BOX CLEVER: Lily's in the pink

Paul O'Grady's other half, Lily Savage, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years. The former care worker is pally with Cher and now gets her own primetime show on Saturday nights

There's a Lily Savage in every family. According to her alter ego, Paul O'Grady. "Everyone says to me, `I've got an auntie just like Lily'. There's always a Lily getting drunk at weddings and funerals."

She may be a drunken, loud-mouthed embarrassment, but that doesn't appear to put viewers off - in fact, quite the opposite. ITV's An Evening with Lily Savage netted 12 million viewers and won the Best Entertainment Programme gong at this year's National Television Awards. Now, she has made a big- money transfer to BBC1, where she is fronting his own primetime series, called, er, The Lily Savage Show. Meanwhile, the rudest bits and those sections where "I might have hit the floor-manager with a chair-leg" have been scooped up off the cutting-room floor and gathered together into a video entitled, The Untransmittable Lily Savage Show.

As if that wasn't enough, Savage has been chosen to fill the substantial shoes of Les Dawson as the new host of the revived kitsch game-show, Blankety Blank, to be broadcast next year. "After I lost the job of hostessing on University Challenge to someone called Jeremy Paxman, the BBC promised to make it up to me," she reveals. "Blankety Blank is an intelligent, intellectual show, similar to University Challenge, except instead of scruffy students you've got top celebs."

Never afraid of whom she might offend, Savage speaks her mind - and that's something O'Grady envies. "I'd love to be more like her," he sighs. "She's always on at authority. She's always asking `why can't I smoke at Heathrow?' and sending food back in restaurants. I'd love to be able to do that."

All the same, there is no mythical blurring of creator and created. The boundaries between O'Grady and Savage are clearly demarcated. O'Grady is an engaging 6ft 2in man with greying temples; denuded of the wig and slap, you wouldn't look twice at him in the street. "When I want to stop being Lily, I take the wig off," he asserts. "Barry Humphries once said to me, `Dame Edna's in Moonee Ponds, where's Lily?' I replied, `in a bag in the garage.' I'm the boss. I can separate the two quite easily. I know exactly what is Paul O'Grady's territory and what is Lily Savage's territory," he asserts, before adding with a grin: "Having said that, I have signed credit cards as Lily Savage."

O'Grady does not have a conventional showbiz background. He spent 10 years working for Camden Social Services as a peripatetic care officer. "It was bloody good training," he reckons. "You can relate to the weirdos in the audience. And the great patience you need when a 70-year-old woman is chewing your ear off helps you to deal with people at the stage-door.

"I also learnt that some people have hideous lives and don't complain about them, so I don't moan about the hotel suite on tour."

During this period, O'Grady was also working evenings as a barman in gay pubs. Unimpressed by many of the acts performing there, he started appearing on stage as Lily Savage (his mother's maiden name). "There are great wits on the gay scene," he observes, "but they don't suffer fools. They eat their young live. When people ask me, `how do you deal with hecklers?' I say, `please. I don't bother with them, they're not fair game'."

When Savage first made it big, critics didn't know where to put themselves. "The press couldn't pigeon-hole me," O'Grady recalls. "Lee Evans was the new Norman Wisdom and Harry Hill was the new Harry Worth, but I was not the new Dame Edna or Danny La Rue [with whom Savage had a famous spat]".

Soon, however, she found an unlikely fan-base - dolled-up, divorced middle-aged mothers, whom O'Grady dubs: "Lily Savage mums." "Women love her because she says all the things they want to say but daren't," he surmises. "Men, on the other hand, find it more uncomfortable - especially when I talk about men in bed."

Over the years, Savage has developed from marginal to mainstream. "She has quietened down," he admits. "I've given her a different slant. She's now more approachable and sophisticated. After all, she's had dinner with Cher. I hate it when comedians say, `I was in the launderette this morning,' when you know they've got a fleet of staff. You've got to have truth in comedy. So I've moved Lily to a mansion in Hampstead, but it's very tasteless - like Spend, Spend, Spend."

Like his creation, the 42-year-old O'Grady has achieved a remarkably speedy transformation from nobody to notable. Touchingly, he can barely take it in. "Five years ago I was doing pubs. Now I'm on primetime BBC1 with Cher as my next-door neighbour," he says, with something approaching wonder.

"What more could you ask for? I keep thinking `I'm getting paid for this.' It's like having a fabulous doll you can dress and play house with."

`The Lily Savage Show' is on BBC1 tomorrow night at 10pm. `The Untransmittable Lily Savage Show' is out on video on Monday

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Coordinator

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

    Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

    £350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

    Embedded Linux Engineer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

    Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

    £50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz