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Paul O’Grady, TV presenter and comedian, dies aged 67

PRESENTER and comedian Paul O’Grady has passed away at the age of 67. O’Grady died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening, according to a statement from his husband Andre Portasio.

O’Grady became well-known in the 1990s for his drag queen persona, Lily Savage. He went on to host the BBC One game show Blankety Blank and other light entertainment programmes. Later in his career, he hosted several chat shows and also brought his love of dogs to the screen.

In a statement, Portasio said, “It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening. He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals, and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit, and compassion. I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years.”

O’Grady was recently on tour playing Miss Hannigan in the musical Annie. Writing on Instagram a few weeks ago, after returning from performing in Newcastle, O’Grady said he was “thoroughly enjoying” playing the role again after so long “especially with a truly amazing and lovely cast”. The broadcaster left his weekly BBC Radio 2 show in August 2022, confirming it was because he was unhappy about sharing his Sunday afternoon slot. He was due to present on Boom Radio in less than two weeks for Easter Sunday.

O’Grady’s long-time radio producer, Malcolm Prince, said he had visited the star at his home on Tuesday afternoon, describing him as “laughing, smiling, and full of life”. Prince posted on Twitter, “He was so proud of Annie, so happy to be back on Boom Radio, and he was looking forward to so many new projects. And now he’s gone. I can’t believe it. We have lost a unique talent – and I’ve lost a dear friend.”

Many people in the entertainment industry have paid tribute to O’Grady, with ITV’s Lorraine Kelly calling him a “really special man.” TV host Amanda Holden described O’Grady as “strong, funny, opinionated, no-nonsense, brilliant,” and radio presenter Simon Mayo added he was “a lovely man, always funny and a radio natural”. Singer and TV host Aled Jones described O’Grady as “a lovely lovely person”, while presenter Vernon Kay said he was “one of the nicest and kindest people I’ve ever met, always a joy to be around and obviously, so much fun”.

Danny Beard, winner of the fourth series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, told BBC Breakfast O’Grady was “the most important person in British culture for drag”. Campaigner Peter Tatchell described the presenter as a “much-admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights”. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, TV presenter Carol Vorderman said, “He just fizzed, he was one of those people that just made you feel every part of you was alive. He exploded through the daft, made-up rules of society. He was a massive talent, but you can’t forget he was a social worker when he was younger, he saved babies and young children from abuse, he lived in Soho before it was gentrified, he never judged the vulnerable, the weak, the misunderstood.”

One of O’Grady’s most recent TV appearances was last year with Camilla, the Queen Consort, for a one-off episode of ITV’s For The Love of Dogs – a series he helped launch in 2012, following the staff at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, an organization for which he was an ambassador. Following his death, the animal