Paul O’Grady (1955-2023)

Beloved TV presenter and comedian Paul O’Grady, who broke on to the scene with his drag act persona Lily Savage, has died at the age of 67. His husband, Andre Portasio, confirmed in a statement that O’Grady died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening. 

Born in Birkenhead on 14 June 1955, O’Grady moved to London in his 20s and worked as a social worker for Camden council. By 1978, he was developing his drag act Lily Savage in gay clubs, basing the loud-mouthed single mother and occasional sex worker on female relatives. One night in January 1987 he was working in a gay club, during the AIDS crisis, when the police raided it. At the time, the police thought you could catch HIV if you touched gay men, so officers wore rubber gloves. “Oh, how good,” said Paul/Lily. “Have you come to do the washing up?” What might have seemed like a throwaway line has gone down in history as an example of deadpan defiance in the face of suspicion and often hostility towards gay people.

O’Grady came to mainstream attention in 1991 when he was nominated for the Perrier award, the UK’s most prestigious comedy prize, and began appearing on radio and television as himself. O’Grady retired Savage – to “a convent in Brittany” – in 2004.

During his career, he hosted Bafta-winning talkshow The Paul O’Grady Show, Blankety Blank, celebrity gameshow Paul O’Grady’s Saturday Night Line Up and the reboot of Blind Date, taking over the reins from the show’s long-running presenter and his close friend Cilla Black, who died in 2015.

On 18 November 2004, Kim Wilde appeared on his Paul O’Grady Show, in which he presented her with a birthday cake in the shape of gardening items and she assisted him during his organ game ‘Guess The Tune’. 

Tributes poured in from people all over the UK, including Ricky Wilde.