RIP Paul O’Grady, whose camp warmth on after school TV made growing up gay a little easier

When someone so queer is loved by your nan, you don’t feel as much of an outcast


When my household woke up to the news of Paul O’Grady passing away aged 67 this morning, every single one of us was bereft – something that I actually don’t think I could say if another queer icon did. I’m the only LGBTQ person in my household – and what Paul O’Grady means to me and the queer community in the UK is not something that usually translates across to my straight mum, dad and younger sister. When Pete Burns passed away, or if RuPaul was to die – the reaction from me would be similar but there’d be not much fuss from anyone else. What this made me realise this morning was how much of an eternal, accepted fixture Paul O’Grady was for all of us growing up – a beloved household name who was unapologetically queer and unapologetically himself, in or out of Lily Savage geish.

After school warmth

My memories of Paul O’Grady being the age I am were not of him as Lily Savage, but as the host of a TV show that many people my age switched off CBBC for to tune in to. Quite a remarkable feat, really – a middle-aged gay man hosting a cosy talk show managing to sway viewers away from Tracy Beaker to listen to his camp, Scouse charm. I’ve never really given it much thought before the sad news of today, but on reflection if you were to ask me what home feels like, a good description would be watching The Paul O’Grady Show on the sofa after school whilst your mum cooked your tea.

My personal favourite Paul O’Grady moment that I watch all the time was his ridiculous intro to Nicola Roberts’ performance of Beat of My Drum, which he barks out as BEAT MY DRUM whilst Ian McKellen watches on and Nicola performs the most extra vocal performance of her life. High camp.

Never gets old.

Acceptance

Never gets old.

Acceptance

Paul O’Grady was a subversive, queer, northern, loud-mouthed working class drag queen who managed to still become a national treasure in the living rooms of suburban homes. When queer kids like me were sat there being bullied in school for being feminine, or getting called gay before we even knew it ourselves – coming home and watching someone bring love, warmth and joy to multi-generations at home and be widely accepted as a national treasure had more meaning than people who didn’t live that experience can really know.

‘I have no problem with the gays – you know I’d walk on hot coals for Paul O’Grady’

What I think really makes me sad about today’s loss of Paul O’Grady is how it feels like since the time where someone like him was on our tellies after school, we’re going backward. We are in the middle of a moral panic – where drag queens are coming under fire from the right wing media under accusations that they’re corrupting children.

As the culture war rages, it’s easy to forget Lily Savage / Paul was on morning TV causing chaos in full drag at 7am. Paul O’Grady was a true icon of British culture, a legend of the north who took British pub drag to the mainstream before Drag Race UK was even conceived and made life easier for me and many like me by just existing. Rest in Peace Paul O’Grady, who whether he was being Lily Savage, being a talk show host or making us cry on For The Love of Gods, made us all feel that little bit brighter and accepted.

@harrisonjbrock

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