The streets of Aldington were packed with mourners on Thursday afternoon (April 20), as friends and family attended the memorial service for the late Paul O’Grady.
The legendary presenter – known and loved for her surrogate drag character Lily Savage – passed away on March 29 at the age of 67. While his cause of death has yet to be officially revealed, he suffered several heart attacks over the years.
On Thursday, O’Grady was laid to rest in the village of Aldington, Kent, where he lived for two decades and died in March. Although the ceremony itself was private, attended by the artist’s family and friends, including Alan Carr and Jo Brand, the village became a memorial center dedicated to O’Grady .
After his husband Andre Portasio encouraged local fans to come along and express their sympathy in person, crowds thronged in front of a procession that passed through the village on its way to St. Rumwold “as a way of marking Paul’s affection for the region”.
Hundreds of mourners, many of whom brought their pets in tribute to O’Grady’s famous love of dogs, stood in the street holding signs thanking the TV personality.
Aldington Primary School mounted a large banner that reads: “Thank you Mr O’Grady”, as well as an image of a dog and large hearts carrying smaller messages to O’Grady, onto the railing and wall near their base.
As the procession passes through the village, O’Grady’s coffin can be seen next to a flower in memory of a collared dog named Buster. Buster was O’Grady’s beloved pet, who died of cancer in 2009.
Portasio walked in front of O’Grady’s coffin, carrying one of his husband’s dogs.
Many famous friends of O’Grady attended the funeral, including comedians Brand and Carr, musician Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, presenter Gaby Roslin, EastEnders stars Cheryl Fergison, Linda Henry and Scott Maslen, Opening the street‘s Sally Lindsay and celebrity chef Andi Oliver.
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Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was also present at the event, with O’Grady previously working as a patron of Tatchell’s foundation.
House of Lords colleague Michael Cashman, a former actor, told BBC Radio Kent he will be reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 – starting “Should I compare you to a summer day?” – at service.
“My heart will grieve, but I will smile for love and joy,” Cashman said.
In a touching tribute, the Salvation Army band sang “Tomorrow” from the musical annie when mourners entered the church. At the time of her death, O’Grady was playing Miss Hannigan, the mother filming at the orphanage during a nationwide tour of the show.
His funeral also featured an honorary squad with the dogs, meant to specifically showcase O’Grady’s work as an ambassador for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in 2012. Since then O’Grady passed away, the charity has raised more than £100,000 in his memory. The presenter also rehabilitated five dogs while filming her ITV series Paul O’Grady: For the love of dogs.
O’Grady has one child: a daughter, Sharyn Mousley, born in 1974, with whom he became pregnant with friend Diane Jansen. Mousley walked into the funeral with a young man holding the wig of Lily Savage, O’Grady’s infamous drag replacement.
Although O’Grady has made Kent his home for more than 20 years, he was born and raised in Birkenhead, Merseyside. After moving to London in the late ’70s, O’Grady began developing his character Lily Savage, largely made up of traits he saw in the women he grew up around. .
Savage is often cited as the inspiration for the British drag artists who have performed in the years since. In the weeks since O’Grady’s death, many have re-watched the moment she came face to face with police officers conducting a raid at the Vauxhall Tavern.
In addition to being a fierce defender of LGBTQ+ rights and an animal lover, many people remember O’Grady primarily for his sharp sense of humour and intelligence.
Although his cause of death has yet to be confirmed, O’Grady has been candid about his 40-a-day smoking habit and the heart problems he’s suffered over the years.
“I’ve had two heart attacks and if I can live to be 60 that would be amazing. I’m not afraid of anything nowadays, he said Mirror in 2013. “There must be an angel out there. They are trying to get me out of trouble 24 hours a day.”
Follow all the latest updates on Paul O’Grady’s funeral here.