Gloria Hunniford says Paul O’Grady ‘plunged himself into work’

Gloria Hunniford has revealed how Paul O’Grady teased her mercilessly about her blonde hair and dark roots – but their playful banter is something she will always fondly remember him by. The 67-year-old comedian and presenter – who died suddenly last week – was known for his quick wit and dry sense of humour.

Gloria, 82, recalls being a celebrity contestant on Blankety Blank, hosted by Paul’s legendary drag alter-ego Lily Savage.

“We always had a real laugh on there. I would say to him all the time, ‘you need your roots done’ and he would come over to me on the panel and say, ‘well you might need yours done as well, love!’ We were so naughty,” she said.

Like the rest of the nation, Gloria was shocked to hear of Paul’s death on Tuesday when his husband Andre Portasio revealed in a statement that the star passed away “unexpectedly but peacefully”.

“I was so devastated when I heard the tragic news.

“I know he had very bad heart attacks some years back and rather than resting up, he just plunged himself back into work all the time.

“It’s difficult to believe he is gone when he was such a vibrant character. I used to bump into him at functions all the time and I was always glad to see him. He was one of those people who lit up the room.”

Paul rose to fame as Britain’s most popular drag queen. He made Lily Savage a household name before becoming a comedian and TV presenter.

Born in Birkenhead, Merseyside, in 1955, he moved to London in the 1970s. He was a care worker by day and honed his drag act in south London pubs and clubs.

Lily had her first taste of TV success on The Big Breakfast in the 1990s. The early noughties saw Paul stepping away from his alter ego and into the Bafta-winning Paul O’Grady Show, that he presented alongside one of the greatest loves of his life, Buster the dog.

Gloria is full of praise for his versatility. “It didn’t matter whether he was being outrageous as Lily Savage, or standing up for Battersea Dogs Home and other animals, he struck a chord with everyone.”

She says she can never talk about Paul without mentioning his love of animals, which began as a child on family holidays in the countryside.

“He spent a lot of his childhood on a rural farm in Ireland,” recalls the star, who recently returned to her homeland of Northern Ireland to film BBC2’s B&B By The Sea.

“In recent years, our chat was all about the animals because I live in Kent and his farm is in Kent, and he would talk about how many sheep and how many dogs he had,” she said.

An ambassador for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Paul met Queen Elizabeth II at the opening of the Mary Tealby dog kennels in London in 2015, and in 2022 he filmed an episode of his show For The Love Of Dogs, featuring Camilla, the Queen Consort.

The Royal Family’s Twitter account paid tribute, posting an image of Camilla with the star. It read: “Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Paul O’Grady, who worked closely with Her Majesty in support of Battersea.”

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has been “overwhelmed” by donations from the public which have passed £100,000 since Paul’s death.

Chief executive Peter Laurie said: “Over the coming weeks and months, Battersea will be finding the best way to pay tribute to our wonderful friend and ambassador, the late, great Paul O’Grady MBE.”

  • B&B By The Sea starts on BBC Two on April 10.

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