In the run up to Camp (on the Estate) I'm blogging about some of my personal heros who happen to come from council estates across the UK. Last week I posted about my love for Kathy Burke, this weeks hero could be sighted as the reason I wear lashes... Dame Lily Savage aka Paul O'Grady MBE.
Born Paul James Michael O'Grady in 1955 he was brought up in Birkenhead where he got into scraps, an alter boy, son of an alcoholic, got into trouble with the law and got a girl pregnant at a young age - his early life is reminiscent of many working class catholic kids.
What followed next was a string of jobs in bars and clubs and lovers across the country. After finally settling in Crouch End he continued to pull pints until he got a job working for Camden Council as a social worker. Soon after he debuted Lily on the stage of the Black Cap (where I had my first job pulling pints... aged 17).
I first set eyes on Lily when my Mum and Dad bought Live and Outrageous at The Garrick Theatre on VHS, most of the content went way over my head but I was hooked from the moment my Mum said 'do you know that's a man?' - I think I would have pretended to know that Lily was actually a Paul but I'm sure I had no clue. I was in awe of the fact that she could make people laugh by just walking across a stage.
Just after the interval and a few seconds on the >> button Lily was joined on stage by Bob Downe (another favourite of mine from his brief spell on Saturday night LWT), Savage and Downe recreated Torvill and Dean's Bolero without ice and lots of smoke - its remains one of the best pieces of performance I've ever seen.
Lily then quickly rose to fame and exploited her working class background for as much comedy value as possible (this is pre-Vicky Pollard, Catherine Tate, Royal Family). Lily was everywhere - she was on the telly before I went to school as the bad mouthed Big Breakfast celebrity interviewer, She went on to take the Les Dawson mantle of Blankety Blank and make it her own, constructed the best Royal Variety performance ever with Barbra Windsor and Cilla Black and THAT light up costume and then at the peak of her career took the wig off and reinvented her self as Paul O'Grady... and the rest is history.
Lily was the 90's answer to Marie Lloyd - risqué, poplar, subtly political, provocative and proudly common. The character Lily was always a veil for Paul's autobiographical comedy that made light of the lives of us watching him - from visiting your loved ones (in prison) to buying knocked off goods at Christmas to give the kids what they want, being messed about with by the priest to using big words in the wrong context - the reason why s/he is funny is because s/he tell's us the truth about what it is to be common / working class / poor / council.
Whether we like it or not Paul has given hope to any turn that treads the boards of the RVT - he is the success story of a stage many call home and one of the many reasons the venue has gone on to live a long and prosperous life.
N.B Today Paul has been rushed into hospital with heart difficulties - it's a bit weird to wish someone 'Get Well Soon' who you've never met, on a blog but...
Camp (on the Estate) runs from 11th - 14th December
More info here