O'Grady in April 2009
Paul James O'Grady
14 June 1955
Tranmere, Cheshire, England
(m. 1977; div. 2005)
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Paul James O'Grady MBE (born 14 June 1955), is an Irish-English comedian, television presenter, actor, writer, radio host, producer, and former drag queen. He achieved notability in the London gay scene during the 1980s with his drag queen persona Lily Savage, with which he went mainstream in the 1990s. O'Grady subsequently dropped the character and in the 2000s became the presenter of various television and radio shows, most notably The Paul O'Grady Show (2004–2009, 2013–2015).
Born in Tranmere, Cheshire, O'Grady moved to London in the late 1970s, initially working as a peripatetic care officer for Camden Council. It was here in 1978 that he developed his drag act, basing the character of Lily Savage upon traits found amongst female relatives. Touring England as part of drag mime duo, the Playgirls, O'Grady later went solo as a stand-up comedian. Performing as Savage for eight years at a South London gay pub, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (RVT), he gained a popular following among the city's gay community and used his character to speak out for LGBT rights. After being nominated for a 1992 Perrier Award, O'Grady attracted mainstream attention and made various television, radio, and theatrical appearances. As Savage, he presented the shows The Big Breakfast (1995–1996), Blankety Blank (1997–2002), and Lily Live! (2000–2001).
Seeking to diversify his career away from Savage, O'Grady starred in the BBC One sitcom Eyes Down (2003–2004) and presented two travel documentaries for ITV. In 2004, he began presenting ITV's daytime chat show The Paul O'Grady Show. After the network refused to transfer creative control of the series to O'Grady's production company Olga TV, in 2006, he defected to rival Channel 4, where the show was rebranded as The New Paul O'Grady Show, airing until 2009. O'Grady went on to present the late night ITV show Paul O'Grady Live (2010–2011), as well as Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Dogs (2012–present) and Paul O'Grady's Animal Orphans (2014–2016), while presenting BBC Radio 2's Paul O'Grady on the Wireless and publishing a four-volume memoir.
O'Grady was born Paul James Grady at 7:30 am on 14 June 1955 at St. Catherine's Hospital in Tranmere, Cheshire (now in Merseyside). His father, Patrick "Paddy" Grady (died 1973), was Irish and had grown up on a farm in Ballincurry, County Roscommon, before moving to England in 1936 in search of work and settling down in the working-class area of Birkenhead, Cheshire, of which Tranmere is a suburb. His name was changed from "Grady" to "O'Grady" in a paperwork mistake when he joined the Royal Air Force, and he kept the new name. Patrick married Mary "Molly" Savage (1916–1988), who was born in England to Irish immigrants from County Louth. Patrick and Mary were devout Catholics who brought up their children in the Catholic faith. O'Grady was their third child. His birth, over a decade after that of sister Sheila (born 1941) and brother Brendan (born 1944), was unplanned; his mother was 39 and discovered the pregnancy only when visiting the doctor complaining about indigestion.
O'Grady spent his early life at the family's rented home at 23 Holly Grove in Higher Tranmere, a house built in a former quarry during the early 1930s; O'Grady remarked that the house was always damp and cold, suffering from "ominous cracks" which "would appear in the walls and ceilings overnight". He later said, "When I look back on my childhood I have no bad memories. Our family was loving and full of affection. I never knew what divorce was until I moved to London. I was an indulged child and completely protected from anything bad." Attending St. Joseph's Catholic Primary School, O'Grady excelled in all subjects except mathematics. Hoping that he had a good future ahead of him, his parents budgeted to send him to a private school, the Catholic-run Redcourt, but his grades dropped. Failing the eleven plus exam, to his mother's dismay he was unable to enter a grammar school, instead attending the Blessed Edmund Campion R.C. Secondary Modern and the Corpus Christi High School, where O'Grady experienced his first homosexual encounter, enjoying a brief romance with another boy, although still assumed he was heterosexual.
A fan of the popular television series The Avengers and Batman, he was enrolled in the cub scouts by his mother, but he hated it, leaving after a month. An altar boy at a local Catholic church, he was dismissed after laughing during a funeral service. Then joining the Marine cadets, he later commented that he was following in the footsteps of his childhood hero, the cartoon Popeye. Enjoying the cadets, at the advice of his captain he joined the Boys' Amateur Boxing Club, developing a lifelong love of the sport. Playing truant from school, he got into trouble with his parents, and subsequently with the police after burgling a house with three friends. O'Grady's first job was a paper round that he kept for a week, and through this and other jobs, he saved up to afford Mod clothes, for a time becoming a suedehead.
Early adulthood: 1972–1977
Leaving school aged 16, O'Grady obtained a job in the civil service, working as a clerical assistant for the DHSS at their Liverpool office; he commuted in from his parents' home in nearby Tranmere. Supplementing this income, he worked part-time at the bar of the Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) club in Oxton. Called for a disciplinary hearing at the DHSS and accused of incompetent behaviour and tardiness, he resigned. Obtaining a job at the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Virginia Water, Surrey, aged 17, O'Grady moved there; appalled at the working conditions, the management accused him of stealing, which he denied. Promptly returning to Birkenhead, he worked at the RAFA club, increasingly socialising within the Liverpudlian gay scene, attending meetings of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and working at gay bar the Bear's Paw; this was kept a secret from his parents, to whom he was not "out of the closet".
With his best friend Tony, O'Grady regularly travelled to London to socialise with Tony's friend, the classical music conductor John Pritchard, becoming very fond of him. Experimenting, O'Grady had casual sex with a friend and colleague, Diane Jansen. She became pregnant, news which O'Grady discovered in the same week that both his parents suffered heart attacks; his mother made a recovery, but his father died. Following the birth of his daughter, Sharon Lee Jansen, on 16 May 1974, O'Grady agreed to pay £3 per week towards her upkeep, but refused to marry Diane, recognising his homosexuality.
