Following the death of Paul O’Grady, he has been described as “the most important person in British culture for drag and for the queer community” by Danny Beard, winner of the fourth series of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.

In a statement released by Paul O’Grady’s husband Andre Portasio, he is confirmed to have passed away unexpectedly at the age of 67 on Tuesday evening (March 28).

Paul O’Grady’s drag persona Lily Savage became an iconic part of British entertainment in the 80s and 90s, paving the way for drag artists.

Speaking in an emotional tribute on BBC Breakfast, Danny Beard said: “I don’t think there is anyone that does the job I do that doesn’t class Paul as an icon.

“Paul was a trailblazer, they were on telly just after the aids crisis and they’ve been the most important person I think in British culture for drag, for the queer community, so this is a real sad loss today.”

The history of drag icon Lily Savage

O’Grady, who was originally from Birkenhead began his career by performing as Lily Savage in the 1970s whilst working as a peripatetic care officer for Camden Council in North London.

He went on to tour Northern England as part of drag duo the Playgirls, before settling into a solo show as Lily Savage that ran for eight years at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

The comedian made a name for himself speaking out about LGBTQ+ issues and picked up a mainstream following after being nominated for a Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1991.

Peeblesshire News: O’Grady began his career by performing as Lily Savage in the 1970s O’Grady began his career by performing as Lily Savage in the 1970s (Image: Tony Harris/PA Wire/PA Images)

O’Grady’s career as Lily Savage took off with TV and radio appearances in character and he was eventually asked to take over from Paula Yates as The Big Breakfast presenter as Savage from 1995 to 1996.

The presenter took on chat show The Lily Savage Show for the BBC for a short run in 1997 and later that year had success as the host of a revived version of gameshow Blankety Blank which ran until 2002.

Fans remember Paul O’Grady’s drag persona Lily Savage

On social media, people have been paying tribute to Paul O’Grady’s legendary drag act Lily Savage, speaking about how O’Grady made history for the drag and LGBTQ+ community.

James Barr, comedian and radio presenter tweeted: “Paul O’Grady was in the trenches fighting for our community during the HIV & AIDS epidemic, she took drag mainstream, she made our mums howl with laughter and normalised gay people on TV by being utterly vile. I can’t imagine a world without her. A truly brave and hilarious man x”

Another person said: “Paul O’Grady was the Mother of British Drag. When the Police raided the Royal Vauxhall Tavern during the AIDS crisis wearing rubber gloves, Paul dressed as Lily onstage, quipped “Oh look, they’ve come to help with the washing up”. Give ‘em hell Lil.”

Also commending Savage's legacy, someone said: “As Lily Savage in the 80s and 90s Paul O’Grady was a really important performer and activist in the fight against AIDS and inadequate AIDS healthcare. Lily Savage did numerous benefit gigs that most people will never know about, including 2 in Belfast. Drag queens for life.”