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Gay Times December 11 - Issue 400

Paul O'Grady

One minute you’re furiously scribbling up your interview with national treasure Paul O’Grady, in keeping with a strict deadline for the landmark issue of (whisper it) Europe’s longest-running gay magazine.
The next you’re stuck in a two-hour YouTube cycle watching decade-old back episodes of Blankety Blank.

Presented by the timelessly fabulous Lily Savage (who else? Cheryl Baker?), drag alter ego of the national treasure in question. It’s the little handbags. They’re hypnotic.
But such is Paul’s – and Lily’s – warmth, so utterly enchanting EVERYONE loves this TV veteran; from suspicious of all things queer middle England for his riotous 90s stand up routines (“He’s got better legs than a woman!” I distinctly remember my uncle exclaiming) to settee-bound grandmothers devoted to his BAFTA-award winning teatime talk show The Paul O’Grady Show, which concluded in 2009 after seven epically successful series.
Paul O’Grady’s impact, the way in which he’s won over the hearts of those who might’ve once worked against us, is invaluable. And, in my opinion, massively underrated. Issue 400 of GT would not have been the same without him.
“Jamie,” he cackles in his unmistakable Merseyside droll, “I don’t know what’s happened. I get off the train at Ashford from Kings Cross with the dog and it’s like Snow White’s arrived. I’m patron saint of animals, birds, creatures of the forest AND children. It’s all ‘All right Paul, how are you?’ - all the old girls say, they do. It’s very strange. I think it’s because I talk to everyone. They feel at ease with me, they don’t feel I’m grand, they don’t feel threatened by me. And I think ‘How has this happened?’”
To make any sense of Paul’s popularity we have to go back, way back to the 80s glory days of The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, still London’s burlesque and drag hotspot today, and Paul-as-Lily’s eight-year residency. “The layout’s the same, but it’s gone very smart,” he says. “There’s little tables and they’ve got cushions. I couldn’t believe it. Fucking cushions! In the old days, they were either nicked or used to stem the flow of blood!”
This and stints at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival soon led to 90s presenting jobs on the BBC, before the ‘true Queen of England’ landed Blankety Blank.
“I’ll get in a cab and the driver will say ‘We used to sit and watch you and my dad used to love Lily.’ It sort of went across the board. That’s who she was; she was a cartoon character, like an auntie. The kind of auntie who’d turn up at a wedding, get blind drunk, chain smoke and flirt with everybody. She’d get on the table, sing a song and lift her skirt up, all that. She was the best sort of auntie. She wasn’t threatening. I never thought she was. She had a mouth on her - she was hard and a bit daft - but she was never threatening.”

Words: Jamie Tabberer

To read the full article, pick up the latest copy of GT, our 400th issue with four different covers, out in all good retailers, available online and downloadable on your iPhone, iPad or Android device. on your iPhone or iPad.

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