Briefly working as an assistant clerk at Liverpool Magistrates' Court, O'Grady subsequently worked as a barman at Yates's Wine Lodge, supplementing the income with the occasional night at the Bear's Paw. Realising this wage was insufficient to support both himself and his daughter, he travelled to London, lodging in Westbourne Green, but found only poorly paid work as a barman. In London, he began associating with drag queens, particularly a couple who used the stage name of the Harlequeens. Although making friends in the city, O'Grady was homesick and returned home. Employed as an accountant in a FMC Meats Merseyside abattoir, he then gained employment at the Children's Convalescent Home and School in West Kirby, a home for disabled and abused children; he worked there for three years. Entering into a relationship with an older man named Norman, O'Grady moved into his house in Littlehampton; their relationship was strained, both cheating on one another, and it fell apart.
Moving again to London, he rented a flat in Crouch End and began busking with a friend in Camden Town before obtaining a job as a physiotherapist's assistant at the Royal Northern Hospital. Made redundant by public sector cuts, O'Grady took up a job at a gay club called the Showplace, befriending a Portuguese lesbian named Teresa Fernandes. In May 1977, they married to prevent her deportation; although they eventually lost contact, they only legally divorced in 2005. Taking up jobs as a cleaner and a waiter at private functions, he began working for Camden Council as a peripatetic care officer, living in with elderly people or dysfunctional families which had a lasting effect on him for many years to come.
Career in drag
Lily Savage and the drag circuit: 1978–1984
— Paul O'Grady, 2008.
While working for Camden Social Services, O'Grady made his first attempt at putting together a drag act, encouraged by close friend Oliver Bond, creating the character of Lily Savage; he later related that "I wanted to get up there but be larger than life, a creature that was more cartoon than human. I wasn't sure yet." His debut was on the afternoon of 7 October 1978 at The Black Cap gay pub in Camden, where his act involved miming the words to Barbra Streisand's "Nobody Makes a Pass at Me" from the show Pins and Needles. Following a holiday to Poland, he visited an ex-boyfriend in Manila in the Philippines; he found Manila to be a "culture shock", but briefly worked as a barman and waiter at a brothel known as Gussie's Bar.
Returning to London, O'Grady moved to Purley and then Streatham with a drag act, the Glamazons. With one of them, nicknamed "Hush", he founded a two-man drag mime act, the Playgirls, although found little work in London. Agreeing to a tour of the North of England, they moved to Slaithwaite, Yorkshire, also accepting a month's work at a club in Copenhagen, Denmark. Living up north, they diversified their act, with O'Grady performing a striptease while wearing a fat suit he named "Biddy", also learning fire eating from a hotel manager in Bradford. Fed up with the poor living conditions, Hush returned to London, leaving O'Grady to continue his drag performance as a solo act under the name of "Paul Monroe", a reference to Marilyn Monroe. Ultimately finding himself under too much financial strain, O'Grady moved back in with his mother in Birkenhead, there becoming reacquainted with Diane and his daughter. Amid mass unemployment, O'Grady briefly lived off the dole before resurrecting the Playgirls with his friend Vera; initially performing in Liverpool, where they were caught up in the 1981 Toxteth riots, they began touring other parts of Northern England until deciding to quit and return to London.
Returning to work as a support worker for Camden Council Social Services, O'Grady began caring for an old woman who lived several doors down from serial killer Dennis Nilsen. Regularly moving flats, from Vauxhall to Brixton and then Battersea, he was reunited with Hush, and they began performing as the Playgirls again, devising an act based upon the cult film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. At the end of the year, he appeared as an Ugly Sister in a drag pantomime of Cinderella. Moving into the Victoria Mansions flats in Vauxhall, in March 1983 he joined the Equity union, allowing him to take a role in the theatrical adaptation of If They'd Asked for a Lion Tamer at the Donmar Warehouse. The Playgirls gained bookings to appear across London, and also in Amsterdam and Copenhagen; O'Grady and Hush joined with drag artist David Dale to form an act known as "LSD", which stood for "Lily, Sandra, and Doris". Devising an act that parodied Andy Pandy, they gained bookings across London and in Edinburgh.
Residency in Vauxhall: 1984–1992
In 1984, O'Grady began work as a barman at the Elephant and Castle, a Vauxhall gay pub. As Lily, he became compere of Ladies Night every Tuesday, where amateur drag acts would perform. As compere, he tried out comedy routines, becoming known for insulting both the acts and the audience, describing it as "one of the best times of my life." Becoming increasingly popular, the show began attracting crowds and he was interviewed by artist Patrick Procktor. After six months, O'Grady transferred his act to the nearby Royal Vauxhall Tavern (RVT) gay pub, whose manager offered him £50 a show over the £15 that the Elephant and Castle paid; he re-opened his show on Thursday nights as "Stars of the Future". In February 1985 he obtained his own council flat in Vauxhall's Victoria Mansions, moving in with his pet cats and friend Vera. During the mid-1980s, O'Grady met Brendan Murphy, known as "Murph" or "Murphy" to his friends, who was the manager of a gay sauna near the Oval, Kennington, and they entered into a long-term relationship. Murphy would subsequently become O'Grady's manager, although they ceased to have a sexual relationship several years later.
Eventually appearing at the RVT three times a week, on Sundays O'Grady began performing at the Union Tavern in Camberwell and the Goldsmith's Tavern in New Cross, where he often preceded Vic Reeves' three-hour show Vic Reeves Big Night Out. Quitting his council work, he focused full-time on his career as Lily, taking his act across the United Kingdom and also abroad to countries like Israel and Finland. He performed several shows at the Madame JoJo's club in Soho, as well as a Christmas show at the Bloomsbury Theatre, and a show based on the film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? at the Heaven nightclub, together with fellow drag artist Dave Lynn. Befriending American drag queen Divine and his manager Bernard Jay, Jay booked O'Grady to appear in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As Divine had done, O'Grady also recorded his own Hi-NRG song, "Tough at the Top", which was produced by DJ Ian Levine. In 1988, he performed as Madame in The Scythe of Reason, and appeared at the Glasgow Mayfest, where he developed a lifelong friendship with actor Ian McKellen.
From 1989 to 1992 O'Grady performed annually as Lily at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, gaining increasing recognition for his act. As a result, he was nominated for the 1991 Perrier Award alongside Jack Dee, Eddie Izzard, and Frank Skinner, although the latter ultimately won the award. He later related that "The Edinburgh Festival changed my life. The experience opened doors for me that would otherwise have been firmly closed, exposing me to a much wider audience than I'd previously been used to." O'Grady followed this with a show titled Lily Savage Live from the Hackney Empire, which proved to be a sell-out and which was the first time that his performance was recorded. In 1992 he embarked on an Australian tour, performing alongside the Australian comedian Mark Trevorrow, and proceeded to Los Angeles, where he was caught up in the 1992 riots in that city.
O'Grady used his act to publicly speak out against the treatment of Britain's LGBT community by the mainstream media, government and police, particularly during the HIV/AIDS crisis that hit the community during that decade. On a number of occasions, police raided pubs that he was working at; he was quoted in the Capital Gay newspaper as calling on LGBT people to riot against their mistreatment. In April 1988 he took part in a 30,000 strong march against Section 28, a policy introduced by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher that the gay community denounced as homophobic. Regularly doing charity fundraisers for HIV/AIDS research, many of his friends died as a result of AIDS-related complications. In 2015 O’Grady said "I’ve lost about everybody I know", and talked about having to pretend to some of their families that they were dying of cancer as he nursed them. "People my age will never get over the horrors." He performed in a play about the disease at the King's Head Theatre in Islington; it was there that he befriended co-star Amanda Mealing.
O'Grady obtained his breakthrough into television when he played the character of a transvestite prostitute informant, Roxanne, in three episodes of ITV's police drama The Bill between 1988 and 1990. Just before filming on the first episode, O'Grady's mother died, after which he returned her house to the landlord. In 1990 he appeared in the ITV miniseries Chimera as a social worker skilled in signing for the deaf; during filming he became friends with co-star Liza Tarbuck. He followed this with a performance as a Marlene Dietrich-style cabaret singer in an episode of Rik Mayall's ITV comedy The New Statesman. He had continued to perform regularly at the RVT, and after the proprietors Pat and Breda McConnor decided to move on, he and Murphy applied to the owner to replace them; their request was turned down. O'Grady never compered at the RVT again after the McConnors left.
Mainstream success: 1992–1998
After leaving the RVT, O'Grady continued to tour as Lily and released VHS videos of his performances. After gaining further public exposure through an appearance on the popular late-night Channel 4 comedy show Viva Cabaret!, he was invited to appear on an episode of BBC quiz show That's Showbusiness. Travelling to the Manchester studio where it was filmed, he accidentally left his Lily costume on the train, subsequently appearing on the show out of character. Moving into radio, as Lily, he began making regular appearances on Woman's Hour and Loose Ends. Also moving into film, he travelled to Dublin, Ireland to play the role of an inmate in the 1993 film In the Name of the Father; although not in the Lily character, he was credited as "Paul Savage". In October 1994, he was invited on to an episode of BBC television series The Steve Wright People Show as Lily, where he proved popular and was invited back for a later episode. In November, he made a cameo as Lily in the soap Brookside, while also appeared as a female pirate named Bang Bang Chicken in an episode of BBC children's show Pirates, and was also invited to guest present an episode of BBC music show Top of the Pops as Lily.
Employed to narrate the BBC 2 series Life Swaps, which with low ratings was not renewed for a second series, he was also given his own late-night Channel 4 series, Live from the Lilydrome, which was filmed in a working men's club in Blackpool. Given top billing at the LGBT rights charity Stonewall's 1994 Equality Show in Albert Hall, he also played the role of Nancy in the London Palladium's performance of the musical Oliver!. Reflecting his increasing success in mainstream British comedy, in 1994 he was nominated for both Top Live Stand-Up Comedian and Top Television Comedy Newcomer at the British Comedy Awards. Some in the South London gay scene from which O'Grady emerged were critical of where he had taken his career, accusing him of being a sell out; O'Grady fiercely denied these accusations, stating that "I've done nearly ten years on the factory floor and now I feel I deserve a shot in the office."
After Paula Yates resigned as presenter of the Channel 4 morning television program The Big Breakfast, its production company Planet 24 employed O'Grady to replace her. He was initially commissioned to present the show, to be termed Lie-in with Lily, for four weeks in what was to be treated as a trial run. As Lily, O'Grady ignored the suggested questions of PR agents, instead asked personal questions of his guests, in doing so attracting a 30% share of the morning audience, with 2 million viewers; realising his popularity, Planet 24 renewed his contract to keep him on as presenter. Through contacts made in showbusiness, he became friends with many A-list celebrities, among them Elton John and Cher. However, O'Grady found the early morning starts difficult to deal with, particularly as he had signed up to appear as Lily in a musical version of Prisoner Cell Block H at the Queen's Theatre in London's West End. Juggling both rehearsals and The Big Breakfast proved incredibly exhausting for O'Grady. When the musical went on a tour of the UK, O'Grady accompanied it, taking a break from The Big Breakfast to do so.
He took his new dog, a shih tzu-bichon frisé cross named Buster, with him on tour; O'Grady later commented that "He was never happier than in a TV studio or theatre... Buster knew all the theatre doormen and loved being fussed over. He was a smashing dog." At the time, O'Grady had been making greater attempts to get to know his teenage daughter; both her existence and that of O'Grady's wife were discovered by the Daily Mirror tabloid, who treated them as a headline scandal in autumn 1994. Critical of the media, O'Grady condemned them for solely referring to him as a drag queen; he commented that "Barry Humphries is never called a drag act because he's a heterosexual male. But I'm called one because I'm a gay man. It's homophobic and it's wrong as there is nothing remotely sexual about what I do. I dress up as a woman for financial purposes, nothing else."
In April 1996, O'Grady filmed a performance at the LWT Tower as An Evening with Lily Savage, broadcast on ITV in November. A hit, it attracted 11.2 million viewers and earned an award for Best Entertainment Program at the 1997 National Television Awards, although was publicly criticised as being bawdy and in bad taste by the drag queen Danny La Rue. (O'Grady later noted that La Rue "saw me as an up-and-coming pretender to his throne and the ageing lion didn't like it.") ITV then offered him a weekly show that would air on Wednesdays at 8 pm, although O'Grady turned down the offer, believing that the pre-watershed slot would force him to drastically alter his act into a form of light entertainment. With Murphy he then established a production company, known as Wildflower. Returning to theatre, he performed The Lily Savage Show for a 16-week sell-out run at the North Pier Theatre in Blackpool—where he was supported by acts including the singer Russell Watson—and after a month break returned to the town to perform Lily's Christmas Cracker at the Blackpool Opera House; the latter was filmed for broadcast by the BBC. At this juncture, he agreed to appear as Lily in a series of adverts for the Ford Escort, earning him £150,000, and would subsequently appear in ad campaigns for Pretty Polly tights, the soft drink Oasis, and a bingo company. O'Grady had earned a substantial sum of money through these performances, enabling him to move out of his Vauxhall council flat and into a house near to Tower Bridge, south of the river in central London. He also purchased a flat in Saltaire.
Blankety Blank, travel shows, and Eyes Down: 1998–2003
In 1998, the BBC produced a six-week Sunday series titled The Lily Savage Show, although O'Grady found the scripted, non-spontaneous nature of the series difficult. He had convinced Janet Street-Porter to appear on the show as his floor-manager, and interviewed such guests as Alan Yentob, Anthea Turner, and Elton John. The show was not well received. At the same time, the BBC had decided to revive the quiz show Blankety Blank, which had previously been hosted by Terry Wogan and Les Dawson. They selected O'Grady to present the show in the role of Lily Savage, allowing him to ad lib rather than strictly follow a script, filming a pilot episode in 1997; after this pilot was a hit, they commissioned a full series. With his increased public profile, O'Grady was invited on to many other television chat shows, such as Richard and Judy, while in the guise of Lily, and agreed to appear in a Christmas special of cookery show Ready, Steady, Cook alongside his friend Barbara Windsor. Continuing with his theatre work, he went on an eight-week tour as Lily, before starring as Mrs. Hannigan in a West End performance of the musical Annie, for which he appeared in six evening performances and two matinees per week. He subsequently accompanied the show on its tour of the UK, before appearing in a pantomime in Birmingham that winter. Deciding on a move to the countryside, in 1999 O'Grady purchased a house in Aldington, Kent for £650,000 from comedian Vic Reeves, proceeding to decorate it in an art nouveau style and establish a smallholding in which to keep various animals.
Screened on primetime Saturday night, Blankety Blank proved a ratings winner for the BBC, attracting an audience of 9 million. Rival company ITV then purchased it, offering O'Grady a two-year deal for £1 million. ITV let him be more risque in his use of humour on Blankety Blank, and also commissioned a new comedy series, Lily Live!. This show also proved a success, earning O'Grady nominations for both the Best Comedy Entertainment Personality and Programme at the 2000 British Comedy Awards. However, O'Grady had tired of appearing as Lily, and decided to try to make a career for himself out of drag. He first appeared as himself in an advert campaign for Double Two shirt-makers, before he pitched a proposed six-part travelogue series to ITV, who agreed to part-fund it. The project resulted in Paul O'Grady's Orient, for which he travelled throughout East and Southeast Asia, visiting Shanghai, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Bangkok, Bali and Singapore. Although poorly received by the tabloid press, it achieved good ratings, and ITV commissioned a second series, Paul O'Grady's America, in which he visited New York City, Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Again it received poor tabloid reviews.
Although then believed to have assets totalling £4 million, O'Grady found that his newfound material wealth brought him little comfort and for a time suffered with clinical depression. He recovered in time to perform alongside Cilla Black and Barbara Windsor in a burlesque rendition of "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" at the 2001 Royal Variety Performance; the televised event attracted 11.5 million viewers. In April 2002, O'Grady suffered a heart attack and was rushed to St. Thomas's Hospital in South London, where doctors attributed it to a combination of a congenital family heart problems with stress, heavy smoking, and caffeine. Spending several weeks recovering, he missed the Heritage Foundation Awards ceremony, where he was to have been awarded television personality of the year award. Returning to work, he appeared as the Child Catcher in a twelve-week run of the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium, where he co-starred with Michael Ball and Brian Blessed. It was his first theatrical performance where his character was not largely based on Lily Savage, and earned him good reviews. He followed this with a pantomime performance as the Wicked Queen in Snow White at Manchester Opera House. O'Grady gave up smoking for two years after his first heart attack.
