Paul O’Grady fans are shook after ITV tribute recalls late star’s iconic Pretty Polly campaign

Paul O'Grady (L) and Lily Savage (R). (Getty_Nikki English_Rex Features)

Celebrities and fans have paid tribute to the late Paul O’Grady in ITV’s documentary For the Love of Paul O’Grady – and many are making a brilliant point about the comedian’s trailblazing drag legacy.

Following the heartbreaking death of Paul O’Grady at the age of 67 on 29 March, stars from the world of entertainment and close friends of the beloved comedian have come together to remember his best moments in ITV’s poignant new tribute documentary For the Love of Paul O’Grady.

Viewers heard touching testimony and hilarious anecdotes from the likes of Countdown‘s Carol Vorderman, former Labour leader Ed Miliband, ex-MEP and LGBTQ+-rights activist Michael Cashman, actress Sally Lindsay and fellow comedian Julian Clary.

“He wasn’t just a fighter for the underdog, somebody who was willing to use his platform to speak up for people who didn’t have a platform, didn’t have a voice,” Miliband said during the hour-long long special, “but he could do it in a totally compelling way, much more compelling than any politician.”

Paul O'Grady speaks at Rainbow Honours last year. (Getty)
Paul O’Grady at Rainbow Honours last year. (Getty)

Referring to a clip of O’Grady discussing Conservative politicians, former EastEnders‘ star Cashman said: “He goes into a rant about injustice, naming the politicians and that was bold. He could have been taken off air, but you couldn’t separate him from his principles.”

Vorderman remembered him as a “force for good” while Lindsay, best known as Coronation Street‘s Shelley Unwin, said he was never a “people pleaser”, adding: “He didn’t give a monkey’s who you were, everyone was treated the same. Everyone.”

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Paul O'Grady Lily Savage
Paul O’Grady, who performed as Lily Savage, died at the age of 67 (Rex)

The documentary paid homage to O’Grady’s drag alter ego Lily Savage who exploded on to the London gay scene in the 1980s, before being arrested during an infamous police raid on the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, and transforming the nation’s attitude to drag.

Since O’Grady’s passing, the comedian’s drag legacy has been the subject of renewed adoration and conversation, especially given relentless anti-drag attacks on the LGBTQ+ community around the world. In the UK, there have been protests against drag race story hour as well as accusations of grooming and pedophilia. Meanwhile, in the US, drag bans are sweeping the nation, leading to a drag march in San Francisco against the harmful legislation at the weekend.

After the documentary highlighted O’Grady’s involvement in a campaign for Pretty Polly tights, in which his legs were used for close-up shots, viewers were quick to point out the stark difference in attitudes towards drag.

Taking to social media, one fan said: “Being reminded that Lily Savage was the face of Pretty Polly tights has taken my breath away. What absolute regressive f**kery we’re concerning ourselves with these days.”

Another pointed out that there would probably be a backlash to the ad campaign today. We need only look at trans TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney, who is facing transphobia after becoming the face of sports brand Nike.

O’Grady was even asked to become The Big Breakfast presenter as Savage from 1995 to 1996, a situation many fans could not imagine in 2023. As Gaby Roslin said during the documentary: “There’s no one [who’s] ever going to be like Paul, and Lily, ever, ever, ever.”

Many fans thanked him for his decades of LGBTQ+ activism, saying he “never forgot where he came from”.

For the Love of Paul O’Grady is available to stream here. For the Love of Dogs, airs on ITV at 8.30pm on Thursday.

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