British TV personality and former performer at the Layton Institute in Blackpool, Paul O’Grady, has passed away unexpectedly at the age of 67. O’Grady was also well known to the world as his drag persona, Lily Savage, and was an early trailblazer for the LGBTQ+ community.
O’Grady’s career began when he took Lily to the Edinburgh Fringe, where he was nominated for the prestigious Perrier Award in 1991. He subverted the drag tradition by creating a character that was sexual and unashamed, in contrast to the “matronly and sexless” figures that had come before. Lily’s look was also unconventional, with O’Grady describing her as “a hard-bitten hooker from Birkenhead with her roots showing and a rip in her tights and a bit of old ratty leopard skin and a big handbag.”
After becoming a national star as Paula Yates’ replacement interviewing celebrities on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast, Lily was given her own BBC chat show. O’Grady’s own profile gradually began to take over from Lily’s, and he became a mainstream TV personality with the launch of The Paul O’Grady Show in 2004.
O’Grady’s career continued to grow, with a Friday night chat show and a stint as the host of game show Blankety Blank. He also appeared on Blind Date, had a BBC Radio 2 slot, and starred in sitcoms, documentaries, autobiographies, pantomimes, and other theatre shows. In 2012, O’Grady showcased his love for animals in the popular TV show Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs.
Throughout his career, O’Grady remained true to his trademark direct humour and down-to-earth compassion. His unexpected death comes after a number of recent health scares, which have been reported on by national media outlets. O’Grady’s legacy as a comedy genius and trailblazer for the LGBTQ+ community will be remembered by all who knew him and loved his work.
There will always be a home in our hearts here in Blackpool for Paul and Lilly alike.