In 2003, O'Grady appeared in Celebrity Driving School, a BBC Comic Relief show in which he learned to drive alongside friends Nadia Sawalha and Jade Goody. He earned his driving licence shortly after the show culminated, and was nominated for a Best Television Moment of the Year Award for one of his tantrums on the show. He received an invite to appear on Gordon Ramsay's Hells Kitchen but declined, citing his strong dislike for reality television. He had also received various offers to star in a sitcom, a genre that he typically disliked. However, after reading the show's script, he agreed to appear in the new BBC sitcom Eyes Down. Set in a Merseyside bingo hall, he played the manager, Ray Temple, humorously commenting that "He's an evil, twisted man who hates everything that moves. Not exactly a challenge for me". Screened in the prime Friday night slot at 9 pm, the show received poor and mediocre reviews although was popular with viewers, and was renewed for a second series. The BBC were also planning on reviving The Generation Game, and brought O'Grady in as its presenter. Filming two pilot episodes in 2003, both O'Grady and the production team were unhappy with the result, with O'Grady leaving the project. O'Grady ended 2003 with a pantomime performance at the Bristol Hippodrome.
The Paul O'Grady Show: 2004–2005
Paul O'Grady, c.2004
O'Grady had gained experience as a daytime television presenter by standing in for Des O'Connor in nine episodes of ITV's lunchtime chat show Today with Des and Mel. Having got on well with co-presenter Melanie Sykes, he enjoyed the feeling of presenting live. ITV executives deemed this such a success that they offered him his own daytime chat show, with news of his agreement going public in autumn 2004; the result would be The Paul O'Grady Show. There was initial press scepticism and concern that O'Grady's style of adult humour would not be appropriate for a daytime slot, but ITV's controller of entertainment, Mark Wells, declared that "Paul is one of the funniest people on television – he deserves to be on it far more than he is."
The show first aired in October 2004 from 5-6pm and saw O'Grady interviewing celebrity guests, representing "a glorious mix of seemingly unscripted banter, chat and slapstick humour". In producing the show, O'Grady worked with many of his old friends, including warm-up man Andy Collins. The series was a hit, attaining between 2.5 and 2.7 million viewers daily, which was better than ITV had anticipated. According to O'Grady biographer Neil Simpson, "The show was unashamedly populist, a riotous, endearingly kitsch romp with no pretensions to be anything other than pure entertainment. In some ways it was pure vaudeville[...] There were novelty acts, talking dogs, whistling goldfish, extraordinary stories. His audience laughed like drains at his anecdotes and were brought right into the heart of the show." The inclusion of his dog, Buster, on the show proved particularly popular with audiences.
The show gained a devout following, with an "extraordinary hardcore of fans [who] try to be at as many recordings as possible", in many cases arriving at the studio gates two hours before the advertised starting time to get the best seats. O'Grady's biographer Neil Simpson commented on the crowds coming to see the show being recorded when he related that "Groups of middle aged women dominate—but they are joined by beautiful twenty-something women with flawless make-up, flash City boys with Louis Vuitton briefcases, hip-looking students out for a good time and pensioners just wanting a laugh in the afternoon." In many cases, fans queuing to see the show had to be turned away because too many had turned up, and for live shows as many as a hundred often had to be turned away.
Biographer Neil Simpson, 2008
Although it failed to gain a greater audience than BBC quiz show The Weakest Link, The Paul O'Grady Show attracted an audience half a million larger than that of the rival daytime chat show, Channel 4's Richard & Judy. The British tabloids stoked the rivalry between these two competing shows, calling the rivalry the "Chat Wars". After Richard and Judy's production company warned Joan Collins that she would be banned from further appearances on Channel 4 if she agreed to appear on both their show and The Paul O'Grady Show, O'Grady accused them of "... fighting dirty now. I'm not bothered what's on the other side but they have said, if you come on my show you don't go on theirs for three years. How stupid is that?" He later claimed that tabloids had been making up false quotes which they then attributed to him, describing Richard and Judy as "a lovely couple and we certainly haven't fallen out. I hate all the fuss being made."
In winter 2004, O'Grady again performed in pantomime, this time in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the West End's Victoria Palace; his contract attracted attention due to the fact that he was being paid £70,000 a week in addition to profit-related bonuses. After the second series of The Paul O'Grady Show was commissioned, in March 2005 it was awarded Best Daytime Programme by the Royal Television Society, and O'Grady himself was subsequently awarded Best Entertainment Performance at the BAFTAs. In his personal life, O'Grady was devastated when his manager and best friend Brendan Murphy contracted brain cancer; O'Grady hid the diagnosis from the press and cared for Murphy at his Kent home; he later commented that "To watch someone you love, a healthy, eloquent man, unable to speak or walk is hideous." Murphy died aged 49, two days before O'Grady's fiftieth birthday, and was buried in the local Kentish churchyard. O'Grady subsequently became embroiled in legal arguments surrounding Murphy's will, although he continued working to distract himself from his grief. In August 2005 a furore enveloped the show when it was publicly revealed that the staff member responsible for interviewing prospective child reporters had written derogatory notes on many of them, such as "I think he is special needs", "common and thick", and "Black girl: NO". O'Grady was on holiday when the story hit the tabloids, proceeding to offer a public apology, sending a card and flowers to those affected, and firing the staff member responsible.
The New Paul O'Grady Show: 2006–2009; 2013–2015
Paul O'Grady, on the show
Prior to Murphy's death, O'Grady had promised him that his (O’Grady's) production company – now named Olga TV after one of O'Grady's dogs – would take creative control over The Paul O'Grady Show. ITV refused to allow this, and so O'Grady decided to take up an offer from Channel 4 to move the show to their channel; here it would be renamed The New Paul O'Grady Show, and would share the slot with former rival Richard and Judy. O'Grady's move was highly criticised in the press, where he was accused of abandoning ITV in pursuit of a higher salary; Channel 4 offered him a contract for £2 million a year, making him one of Britain's highest-paid television stars. ITV executives were furious at O'Grady for the move; they refused Olga TV permission to continue using their studio premises, leading the show to relocate to BBC's studio 1 in Broadcasting House. While Channel 4 began screening The New Paul O'Grady Show, ITV screened repeat episodes of The Paul O'Grady Show in an attempt to confuse viewers and draw them to their channel. Nevertheless, the show continued to receive good reviews.
