Paul O’Grady: five things you might not know about Lily Savage star

The broadcaster and comedian Paul O’Grady, whose career spanned more than 30 years, has died at the age of 67, his family has confirmed.

His husband Andre Portasio said in a statement that O’Grady died on Tuesday night “unexpectedly but peacefully”.

O’Grady first rose to prominence in the guise of his drag comedy act Lily Savage in the 1970s and 80s, performing in gay clubs and comedy clubs before his television breakthrough in the 1990s. He then hosted a number of shows including The Big Breakfast and Blankety Blank. In the early 2000s, he switched to appearing as himself and hosted self-titled entertainment programmes including The Paul O’Grady Show and Paul O’Grady’s Saturday Night Line Up.

The Birkenhead-born presenter went on to host a Sunday-afternoon show on BBC Radio 2 for 13 years, until August 2022, along with TV shows about his passion for animals including the award-winning For the Love of Dogs.

His family said he will be “greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion”.

Here are five things you may not know about the much-loved comedian.

Lily Savage’s residency show was raided by police

It was “while working for Camden Social Services” in the 1970s that O’Grady created the character Lily Savage, quickly becoming a “fixture on the London gay scene and in comedy clubs”, said The Big Issue.

He “made a name by speaking out about LGBT issues” during an eight-year residency at the gay entertainment venue, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London, in the 1980s, said the BBC. 

O’Grady recalled challenging police when they raided the popular venue in 1987 during a late show. “Within seconds” of beginning the show, he said, “the place was heaving with coppers, all wearing rubber gloves. I remember saying something like, ‘Well well, it looks like we’ve got help with the washing-up’”.

He forgot he was married

O’Grady was married to Portuguese woman Teresa Fernandes for 28 years, having tied the knot “out of convenience” to “prevent her being deported” in 1977, said The Sun.

While they were “never in a relationship”, they didn’t divorce until 2005. O’Grady said that he “had no idea we were still married” until reminded by his manager.

He also became a father in the 1970s, having his daughter Sharon with his friend Diane Jansen in 1974.

He lambasted the Conservative party on live TV

During his career, O’Grady was “famously outspoken about the neglect of care workers, austerity and the Tory party”, said The Guardian. In 2010 he made headlines after lambasting the Conservatives, then part of the coalition government, for their planned austerity cuts, on his show Paul O’Grady Live. 

During the rant, he said “we should let them know that we are not taking these draconian cuts lightly” and called the Tory party “bastards” for taking pleasure in making cuts.

At the time, Mark Lawson in The Guardian said the outburst provided “genuine shock value” and because he had grown up in a “poor part of Birkenhead and later worked in a care home”, the spending cuts “provoked a socialist fury” from O’Grady.

He suffered two heart attacks

O’Grady had two major heart attacks in 2002 and in 2006, “the latter requiring a stay in intensive care”, said the BBC. He also suffered from angina in 2013, requiring a leave of absence from work.

He previously told The Times that he had “sort of been waiting for it… all our family has died of heart disease”. After his 2002 heart attack, he “decided to cut back on his work; and also on his consumption of cigarettes (60 a day)”, said The Telegraph. 

In his memoirs, he said “if I get to 60 that will be amazing. I don’t fear anything nowadays. There has to be an angel out there.”

He rehomed dogs from his TV show

Since 2012, O’Grady hosted the multi-award-winning show Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs, where he followed the workers and animals at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.

The presenter said it was “hand on heart… one of the nicest jobs I’ve ever had” and “personally rehomed several dogs at his Kent farmhouse”, said The Independent.

He took home a puppy called Eddie, a Chihuahua-Jack Russell cross, during the first series, before rehoming five more dogs over the course of the show up to 2021.

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home paid tribute to him after his death, calling him a “devoted animal lover” and a “champion for the underdog”.

As well as dogs, he previously revealed he had a cow and alpacas on his farm in Kent. He told The Big Issue that his father’s family were “all farmers” and he would “spend a lot of time in Ireland” as child, learning to “milk a cow by the time I was seven”.



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