Paul O'Grady MBE aka 'Lily Savage', UK star who made drag mainstream, dies at 67

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said O'Grady "wasn't just a brilliant comedian and broadcast personality but a much-admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights".

Published: 29th March 2023 07:53 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th March 2023 07:54 PM   |  A+A-

Paul O'Grady MBE aka 'Lily Savage'

Paul O'Grady MBE aka 'Lily Savage'. (Photos | AP/ Twitter)


LONDON: The British royal family and lawmakers led tributes Wednesday to comedian and entertainer Paul O'Grady, who made drag culture mainstream with his alter ego Lily Savage.

O'Grady, who died on Tuesday at the age of 67, went on to become a fixture on hit television shows as well as a campaigner for LGBTQ rights.

Born in the northwestern English town of Birkenhead in 1955, O'Grady began his Lily Savage act in the 1970s while holding down a day job for a London council.

He took the acerbic, wig-wearing Savage on the nightclub circuit and the act later took off with TV and radio appearances in character.

"It's impossible to overestimate what a trailblazer he was," said ITV breakfast show television presenter Richard Arnold.

"You idolised him as a gay man actually... and then of course he broke into the mainstream broadcasting landscape," he said on Good Morning Britain.

A devoted animal lover, O'Grady also presented the long-running reality television series "For the Love of Dogs" set in London's Battersea Dogs & Cats Home for stray and unwanted animals.

Queen Consort Camilla appeared in a special episode of the programme in December.

"Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Paul O'Grady, who worked closely with Her Majesty in support of Battersea, providing lots of laughter and many waggy-tailed memories," the British Royal Family twitter account tweeted along with a picture of Camilla and the star.

'National treasure'
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said O'Grady "wasn't just a brilliant comedian and broadcast personality but a much-admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights".

Tatchell added O'Grady had been due to lead a forthcoming campaign for his foundation seeking an apology from UK police for "their historic persecution of the LGBT+ community".

He also recalled the police raiding a London LGBTQ venue in the 1980s at the height of fearmongering about the AIDS virus.

The officers were wearing rubber gloves, Tatchell said, due to misconceptions at the time that you could catch HIV by touching someone.

Their appearance prompted O'Grady, who was on stage as Savage, to quip: "Oh good, have you come to do the washing up?"

O'Grady died "unexpectedly but peacefully" on Tuesday evening, his partner Andre Portasio said.

"He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion," he added.

In parliament, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner called O'Grady a "national treasure" while Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, standing in for premier Rishi Sunak, paid tribute to an "incredible comic" who "broke boundaries".

Kevin Lygo, head of the ITV television network for whom he presented many programmes in a decades-long career, said he had been a "huge inimitable talent".

Others paying tribute included pop superstar Elton John, who recalled a "brilliant entertainer, wit and supporter of LGBTQ+ rights and the fight against HIV and AIDS".

O'Grady won numerous accolades including a TV Bafta. He was honoured by the late Queen Elizabeth II for services to entertainment in 2008.

India Matters


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