In June 2006, O'Grady suffered a second massive heart attack while at his Kent home; he was taken to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford where he underwent angioplasty surgery. Following the incident, he received around 7000 get-well-soon cards and letters from fans and well-wishers. He returned to work for the second series of The New Paul O'Grady Show in September, during which the show's viewing figures hit a new peak. To deal with his health issues, he began taking a week off mid-series, where he was replaced by guest presenters such as Cilla Black, Brian Conley, Lorraine Kelly, and Vernon Kay. The tabloids tried to re-ignite the "chat wars" by claiming a rivalry between O'Grady and other daytime television shows such as The Sharon Osbourne Show and The Brian Conley Show, but O'Grady refused to participate. He subsequently won the Ten Years at the Top award at the TV Quick and TV Choice awards.
On 28 June 2008, O'Grady appeared in the Doctor Who episode The Stolen Earth. In September 2008, he appeared in a two-hour-long show, called Ghosthunting with Paul O'Grady & Friends, filmed in Sicily, with fellow Liverpudlians Jennifer Ellison, Philip Olivier and Natasha Hamilton. On 6 June 2009, the Daily Mirror confirmed that O'Grady signed a new two-year contract with Channel 4 in autumn 2009 to keep his show on air until the end of 2011. However, Channel 4 told O'Grady that his show would face huge budget cuts, with his salary most likely halved. On Monday 21 September 2009, O'Grady returned to present the 11th (including ITV series) and final series of The Paul O'Grady Show. On 14 October 2009, O'Grady agreed to an £8 million deal with ITV to host a Friday prime-time chat-show, to rival that of BBC One's Friday Night with Jonathan Ross from 2010, after budget talks broke down with Channel 4.
On 30 November 2009, O'Grady was a guest presenter on GMTV GMTV with Lorraine, in celebration of Lorraine Kelly's 50th birthday. He has guest starred on Living's paranormal show, Most Haunted Live!, after presenter Yvette Fielding was a guest on his show and invited him on. Also in November 2009, O'Grady reunited with Yvette Fielding to take part in a two-part paranormal investigation series called Death in Venice where he and Fielding investigated haunted locations in Venice.
On 18 December 2009, Channel 4 broadcast the final episode of The Paul O'Grady Show, after 11 series.
In 2005, Liverpool John Moores University awarded O'Grady an honorary fellowship for services to entertainment, and in 2010, he received an Honorary Doctor of Arts from De Montfort University, Leicester, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to television, radio and the stage.
In the autumn of 2013, O'Grady began hosting a revival of his teatime chat show The Paul O'Grady Show on ITV. The series was produced by his own production company Olga TV and filmed at The London Studios. In November 2013, O'Grady suffered an angina attack and underwent further heart surgery. He was said to be trying to give up smoking at the time. The show returned for further series in 2014 and 2015.
Paul O'Grady Live: 2010–12
O'Grady made a deal with ITV to present a new Friday night chat show, Paul O'Grady Live. The first series aired for ten episodes from September to November 2010. In October, O'Grady attracted media attention after using Paul O'Grady Live to criticise the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government for their implementation of mass cuts to social services. He called them "bastards" and proclaimed "Do you know what got my back up? Those Tories hooping and hollering when they heard about the cuts. Gonna scrap the pensions – yeah! – no more wheelchairs – yeah! ... I bet when they were children they laughed in Bambi when his mother got shot." Ofcom received several complaints over the incident, though his Bambi quote was soon after quoted by Peter Taffe at the Socialism 2010 conference. O'Grady also voiced his support for student protesters who had occupied and vandalised the headquarters of the Conservative Party at Millbank Tower on 10 November 2010.
Paul O'Grady on why he quit his chat show, 2012.
The show was picked up for a second series from April to July 2011. A special devoted to American pop star Lady Gaga also aired; O'Grady described Gaga as a "thoroughly decent human being", and labelled himself one of her "greatest admirers." Straight after, O'Grady holidayed in China with Brazilian boyfriend and future husband André Portasio, visiting Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Lhasa. O'Grady found himself caught up in the News International phone hacking scandal when police from Operation Weeting informed him that News of the World reporter Glenn Mulcaire had hacked his mobile phone. Disappointed, he decided not to sue. In October 2011, O'Grady played Mr Slattery in a stage performance of Drama at Inish at the Finborough in Earl's Court. That month, ITV axed Paul O'Grady Live. O'Grady stated that ITV had asked him to return for a third series, but that he had refused, claiming that he had had enough of the chat show format. He remarked that he had become fed up with the "interference" from the show's producers and the fact that certain guests had appeared on air while under the influence of cocaine. O'Grady later commented that having to interview some A-list celebrities was akin to conversing with a "relative you felt obliged to visit."
Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Dogs: 2012–present
Since 3 September 2012, O'Grady has presented the ITV documentary series Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Dogs, covering life at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. O'Grady commented that he had wanted to do such a show for years and that he took to it with an "enthusiasm that surprised everyone except me". Although scheduled to initially film at the centre for six days, he stayed as a volunteer for six months. At the end of the first series, O'Grady was invited to become an ambassador of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, and a bronze statue of his late dog, Buster, was erected on a plinth at the centre. He also adopted a dog from the home; a Jack Russell-Chihuahua cross named Eddy.
In 2015, O'Grady stated that the show wouldn't return for any future series. Despite this claim, For the Love of Dogs returned for a fifth series, beginning in September 2016 as well as Christmas and 'Best in Show' specials. The sixth series of For the Love of Dogs began in October 2017 on ITV, followed by another Christmas special.
