage.
She travelled from West Malling in Kent to see the procession and told Politicalite: “He was brilliant. He was up on the stage and I was laughing with him.
“I hope the funeral will achieve a lot for Battersea Cats & Dogs Home because he was so dedicated to them.”
Carole Ross, 74, who used to work with children with special needs and travelled from nearby Ashford, told Politicalite: “I am here to pay tribute to an honest, noble and humble man that has touched a lot of hearts.”
“I didn’t know him, I have just followed him for many years. It shows that so many people have turned out. He touched people.”
“He chose a very good village, a private village which gave him his privacy where many others would not have done.”
Joyce Hughes, 79, and her daughter Tina Larkin, 59, told Politicalite: “He was really nice and friendly. He was a very nice man and would talk to everyone.
“He was so popular, especially with the children. He was just warm and did a lot for the village.”
While filming ‘Paul O’Grady: For The Love of Dogs’, he rehomed five pooches from the centre, and more than £270,000 has been raised for the charity since his death.
Meanwhile, the Salvation Army played during the service.
The funeral began with a procession at 2.10pm before a private ceremony at 3pm, but Paul’s husband Andre Portasio wants to recognise the bond the late star had with his local community in Aldington, where he lived for over two decades.
He told residents earlier this month: “We have therefore requested that the funeral procession passes through Aldington before heading to the church, as a way of marking Paul’s affection for the area.
“We would therefore like to invite all locals to join us in paying our respects to Paul in Aldington Village between 14:10 – 14:45 on Thursday.
“In order to avoid road congestion and public disorder, we kindly ask all residents to treat this invitation personally and if attending to stand on either Roman Road, Forge Hill, or New Road Hill so to respect the villagers and the local area.
“Please note for public safety Church Road as well as Knoll Hill will be closed on the day of the procession.
“We kindly ask everyone to respect the family’s wishes and maintain social distancing throughout the event. Thank you for your understanding and support during this difficult time.”