UNIVERSALLY loved as one of prime-time telly’s biggest stars, Paul O’Grady has acid-tongued alter-ego Lily Savage to thank for launching his showbiz career.
But the 66-year-old host of Blind Date and For The Love Of Dogs reckons the woke brigade would now instantly cancel his foul-mouthed comedy queen the moment she took to the stage.
And Paul, who tonight launches chat and game show Saturday Night Line Up, believes they should butt out and get a life.
He said: “People say to me, ‘Would you do Lily again?’ And I say, ‘Good God no, I wouldn’t last five minutes’.
“It’s just the things that she comes out with. It’s a different time now.
“They probably wouldn’t like the inference that she was a lady of the night — she’d have to say she was a sex worker or just, ‘Worked in hospitality’.
“It’s censorship, basically. It’s bullying. But you’re anonymous. You’re a picture and you’ve got your profile or whatever and you’re anonymous.”
Paul stresses he is not against fighting prejudice, such as that faced by the trans community. But he is against extreme objections to every facet of normal life.
He said: “I do think it’s gone overboard. You know, the prince can’t kiss Snow White in a Disney film because it’s non-consensual!
“You think, ‘What? You don’t mind the fact that a 14-year-old girl is working as a slave for seven little men who are miners and she has got a psychopathic mother who practises demonology and wants to kill her then eat her heart? That doesn’t bother you, but the kiss does?’
“I think they should really get a life and find something else to do and detach themselves from the keyboard and stop worrying about other people and worry about themselves.”
Paul is particularly resentful of the “keyboard warriors” who claim to be fighting prejudice by telling people what is morally unacceptable — from the comfort of their bedrooms.
When he was performing in the gay pubs of London in the Eighties — during the Aids epidemic — he was literally fighting prejudice.
And that included fighting the police who used to raid those venues when his act was in mid-flow.
Paul said: “I remember the big raid at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern where they all came in rubber gloves and I was on stage.
“I said, ‘Have you come to do the washing up?’ This copper then came into the dressing room and I said, ‘Are you a stripper?’
'OUT OF ORDER'
“It was completely out of order and basically it was a homophobic act. They were really heavy-handed.
“There were numerous excuses for the raid. One was that the pub was too busy. I remember I belted a cop, too.
“And we were doing things like shows at St Mary’s in Paddington (a well-known hospital looking after Aids patients) at a time when nobody would go near them. You know, it was ‘the queer disease’.
“But we didn’t have keyboards, we dealt with it ourselves.”
Because of the heartbreaking memories he has of the Aids crisis, Paul initially struggled to watch Russell T Davies’ Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin because it echoed what he describes as “the worst period of my life”.
But he then binged the series and was thrilled when it won the New Drama gong at this week’s National Television Awards, beating big shows Bridgerton, Des and Normal People.
He said: “The best man won there. It’s reassuring and heartwarming that the public have such affection and respect for a series about Aids with gay actors playing gay characters.
“It was up against some really tough competition as well, so it says a lot. It’s a heartbreaking watch and Russell has got it so right, but it’s absolutely brilliant and deserves all the awards going.”
Like many celebrities, Paul has not been on our screens much due to the Covid lockdowns stopping production. But he is now double-jabbed and is bewildered by anti-vaxxers.
He said: “I think it’s madness. Have the vaccine, for God’s sake. I think it’s about common sense more than individual rights. We’ve still all got our individual rights.
“Nobody’s coming round to the house with a gun saying, ‘You, in the van — you’re are having the vaccine’.
“It’s just, ‘You’ve been advised to have it’. They’d like you to have it. So it’s up to you. You have to think about not just yourself but about your family, your loved ones and about going out in public.”
'SARAH WAS A NICE GIRL'
And he is only too aware of the fleeting nature of life. That was brought home to him again last week with the tragic death of singer Sarah Harding, whom he met several times when Girls Aloud were guests on his Paul O’Grady Show.
Paul said: “We used to have Girls Aloud on right from the start and I was always really fond of them.
“I have a huge picture of them, actually, in the bathroom — all signed — with me and my dog Buster.
“I went to the premiere of the St Trinian’s film Sarah was in and I had a couple of bevvies with her.
“She was a nice girl, a good laugh and I wanted to tell her how she was fab in it.
“She just seemed to be such a nice, down-to-earth girl. That’s the impression you got from her — she was enjoying herself. And I love it when people really enjoy themselves.
“You know when they’re working and it’s not fake and you can tell they are excited and they love their job. And she was like that. She was a sweetheart.”
Knowing that life can be so short, Paul can not wait to get back to work now.
His first job is finishing the latest series of For The Love of Dogs for ITV, which he started before the pandemic.
The gap is so long that the puppies which featured in the early footage are now fully grown.
But he does not seem to miss doing his chat show, The Paul O’Grady Show, which ran on ITV and Channel 4 from 2004 to 2015 and turned him into a household name.
Paul said: “On my teatime show it’s, ‘Tell me about your book. Tell me about yourself. Tell me about your play. Tell me about your workout DVD, your baby products’.
“You have only got eight minutes. Once you have gone into detail about whatever it is they’re doing, there isn’t really enough time for the guests to chat to you then.”
'TOO RAUCOUS FOR WORDS'
Which is why he is so excited about launching his first Saturday night show tonight, which sees him get to know his guests a little more.
However, it sometimes gets so saucy the woke brigade would probably have a meltdown.
Paul said: “We did the pilot, and I just thought, ‘This is too raucous for words’. It was great fun but I thought, ‘Not in this day and age!’.
“Anyway, they commissioned it and then because of lockdown it was a couple of years later before I actually got round to doing it. And I’m so glad because it was like going to the pub without a drink, if you know what I mean.”
The sense of intimacy comes because he has enlisted a few showbiz pals, including Dame Joan Collins, 88, as well as making new friends, including Rob Rinder, 43.
The format sees a selection of stars appear, with the audience asked questions such as, “Who is the naughtiest?”, or “Who’s done the most embarrassing thing?” — and the celebs have to place them in the order.
The celebrities then have to illustrate where they actually sit on the sliding scale — which results in some hilarious anecdotes.
Paul said: “Rob Rinder sent a text that of course went wrong. He had been to somebody’s house or something for dinner. So he a sent a text to the host saying, ‘I want your cook’ which came out as ‘I want your . . . ’
“I did the same at the Baftas. A friend of mine texted me and said, ‘What’s the food like?’.
“And I texted back saying, ‘Urgh, I’m having duck for dinner!’. But I’d mistyped duck.
“And Joan, she’s just great fun, she really is. She’s a good sport.
“I remember her telling me about Bette Davis when she did that movie where Joan played her underling.
“She had to put Bette’s shoes on and Bette hated her, so kicked her and sent her flying. You name it, Joan Collins has been there — from Studio 54 to Hollywood.”
'I LOVED IT'
Despite decades in showbusiness himself, Paul is not about to consider quitting, even though he has reached retirement age.
He said: “Lockdown sort of put me in the frame of mind of, ‘You know what, maybe I’ll retire’ because I enjoyed the freedom of not having anything to do really.
“I loved it. I learned the ukulele and made a ten-ton of chutney and jam and the weather was gorgeous.
“It was the first time I’d ever been off work in life for that long.
“This latest lockdown, I didn’t enjoy it because the weather was sh**e and I’d had enough by then and wanted to get out.
“Now I want to go to work and I want to get back to normal.I realised, ‘No, that was just a fit of madness’.”
And millions of telly fans across the country will be glad he did.
- Paul O’Grady’s Saturday Night Line Up is on ITV tonight at 9.35pm
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