Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Face behind the Wig and Wind Section - The Salvation Army's raucous Recruit. Paul O'Grady.

Paul O’Grady the star of perennial favourites For the Love of Dogs and now The Sally Army and me  is as unlikely teatime tv star as  you can imagine when you look at his Entertainment Origins. I wanted to learn more.

 In 2003 Paul sat in with Sue Lawley for a stint on Desert Island Discs. This is a précis of that show.

Best known for his loud mouthed Alter Ego Lily Savage, the Liverpool Tart  not adverse to drugs and alcohol and two children out of wedlock. This abrasive and ,you would think acquired taste was a household favourite . She became a regular on mainstream TV, even presenting Blankety Blank when Terry Wogan left the show. Even more strange, Lily won BBC personality of the Year!

Lily was a different sort of drag act, she appealed to the masses, before with the  history of Hinge and Bracket and Dame Edna, matronly characters all sequins and tiaras or lumpy bumpy harridans in the Les Dawson Stanly Baxter Tradition, Lily was a breath of fresh air. Paul says his mother described his legs as Two woodbines sticking out of the packet. But in tights with ladders, old leopard skin and mini skirts, Lily was uncouth and spoke her mind.

Born to Paddy and Molly in Birkenhead in Merseyside, a staunchly Catholic family, Paul and his siblings were raised by his Mother and his aunts as many of the Menfolk were away at sea in the Merchant Navy and would often be away from home for two years. 

They would bring back all manner of strange things from afar, one brought a bush baby home and it gave a really false sense of security by being dozy on arrival, but as a nocturnal mammal it found it’s energy while the family slept and after snatching the glasses off his Auntie Annie’s face, the poor creature was despatched to Chester Zoo forthwith.

Auntie Chrissie was perhaps the biggest inspiration for Lilly, a brassy lady who was a clippie on the Buses. Smart, sassy and independent.

Holidays in Ireland  with other Aunts resulted in faddish eating, although I cannot really blame him, eating a chicken for dinner whilst hens roam under the Kitchen Table must affect a small child, but older sibling and relatives were very sweetly accommodating  and because of a childhood adoration for Popeye, all foods were served in a tin can to emulate the spinach and his sister would test his muscles when he had eaten. 

He was sexually precocious and despite being self assuredly Gay, he had father a child by age Seventeen. Not willing to “be a father”  Paul left school with 5 O'levels and and three A levels and was destined for a job in the Civil Service.

After realising this was not a good fit , he went to Manila and lived in the Orient for a couple of years, working as a Barman, he had the time of his life and even today says that when he goes to Manila he feels at home. Returning for the documentary Paul O’Grady does the Orient, he revisited his youthful apartment and is deeply affected.

A return to the UK and a court order to provide for his daughter Paul Moved to London and got a job with Camden Social services, going into troubled homes to provide care for children to keep families together when one or both parents were indisposed. Paul  describes some of the families as the Anti-Christ  version of the Waltons. The shadows of the caring man we see today in the Documentaries that have made him so popular are plain to see in the work he did with the vulnerable. 

As overtime was not paid, the social workers got a great deal of time of in lieu and a bar job in the Famous Vauxhall Tavern that Lily first stepped on stage as the Compere of Drag acts. A successful stint at the Edinburgh Fringe led to a call from the BBC and Paul (And Lily ) have worked consistently since then. Lily starred as Miss Hannigan in “Annie” on stage and as Lily in “Prisoner Cell Block H the Musical.

Paul is successful as a afternoon chat show host, his down to earth nature is perfect for teatime viewers and the appearance every afternoon of Buster the Shitsui was also a pointer at the absolute joy  Paul has in Dogs and his subsequent stratospherically  popular  series at Battersea Dog’s Home and the infamous beautiful friendship with Carmine the Boxer.

Paul now lives happily with Cows, Pigs and dogs on a small holding, a quieter existence after his heart attack in 2002, no longer setting a bad example for Ronnie Wood (Mick Jagger banned him from Rolling Stones outings for just that!) Paul has taken up other pursuits learning to Drive, taking Driving Lessons, learning computer skills have all come after his heart attack which left him  pondering life, if not the afterlife.

His stint with the Sally showed his less than spiritual side, but showcased his towering humanity and empathy and he will remain one of my favourite celebrities.


I'll take you home again Kathleen - Josef Locke
You gotta get a gimmick -   Linda Hart/Anna McNeely, Christine Ebersole
The Blue Pacific Blues  -Rita Hayworth

I'll take you home again Kathleen - Josef Locke
You gotta get a gimmick -   Linda Hart/Anna McNeely, Christine Ebersole
The Blue Pacific Blues  -Rita Hayworth
Meditation from Thais, Act 11 - Philippe Graffin
 I put a spell on you - Nina Simone
 Trouble.    - Elvis Presley
Hurry it's lovely up here - Barbara Streisand
La Cumparsita    - Carlos Gardel

Book choice:  The Borrowers - Mary Norton

Luxury – Avon Skin So Soft.   Effective mosquito repellant.



  1. This was really enjoyable to read, what a fascinating person. I'm learning so much about British tv, as well!! 🌞

    1. Really glad you got a chuckle out of it Mary. The bush baby story made me chortle!!

  2. Well, what a funny way to bring all these articles to a conclusion! Never saw that coming and definitely gave me a chuckle. A fitting way to wrap things up which were of a serious matter, with levity. Thank you!!