Paul O’Grady wanted police to apologise for ‘homophobic’ 1987 arrest: ‘He was angry’

Paul O'Grady as drag queen Lily Savage

Paul O’Grady had been preparing to publicly call for an apology from police for his 1987 arrest before his sudden death.

Paul O’Grady passed away on Tuesday (28 March), sparking a wave of tributes from fans, celebrities and royalty.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was among those to pay tribute to the entertainer. He’s also revealed that he’d been working with O’Grady on a campaign “for police to apologise for their past persecution of the LGBT+ community”.

Paul O’Grady was famously arrested in full drag in 1987 during a police raid of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which many agree was part of a tactic to intimidate the LGBTQ+ community at the height of the AIDS crisis.

Tatchell told PinkNews: “Paul wanted a police apology but never got one. He was scheduled to lead the upcoming campaign by the Peter Tatchell Foundation for the police to apologise for their past persecution of the LGBT+ community. Thousands of gay and bisexual men were arrested for consenting, victimless behaviour. That was so wrong and Paul was angry that they’d never said sorry.”

Tatchell said he approached O’Grady last year about the campaign. The late presenter “came on board as a supporter and was committed to play a leading role”.

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His Foundation was due to launch the campaign in early June, and it will now be dedicated to his memory

Paul O’Grady recalls arrest

Before his death, Paul O’Grady had recorded a number of videos for the campaign, one of which has been released. It sees him recalling his experience of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern raid in January 1987.

O’Grady was performing on stage as his drag alter ego, Lily Savage, when 35 police officers stormed into the bar wearing rubber gloves.

O’Grady explained that when he first saw a police officer, he thought it was a stripper, but noted they were “so rude and so aggressive”.

When he went on stage to perform, he realised the officers were wearing gloves (they thought you could get HIV from touching a gay person).

Once the raid was underway, O’Grady said it was “pandemonium”.

“People were scared, tables and chairs were going over. Police were extremely aggressive,” he said in the video.

“God knows to this day why they raided it, and the only thing I can put it down to was: we had a chief of police at the time who was homophobic and, of course, it was the height of the AIDs pandemic so this was a perfect excuse for them to all come in and cause trouble.”

O’Grady said he performed at a club in Manchester later in the same week which was also raided.

“Police have apologised all around the world for their behaviour those years ago and I think it’s about time that the British Police did the same thing, came down here and said ‘I’m so sorry for what happened’, because it was unnecessary,” he added.

“It was just a homophobic act … I refuse to believe anything else.”

A Met Police spokesperson told PinkNews it was unaware of the Foundation’s planned campaign. Questions about whether Met Police would consider historic actions as homophobic were not answered.