The Life and Death of Lily Savage pays tribute to the late Paul O'Grady, who passed away last March

​Friday: The Life and Death of Lily Savage (ITV1, 9pm)
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​On March 28, 2023, it was announced that Paul O’Grady had died.

It came as a huge shock, as Paul was one of the best-loved presenters on British TV. He was famed for his quick wit and outspoken opinions, as well as his natural warmth which shone through in his documentaries, especially For the Love of Dogs.

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So, it’s easy to forget that Paul actually shot to fame as razor-tongued drag queen Lily Savage, a role he played for more than 20 years.

Lilly Savage (aka Paul O'Grady)Lilly Savage (aka Paul O'Grady)
Lilly Savage (aka Paul O'Grady)

This documentary, which is showing to mark the first anniversary of his passing, explores his life through the prism of his famous creation, looking at how Lily went from underground cabaret star to mainstream TV fixture.

As the programme points out, Lily’s story is about more than just Paul – it also reflects a time of great social change.

Lily made her stage debut in 1978, when Paul was working for Camden Social Services. He would later say: “I wanted to get up there but be larger than life, a creature that was more cartoon than human.”

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He honed her persona on the stages of London’s underground gay venues in the 1970s and 1980s, and became a leading voice in the battle for LGBTQ+ equality.

Against the backdrop of clause 28 and the Aids crisis, Paul would experience police raids and the death of a generation of friends.

Meanwhile, he was also appearing as Lily on TV and radio, and in 1995, she got her big break as a presenter on The Big Breakfast in 1995. What was supposed to be a four-week stint proved so successful that Paul’s contract was extended, although he struggled with the early starts.

Luckily, primetime was beckoning and in 1997, Lily became the host of Blankety Blank.

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The rise to fame was incredible and a reflection of just how far Britain had come in 20 years, but then in 2004, Paul did something arguably even more extraordinary – he hung up Lily’s wig for good.

But why did he choose to kill off the character, especially when it wasn’t a given that he would find work as himself?

Now, Paul’s family, including his daughter Sharyn Mousley and sister Sheila Rudd, and friends Ian McKellen, Julian Clary, Jo Brand, Alan Carr and Graham Norton, among others, are exploring this incredible chapter of Paul’s life.

It won’t be the last time we see the much-missed comedian and presenter on ITV1 this year, as the channel has also announced that it will be airing his final TV project, Paul O’Grady’s Great Elephant Adventure.

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Clare Barton, Executive Producer at Silver Star, says: “It was an honour and a privilege to make Paul’s final TV project with him out in SE Asia, coupled with the opportunity to pay tribute to him with a deep dive into the life of his most famous creation – Lily Savage.

“It has been very emotional and moving to interview the people who knew him best and to delve into the golden archive of Paul in his absolute prime.”

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