The first series averaged 4.07 million viewers, the second averaging 4.97 million, the third with 3.98 million, the fourth received 3.74 million viewers on average, the fifth series averaged 4.39 million viewers and the sixth series averaged 4.56 million. The show has won two National Television Awards in 2013 and 2014 for "Most Popular Factual Entertainment Programme". In 2013, the programme was also nominated for a BAFTA.
In 2018, O'Grady presented Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Dogs: India.
Paul O'Grady's Animal Orphans: 2014–2016
From 14 January 2014, O'Grady hosted a three-part documentary series entitled Paul O'Grady's Animal Orphans on ITV, which saw him travel to Africa to meet some of the continent's animal orphans. A second three-part series began on 20 January 2015 and a third series of two episodes began on 14 April 2016.
The first series averaged 3.29 million viewers whilst the second averaged 2.75 million.
Blind Date: 2017–2019
On 7 February 2017, it was reported that Blind Date would return for a revived series in 2017 on Channel 5. On 16 March 2017, it was announced that O'Grady would present the series, replacing his long-time friend, Cilla Black.
The show is produced by So Television and Stellify Media and began airing on 17 June 2017 at 7pm. The first series concluded on 22 July 2017 and was watched by an average of 1.5 million viewers. A Christmas episode aired on 23 December 2017, before the second series aired from 30 December 2017.
A third revived series of Blind Date has been confirmed and will be filmed in February 2018.
Other television work
O'Grady was a guest judge on an episode of Let's Dance for Comic Relief in February 2009. In April 2012, O'Grady presented The One and Only Des O'Connor, a one-off special for ITV which looked back on the life of Des O'Connor. On 3 July 2013, O'Grady narrated the ITV documentary programme, Me and My Guide Dog following the work of Guide Dogs. On 14 April 2013, O'Grady presented a documentary about burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee as part of ITV's Perspectives series. That month, he also presented ITV's British Animal Honours award ceremony.
In 2013, O'Grady guest starred as cancer patient Tim Connor in three episodes of Holby City. On 31 October 2013, O'Grady recorded a non-broadcast pilot for a BBC One sitcom called Led Astray, starring alongside Cilla Black. The show was not commissioned for a full series due to the pair's busy schedules.
On 15 & 22 August 2013, O'Grady presented two-part BBC documentary series Paul O'Grady's Working Britain, which was nominated for a National Television Award in January 2014. On 16 October 2013, O'Grady presented The One and Only Cilla Black, a 90-minute ITV special celebrating Cilla Black's 50 years in show business. The show was later repeated shortly after Cilla Black's death in August 2015, with O'Grady presenting a short tribute to her to introduce the show.
In 2014, he appeared in a Gogglebox special for Stand Up to Cancer. In December 2014, O'Grady appeared as Santa Claus in a short Birds of a Feather sketch for ITV's Text Santa appeal. On 31 December 2014, O'Grady appeared in the one-off ITV documentary Rita & Me celebrating Barbara Knox's fifty years as Rita Tanner in Coronation Street.
In 2015, O'Grady presented Bob Monkhouse: The Million Joke Man, a three-part factual series for Gold, exploring the life of comedian and presenter Bob Monkhouse. In December 2015, O'Grady appeared in Our Cilla, a one-off programme about the life of Cilla Black.
In September 2015, it was announced that O'Grady would present a new six-part series for BBC One, following the work of The Salvation Army. The series, called Paul O'Grady: The Sally Army & Me aired on Sunday evenings from 27 March until 1 May 2016.
In June 2016, O'Grady presented a 90-minute programme for Channel 4 called Paul O'Grady's 100 Years of Movie Musicals. On 20 December 2016, O'Grady presented Paul O'Grady's Favourite Fairy Tales, a one-off special for ITV. That same evening he appeared on ITV in Hilda Ogden's Last Ta-ra, which was a tribute to the late Coronation Street actress Jean Alexander.
In 2017, O'Grady presented a two-part ITV series called Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Animals – India. In June 2017, O'Grady's life was the subject of a one-off Channel 5 documentary called The Paul O'Grady Story. In August 2017, O'Grady presented the three part Channel 4 documentary Paul O'Grady's Hollywood.
In 2008 and 2009, O'Grady occasionally sat-in for Elaine Paige on her BBC Radio 2 show Elaine Paige on Sunday. Since April 2009, O'Grady has presented his own two-hour long programme on BBC Radio 2 called Paul O'Grady on the Wireless which is broadcast on Sundays from 5–7pm.
O'Grady was a guest on Kate Thornton's Paper Cuts in 2015. In September 2017, O'Grady presented a two-part documentary for BBC Radio 2 called The Story of the Light. The show saw O'Grady celebrate the 50th anniversary of Radio 2 by looking back at the BBC Light Programme that the channel replaced.
O'Grady has written a four-volume autobiography. The first volume, At My Mother's Knee ... And Other Low Joints, was published by Bantam in September 2008. It was given a positive review by Private Eye who noted that the book did not fall into the most common celebrity biography traps of being ghost written, settling scores or not sounding like it had been written by its subject. The second volume, The Devil Rides Out: The Second Coming, was released in September 2010. In October 2012, his third volume, Still Standing: The Savage Years, was released with the official launch taking place at the Cambridge Theatre. In September 2015, O'Grady's fourth book Open the Cage, Murphy!: Further Savage Adventures was released.
