Paul O’Grady’s wonderful life off screen: from ballet dancer husband and animal farm

As the nation mourns TV legend Paul O’Grady who sadly passed away on Wednesday 29th March, fans around the country have been left bereft at the loss of a quick witted and charming icon.

Rising to fame with his iconic drag person Lily Savage in the 80’s and 90’s, Paul O’Grady became a national treasure thanks to his numerous radio shows, TV programmes and incredible presenting abilities.

From tickling audiences as his drag alter-ego Lily Savage through to warming the hearts of fans everywhere with his emotional documentary series For The Love of Dogs, Paul was a kind hearted and infinitely funny showbiz genius.

Yet Paul’s likeable and compassionate personality wasn’t only restricted to the stage and screen, and continued into his personal life away from the cameras too.

Here’s everything you need to know about the popular star.

Early Life

Paul O’Grady was born on June 14th 1955 at St.Catherine’s Hospital in the Tranmere area of Merseyside, to Patrick Grady (later O’Grady) and Mary “Molly’ Savage.

The youngest of three children, Paul grew up alongside his brother Brendan (born 1941) and his sister Sheila (born 1944).

The young family grew up together in a rented property at 23 Holly Grove in Higher Tranmere, in an environment that Paul himself recalled fondly was “loving and full of affection.”

Reflecting on his time in the home in his autobiography, Paul explained: "When I look back on my childhood I have no bad memories. Our family was loving and full of affection. I never knew what divorce was until I moved to London. I was an indulged child and completely protected from anything bad.”

He later went on to attend a number of Catholic schools, including the Blessed Edmund Campion R.C. Secondary Modern and the Corpus Christi High School, where he enjoyed his first romance with another boy.

Paul left school at the age of 16 and began working in the civil service, where he took on a a job at the Department of Health and Social Care in Liverpool.

Additionally, in order to supplement his income, Paul began working at the local Royal Air Force Association (RAFA) club.

However, he later quit both roles, after being accused of incompetent behaviour and tardiness.

Discovering his sexuality

Following his first romantic encounter at school, Paul was still convinced he was heterosexual, but began to explore his sexual identity throughout the early 70s, when he attended meetings and parties within the Liverpudlian gay scene, before taking on a job at the gay bar the Bear’s Paw.

Keeping his sexuality a secret from his parents, Paul also began to have casual sex with a female friend named Diane Jansen, who later became pregnant with his baby – a daughter named Sharon Lee Jansen, in May 1974.

Although he paid maintenance towards his daughter’s upkeep, he refused to marry Diane and later admitted to himself that he was gay.

London move

Realising that his income wasn’t enough to support himself and his daughter, Paul made the decision to move to London in order to earn more money.

It was while here that he first began to develop a keen interest in the UK Drag Scene, when he befriended a couple who used the stage name of the Harlequeens.

Throughout his time in the capital, Paul worked a number of jobs, including as a busker in Camden Town, and later as a Physiotherapy assistant at the now defunct Royal Northern Hospital and as a peripatetic care officer for Camden Council.

After being made redundant due to job cuts, Paul went on to find work at a gay club, Showplace which is where he first met and befriended lesbian Teresa Fernandez who he later went on to marry in 1977 to avoid her deportation.

Given leave to remain, the pair went about their lives separately and even later lost touch, but remained married until 2005 when they were formally divorced.

Ballet dancer husband

Around the time that Paul divorced in 2005, the talented star first met his future husband Andre Portasio, a ballet dancer who was previously a number of the English National Ballet.

The pair soon began dating, and enjoyed an 11 year courtship before getting married in 2017.

Speaking to The Irish News in 2017, the comedian revealed the couple’s unique living arrangements as they live in separate homes.

“We see each other all the time, we just don't live together, which for me makes for a perfect relationship because when you've had enough, you can say, 'I'll see you, I'm off',” he said.

When news of Paul’s death first broke on Wednesday 29th March, it was Andre who shared the devastating news with the world as he wrote: "It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening."

"He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion.

"I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years."

Famous lover of dogs

It’s no secret that Paul was a huge fan of dogs, with his TV show Paul O’Grady: For The Love of Dogs having taken viewers on an emotional rollercoaster each week as he documented the hard work of Battersea Dogs and Cats home.

At home, the star was a proud owner of five dogs at the time of his death, with the most recent addition to the family being a wired-haired dachshund named Sausage.

In fact,the TV personality first met the adorable canine while filming his TV show.

The other members of the four-legged O’Grady family include Maltese Conchita, three, Jack Russell-Papillon cross Arfur, Chihuahua-Jack Russell cross Eddie, seven, and two year old Jack Russell Nancy.

Paul was also the owner of dogs Olga, Buster and Boycie though they sadly passed away in recent years.

Incredible Kent farm

While Paul’s Kent home may have been filled with dogs, they were not the only animals to take residence in the impressive property.

Outside, the presenter has created quite the farm and kept various farmyard animals including pigs, sheep, chickens, goats, alpacas and owls.

The popular personality often shares updated from his farm on social media and in March 2021 he revealed that his pig Rosie had unfortunately “got a touch of arthritis”.

In one of the last posts shared before his death, Paul also reflected on the loss of another pig on his farm, Tom Tom, who passed away just one week before the star.

“Got back from a week in Newcastle playing Miss Hannigan in Annie to find that Tom Tom, one of my pigs had been put to sleep," he wrote on Instagram.

“I knew it was coming as he’d been diagnosed with a tumour but even so it’s awful when you lose a pet.

“He was the cheekiest of the gang and one of the other pigs who was obviously very fond of him is now depressed and gone into mourning and there’s those who say that animals don’t have feelings."

Famous celebrity neighbours

Although Paul lived on a remote farm in the heart of the countryside, the chat show host still had no shortage of famous neighbours.

One A-list neighbour who lived just a stone's throw away from the rural property was fellow comedian Julian Clary, who’s lived at his 17th century Goldenhurst Farm in Aldington for more than 10 years.

Appearing on BBC Radio Kent with Dominic King Paul joked: “I've known Julian for years… 35 years!

“What he comes out with about me is shocking – he said when I have a party the police won't come when my sister is here unless they have tasers.”

Royal seal of approval

As well as winning a plethora of fans with his showbiz career, Paul later gained the approval of the royal family themselves, when he was appointed an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2008 for his services to entertainment.

In addition to his MBE, Paul also shared a “Special bond” with Queen Consort Camilla, and revealed he would always have a “great laugh” with her.

He previously told MailOnline’s Richard Eden: “Camilla’s a really funny woman. You can have a great laugh with her and you don’t feel like you’re on ceremony."

"I always get a big hug and kiss from her, too, which always shocks everybody.”

Both Camilla and Paul shared a love of animals, and even joined forces in 2022 to film a special episode of For the Love of Dogs to celebrate the 160th anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.

Paul previously described the Queen Consort as: “A lovely lady who’s passionate about dogs.”


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