We are so saddened to have heard about the recent loss of our beloved, award-winning Paul O’Grady. Primarily and closest to our hearts doing stand up in drag as the boundary-blasting and legendary, Lily Savage. Lily opened doors for the likes of Eddie Izzard and paved the way for gay culture becoming mainstream and ultimately, the Drag Race future. But even without the wig and make-up, Paul was a champion for LGBTQ+ rights, animal rights and highlighted often overlooked subjects such as ageism.
There’s nothing we can say that hasn’t already been said in the last week or so since the sad news hit, but today we would like to take a brief look at his dazzling, trail-blazing career whilst wearing our trashiest Lily outfits. See our staff picks at the end that we think Lily would have approved of.
What can we say about Lily Savage? The self-appointed, Blonde Bombsite, Lily’s roots were working-class. A foul-mouthed, chain smoking housewife and sex worker, she was never seen without her huge blond do, high-heels and leopard-print handbag she bought from Bolton market. Both fabulous and filthy, Lily could hold her own onstage. A drag queen during the AIDS years was not an easy ride but Lily’s sharp tongue and quick wit would slay the haters and have the whole house screaming with laughter. Endless stories about her sister, her neighbour, long-lost loves and back-alley shags, heroes and enemies, wars and affairs, all hailing back to the Liverpool of the Blitz. Torrid tales that people who hoped for a brighter future could relate to. And crucially, she was funny as fuck!
Later, Paul hosted the much-loved Paul O’Grady show on television and also hosted a radio show for many years. It was obvious from these enterprises that he was a truly lovely person who actually cared. He had first-hand experience of gritty life and having worked as a care officer for Camden Council, he had seen a lot.
He had strong feelings on politics which he wasn’t afraid to vocalise on air, often tearing apart the ‘bloody Tories’. His love of animals was apparent and he had to really fight to make the shows that focused on them happen. He went on later to host TV commercials for animal welfare and was a regular at the Battersea Cats and Dogs home.
His interaction with ordinary working-class people was to be admired and there was a lot of love for him from the older community. He spent much of his time discussing tea, bingo and pets with pensioners and refused to bow to pressure to change his format in order to move with the times. He even quit his long-running radio show after being asked to co-host with comedian Rob Beckett in an attempt to attract a younger audience. Paul felt that there were plenty of other outlets for that and understood the importance of the lifeline he had created for the often neglected older community.
He was the definition of a national treasure and the world is certainly a better place for him being here. Lily, RIP, you will be sorely missed.