On 2 November 2017, O'Grady released a new book called Paul O'Grady's Country Life.
|1992||The New Statesman||Marlene Dietrich|
|1993||In the Name of the Father||Prisoner|
|1994||Top of the Pops||Guest presenter (as Lily Savage)|
|1995–1996||The Big Breakfast||Presenter (as Lily Savage)|
|1996||An Evening with Lily Savage||Presenter (as Lily Savage)|
|1997||The Lily Savage Show||Presenter (as Lily Savage)|
|1997–2002||Blankety Blank||Presenter (as Lily Savage)|
|1999||Love Bites with Lily Savage||Presenter (as Lily Savage)|
|2000||Paul O'Grady's Orient||Presenter|
|2000–2001||Lily Live!||Presenter (as Lily Savage)|
|2001||Paul O'Grady's America||Presenter|
|2003||Today with Des and Mel||Guest presenter|
|2003–2004||Eyes Down||Ray Temple|
|2004–2005||The British Soap Awards||Presenter|
|The Paul O'Grady Show||Presenter|
|2005||Comic Aid||Presenter (as Lily Savage)|
|2010||Coronation Street: The Big 50||Presenter|
|2010–2011||Paul O'Grady Live||Presenter|
|2012—||Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Dogs||Presenter|
|2012||The One and Only Des O'Connor||Guest|
|The British Animal Honours||Presenter|
|2013||Me and My Guide Dog||Narrator|
|Paul O'Grady's Working Britain||Presenter|
|Perspectives: Gypsy Rose Lee – The Queen of Burlesque||Presenter|
|Holby City||Tim Connor|
|2013, 2015||The One and Only Cilla Black||Presenter|
|2014–2016||Paul O'Grady's Animal Orphans||Presenter|
|2015||Bob Monkhouse: The Million Joke Man||Presenter|
|2016||Paul O'Grady: The Sally Army & Me||Presenter|
|Paul O'Grady's 100 Years of Movie Musicals||Presenter|
|Paul O'Grady's Favourite Fairy Tales||Presenter|
|2017||Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Animals – India||Presenter|
|2017||Paul O'Grady's Hollywood||Presenter|
|2018—||Paul O'Grady's Little Heroes||Presenter|
|2018||Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Dogs: India||Presenter|
|The NHS Heroes Awards||Presenter|
|2020||Paul O’Grady’s Great British Escape||Presenter|
Paul O'Grady on the death of Brendan Murphy, 2012.
In 1974, with his friend Diane Jansen, O'Grady had a daughter, Sharon. O'Grady's grandson, Abel, was born in December 2006, with a granddaughter being born in December 2009. From 1977–2005, he was in a marriage of convenience with Portuguese woman Teresa Fernandes, although was not in an active relationship with her.
His long-term lover and business partner was Brendan Frank Murphy (4 March 1956 – 9 June 2005). In the fourth volume of his biography, he noted that he has "always had a penchant for the bad boys". Known to many friends as "Lily" or "Lil", O'Grady is publicly known for having had many high profile and celebrity friends, including the late politician Mo Mowlam, actresses Amanda Mealing and Barbara Windsor, comedian Brenda Gilhooly, and singer Cilla Black.
O'Grady divides his time between his Central London flat and his rural Kentish farmhouse, where he grows organic fruit and vegetables, and a variety of herbs, having a keen interest in herbalism. A lifelong animal lover, as a child O'Grady kept rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, a ferret and a rat as pets; he has commented that his mother thought him "a bit weird" as a result. At his farm, he has owned sheep, pigs, goats, donkeys, ducks, chickens, geese, ferrets, bats, mice, and dogs.
Two of O'Grady's pet dogs became well known to the British public through appearances on The Paul O'Grady Show. The first was a rescue dog, Buster Elvis Savage, a Shih Tzu/Bichon Frise cross. Buster was euthanised in November 2009 due to cancer. O'Grady dedicated the second volume of his autobiography to Buster, describing him as "The greatest canine star since Lassie". A second dog, the Cairn Terrier Olga, also attracted attention. In 2013, it was revealed that she was undergoing chemotherapy due to cancer. Olga was put to sleep in April 2018 after suffering from kidney failure.
Publicly known for his "trenchant opinions", O'Grady is critical of the British Royal Family, having been raised by his father to view them as social parasites; the exception in his mind was Diana, Princess of Wales, who he came to respect for her charitable work with those living with HIV/AIDS. In April 2013, O'Grady expressed his support for the Labour Party, championing Labour leader Ed Miliband as a better candidate for UK Prime Minister than Conservative incumbent David Cameron. He lambasted the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government then in power, describing them as "absolutely disgusting. They have no idea what the common working man and woman are doing. They are not in touch with the working-classes. They have led privileged lives – they've had public schools and have never been on the shop floor." Raised as a Roman Catholic, in the fourth volume of his autobiography he stated that he had "grown out of Catholicism" after his mother's death, but had "always been interested in alternative religions", citing a particular interest in Wicca.
Awards and nominations
|1997||National Television Awards||Most Popular Entertainment Performance||An Evening with Lily Savage||Nominated|||
|2000||British Comedy Awards||Best Comedy Entertainment Personality||Lily Live!||Nominated|
|2002||National Television Awards||Most Popular Entertainment Presenter||The Paul O'Grady Show||Nominated|
|2005||British Academy Television Awards||Best Entertainment Performance||Won|
|British Comedy Awards||Best Comedy Entertainment Personality||Won|
|National Television Awards||Most Popular Entertainment Presenter||Nominated|
|Most Popular Daytime Programme||Won|
|2006||Most Popular Entertainment Presenter||N/A||Nominated|
|2015||Most Popular Chat Show Host||The Paul O'Grady Show||Nominated|
|2018||Special Recognition Award||Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Dogs||Won|
In 2012, O'Grady became an ambassador for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home following his series For the Love of Dogs, which was filmed in the home. In 2013, he took part in the Pedigree Feeding Brighter Futures campaign with Amanda Holden, which aimed to give a million meals to rescue dogs nationwide.
In September 2016, O'Grady was recognised for his work with animals when he won the award for 'Outstanding Contribution to Animal Welfare' at the RSPCA's Animal Hero Awards.
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