Comedian and television presenter who achieved fame as Lily Savage, later presenting TV shows as himself, such as The Paul O’Grady Show.
Paul O’Grady moved to London in the late 1970s, working as a peripatetic care officer for Camden Council. Here he developed his drag act, basing the character of Lily Savage upon traits found among female relatives.
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.
When the BBC 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 ab lib rather than strictly follow a script, filming a pilot episode in 1997; after this pilot was a hit, they commissioned a full series.
After being nominated for a 1992 Perrier Award, Paul attracted mainstream attention and made various television, radio, and theatrical appearances. As Lly Savage, he presented morning chat show The Big Breakfast (1995–96), game show Blankety Blank (1997–02) and comedy series Lily Live! (2000–01), earning various awards and becoming a well known entertainer.
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 (hosted by Fern Britton) alongside his friend Barbara Windsor.
The Paul O’Grady Show
In 2004, he began presenting ITV’s daytime chat show The Paul O’Grady Show, which proved a hit with audiences. 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 and ran until 2009.
Paul O’Grady subsequently presented a late night ITV show, Paul O’Grady Live (2010–11) as well as Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs (2012–2015) and Paul O’Grady’s Animal Orphans (2014–). He also presented BBC Radio 2’s Paul O’Grady on the Wireless and published a three-volume autobiography.
Paul O’Grady has received a variety of awards, among them honorary degrees and an MBE in the 2008 Birthday Honours for services to entertainment.