The Life and Death of Lily Savage

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The Life and Death of Lily Savage 

Paul O’Grady, who died a year ago this March, was a ‘National Treasure’ – an ardent animal-lover and professional chatterbox, who became a much-loved fixture of primetime television. But, for more than 20 years, he was also a razor-tongued drag queen. 

This is the story of Paul through the prism of his famous creation, Lily Savage, an underground cabaret star who took mainstream telly by storm, against all the odds. 

Set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain, Clause 28 and the AIDS crisis, it’s the unlikely tale of how a working class, gay man from Birkenhead created the unforgettable character of a Scouse sex worker and honed her persona on the stages of London’s underground gay venues in the 1970s and 80s. 

A leading voice in the battle for LGBTQ+ equality, O’Grady endured police raids, the death of a generation of friends, and heart-breaking visits to AIDS wards (in character) before moving into television. From her big break on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast to mainstream success hosting Blankety Blank on Saturday nights on BBC1, Lily came a long way in 20 years – and so too did Britain. But then, at the height of her fame something extraordinary happened: Lily Savage disappeared from TV, never to be seen again. Paul O’Grady hung up Lily’s wig for the last time in 2004.

Featuring personal accounts from Paul’s close friends and family, including, for the first time, his daughter, Sharyn Mousley, and, using Paul’s own words from earlier recordings, The Life and Death of Lily Savage tells the story of decades of hard graft bringing Lily from the fringes of London’s gay counterculture into the heart of the nation’s living rooms and discusses why Paul suddenly decided to kill Lily off.

With no guarantee that he would ever get work as ‘himself’, what possessed him to throw it all away?

Featuring interviews with Paul’s sister, Sheila Rudd, friends Sir Ian McKellen, Julian Clary, Jools Holland, Jo Brand, Alan Carr and Graham Norton, together they unpick this forgotten chapter of Paul O’Grady’s extraordinary story.



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