Paul O’Grady: Royal Family joins fans paying tribute to ‘a British institution and cultural icon’

Paul O'Grady holding a puppy

Tributes have poured in following the death of TV star and British drag icon Paul O’Grady.

The presenter died “unexpectedly but peacefully“, aged 67, according to his husband, Andre Portasio, who shared the news earlier today (29 March).

“He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion,” Portasio said.

After finding fame in the early 1990s with his drag queen persona Lily Savage, the presenter became known for The Paul O’Grady Show.

After the chat show ended in 2015, O’Grady went on to showcase his love and appreciation for animals in Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs.

Paul O'Grady smiling at a dog.
Paul O’Grady was outspoken for both LGBTQ+ and animal rights. (Getty)

Among those to pay tribute were members of the Royal Family. In a statement, they said they were “Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Paul O’Grady, who worked closely with Her Majesty in support of [non-profit charity] Battersea, providing lots of laughter and many waggy-tailed memories.”

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During his storied TV career, he made a number of close friends, all of who paid tribute to the Blankety Blank host.

‘He never judged the vulnerable’

Former Countdown star Carol Vorderman said she “loved Paul”, as she paid tribute on the BBC’s Today Programme.

“He exploded through the daft made-up rules of society. Yes, he was a massive talent – of course, he was a massive talent – but you can’t forget that he was a social worker when he was younger, he would save babies and young people from abuse.

“He lived in Soho before it was gentrified, he never judged the vulnerable, never judged the weak, never judged the misunderstood.”

She was among many people who knew, loved and worked with O’Grady who paid tribute.

Born into the working-class area of Tranmere, now in the borough of Wirral, O’Grady spent much of his early life in rented housing with his parents and brother and sister.

While at St. Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, he reportedly excelled at all subjects, except maths, and join various groups, such as the cub scouts – which he apparently disliked.

After leaving school and taking various jobs to get by, he began to socialise with the Liverpudlian gay scene, attending LGBTQ+ campaign meetings and eventually working at a gay bar.

Paul O'Grady as Lily Savage.
Paul O’Grady made waves with his character Lily Savage. (Getty)

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell described him as an admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights.

“He supported my work for many decades and was a valued patron of the Peter Tatchell Foundation. Paul was planning to lead our forthcoming campaign for the police to apologise for their historic persecution of the LGBTQ+ community,” Tatchell said.

“We will miss him.”

Tatchell went on to describe him as “one of the loveliest people you could ever meet,” saying that he and many others enjoyed his “wit and admired his compassion”.

While working as a peripatetic care officer for Camden Council, O’Grady discovered a love of drag and created the character of Lily Savage.

Despite drag being prominent in underground scenes at the time, Lily’s mainstream popularity broke new ground and cemented drag as a beloved art form that could make waves.