Entertainment

Paul O’Grady was known for his drag queen persona Lily Savage, his TV presence, his campaigning and his love of animals. 

But in a life that spanned almost seven decades and a career that took in cleaning, drag and Dr Who, there are many things you might not know about him.

Sky News looks at some of the unexpected details from the life of the star, who died on Monday aged 67.

Rubber gloves raid

In 1987, O’Grady was on stage as Lily Savage at gay bar the Royal Vauxhall Tavern when it was raided by police.

It was the height of the AIDS crisis and the officers were all wearing rubber gloves – causing Savage to quip, “Well, it looks like we’ve got help with the washing up”.

Savage was one of 10 people arrested that night. When pressed for a “real name” after giving the desk sergeant the name Lily Savage, she reportedly replied “Lily Veronica Mae Savage”.

A marriage of convenience

In 1977 O’Grady married Teresa Fernandes, a model who he called “the lesbian Portuguese barmaid”.

He described it as a “marriage of convenience” and admitted he had forgotten they were married after they lost touch.

Discussing the relationship, he said: “I had no idea we were still married until my manager Brendan said: ‘If anything happened to you, everything would go to your wife. It’s like a real-life Corrie storyline’.”

The pair divorced in 2005 and O’Grady married Andre Portasio in 2017.

Plane crash hero

When a pilot announced he was making an emergency landing, O’Grady lent the cabin crew a hand.

“As everyone got their heads down, I was stood there, blowing a whistle and shouting ‘brace’,” he later said.

There was a fire on landing so he opened the emergency door and shepherded everyone out.

He later described it as his bravest moment but said he wasn’t scared and treated it like a “white knuckle ride”.

He tried his hand as a mortician

After O’Grady’s close friend died of Aids, he fulfilled a dying promise to do his hair and make-up – and dressed him up in full Lily Savage regalia.

O’Grady lost a number of friends to AIDS, including fellow performer Chrissie, real name Danny Billington.

He told the Sunday People Chrissie looked “terrible in death”.

“His face was purple. But I have to say he looked fabulous afterwards – I wouldn’t have been a bad mortician.”

Dressing him was hardest part, he said: “I ended up lying on the bed with Chrissie on top of me.

“The situation was verging on farce but it was the kind of black humour that Chrissie would have relished.”

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Paul O’Grady: the funny and the serious

Lily Savage’s advertising career

Lily Savage became the face – or legs, more accurately – of Pretty Polly tights.

She also appeared in ad campaigns for Ford, Oasis soft drinks and a bingo company.

Read more:
Paul O’Grady, TV star and comedian, dies aged 67
Tributes pour in for ‘brilliant’ comedian and ‘fearless’ campaigner Paul O’Grady

Recruitment consultant

Mark Downie, a former colleague of O’Grady’s on Channel 4, revealed the star insisted that new roles on his show were advertised in the local Job Centre.

He tweeted: “He wanted anyone and everyone to be able to apply so they could get a break like he had.

“And it made the show better. A kind and generous man.”

A love of dogs

O’Grady was well known as an animal lover, an ambassador for the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and host of ITV’s For The Love Of Dogs.

O’Grady’s Kent farmhouse was filled with a menagerie of animals including four dogs, goats, sheep, chickens and barn owls.

He named production company Olga TV after one of his dogs and dedicated the second volume of his autobiography to his dog Buster, describing him as “the greatest canine star since Lassie”.

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