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Paul O’Grady: The comedian and presenter who rose to fame as Lily Savage

Paul O’Grady became a household name in the early noughties, known for his wit and love of animals.

he comedian and TV personality first rose to prominence as his drag queen persona Lily Savage in the 1980s and 1990s before going on to host a string of television programmes.

His most notable appearance came on his daytime chat show The Paul O’Grady Show which began airing in 2004, followed by the New Paul O’Grady Show.


Paul O’ Grady with the award for best Factual Entertainment in the Press Room at the National Television Awards 2019 held at the O2 Arena, London.

O’Grady took over the reins from Blind Date’s long-running presenter and his close friend Cilla Black, who died in 2015, to host the Channel 5 reboot of the show in 2017.

He also fronted Blankety Blank, as well as ITV’s multi-award-winning For The Love Of Dogs.

Following the success of the latter, which was filmed at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, he became an ambassador for the organisation.

Last year he was joined by the Queen Consort in a special one-off episode of For The Love Of Dogs to mark 160 years of the home.

O’Grady’s love of animals was also apparent through his other work and in September 2016, he was recognised for his work with animals when he won the award for Outstanding Contribution to Animal Welfare at the RSPCA’s Animal Hero Awards

He also hosted ITV celebrity game show, Paul O’Grady’s Saturday Night Line Up, and last year signed off from his final BBC Radio 2 show having hosted the Sunday afternoon programme for nearly 14 years.


File photo dated 2/2/2022 of the then Duchess of Cornwall with Battersea Ambassador Paul O’Grady (Stuart Wilson/PA)

In 2008 he was made an MBE in the 2008 Birthday Honours for services to entertainment and last year was appointed as a deputy lieutenant of Kent.

He began his career as drag alter ego Lily Savage in the 1970s whilst working as a peripatetic care officer for Camden Council in north London.

A native of Birkenhead on Merseyside, native, he toured northern England as part of drag duo the Playgirls, before settling into a solo show as Savage that ran for eight years at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

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The comedian made a name for himself speaking out about LGBT issues and picked up a mainstream following after being nominated for a Perrier Award in 1991.

O’Grady’s career as Savage took off with TV and radio appearances in character and he was eventually asked to take over from Paula Yates as The Big Breakfast presenter as Savage from 1995 to 1996.

He took on chat show The Lily Savage Show for the BBC for a short run in 1997 and later that year had success as the host of a revived version of gameshow Blankety Blank, which ran until 2002.

On stage, he appeared in various stage productions including versions of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Annie, and starred in the BBC bingo hall sitcom Eyes Down from 2003 to 2004.

O’Grady became popular with a whole new audience as the host of The Paul O’Grady Show which aired in a teatime slot on ITV from 2004 to 2005, later moving it to Channel 4 as The New Paul O’Grady Show where his own production company gained creative control for stints running from 2006 to 2009, and 2013 to 2015.

His love of animals has seen him branch out into presenting different styles of programme, among them Paul O’Grady’s Animal Orphans which aired between 2014 and 2016 and saw him visit Africa to meet baby animals.

In 2012 his autobiography titled Still Standing, The Savage Years, was published.


TV presenter Fern Britton, with Paul O’Grady, with her award for Best Daytime TV Programme for This Morning, at the 10th Anniversary National Television Awards 2004, held at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Speaking when it was published, the TV star recalled the death of his partner of 25 years, Brendan Murphy, in 2005 and said: “Grief doesn’t happen immediately, it hits you after a while, because you’ve got all the funeral and the fuss, then when that dies down you find yourself on your own, with time to contemplate what’s happened. I thought, ‘I’m on my own, what do I do now?”‘.

He also spoke about his health at the time, having had two heart attacks, saying: “The worst thing you can do is to sit and fret. I take tablets and have check-ups every eight months when they put me on the treadmill. I say to them, ‘Heart attack or not, I’m hopeless on treadmills!”‘

Throughout his career he picked up various accolades including a TV Bafta, a British Comedy Award, and a National Television Award for The Paul O’Grady Show.

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