Rare backstage footage shows a young Paul O'Grady and first years of Lily Savage

Video courtesy of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern

Rare footage shows a young Paul O'Grady backstage at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in South London in the very early years of his blonde alter ego Lily Savage.

The camcorder footage was filmed in 1980 long before O'Grady became a much-loved household name.

In the grainy video the performer is seen dressed in a white t-shirt laughing and joking, asking the camera operator: "Is this thing on?!?"

The compact dressing room has a shelf full of wigs and is being used by other acts getting ready to perform on stage at the famous LGBT+ venue.

Recording video was much more difficult in the pre-smartphone era because video cameras were expensive, had limited recording time and low quality footage.

Paul O'Grady rose to fame on the nightclub circuit as the acerbic, platinum wig-wearing Lily Savage – a name believed to have been inspired by his late mother.

A second video shows the first years of his alter ego on stage with two other performers in Burlesque style. Towards the end of the show Lily Savage plays a violin.

[Video courtesy of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern]

Paul O'Grady's early years in London's gay club scene were not easy. In 1987 he was hosting a night at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern when police raided the venue. Officers wore gloves because of fears of catching HIV and AIDS.

Speaking about the experience O'Grady said: "They were so rude and so aggressive and when I came out on the stage, the place was heaving, and they were all wearing rubber gloves and I said 'Oh, good have you come to do the washing up?!'"

James Lindsay who runs the Royal Vauxhall Tavern said: "There were a lot of things going on in the 1980s with the police and homophobia but with Paul and his status he was able to use that and create and make some of those issues to deal with them and he is still waiting for an apology from police after all that time."

On Wednesday night O’Grady was remembered as "one of the greatest drag artists the UK has ever seen".

The show at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern saw a minute of raucous applause for the TV star, instead of a typical minute of silence. O’Grady died "unexpectedly but peacefully" on Tuesday evening at the age of 67, his partner, Andre Portasio, said. On Wednesday night, Royal Vauxhall Tavern host Michael Twaits, told a packed out audience that O’Grady had been “an absolute legend of the community”.

[Video courtesy of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern]

“Today we lost one of the greatest drag artists the UK has ever seen, and it is this building, this building was where it happened,” he said. “Eight years of doing solo shows… and also doing shows like tonight, introducing new talent to the LGBT+ scene. Paul O’Grady was an absolute legend of the community.” He added: “It was around raising up the community, and when you move from a stage like this into the mainstream, when you move into breakfast television… and still stay true to yourself, stay true to your queer self, and stay true to your working class roots.”

Twaits told the audience “a trailblazer and a legend has left us” before leading them in a round of applause for O’Grady. “Obviously a moment of silence is polite… but I don’t think a moment of silence is right. I think this is a moment to applaud, a moment to love, a moment to cheer,” he said. O’Grady was made an MBE in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to entertainment. He attended the ceremony with his daughter, Sharyn Mousley, his child from a brief relationship he had when he was 17.

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