TV: Paul O'Grady talks to the animals

Paul O'Grady returns in For The Love Of Dogs on Thursday. Picture courtesy of PA Photo/Battersea Dogs and Cats Home/ Shiver Production/ITV

Paul O'Grady returns in For The Love Of Dogs on Thursday. Picture courtesy of PA Photo/Battersea Dogs and Cats Home/ Shiver Production/ITV

First published in Leisure News © by

Paul O'Grady is a brilliant and unashamed name dropper. The late Lauren Bacall, a regular on his chat show, was "prickly but wonderful. She had no time for fools, been there, seen it and done it... I love them like that," says the Liverpudlian, in that recognisable cigarette-laden voice.

Lady Gaga's 'a sweetheart'. "I love the bones of Gaga," he exclaims. "We hit it off [when she came on] and I get little cards from her."

And then there's Take That, who he remembers meeting when they were starting out and he was in drag, compering a club night.

"I came into the dressing room with a pint of cider and a fag, dressed as Lily Savage, and remember going, 'God bless 'em, do you think they'll make it?'" he laughs.

And so the anecdotes continue. And frankly, you could listen to him for hours. "I'm writing another book at the moment, so I get carried away," admits O'Grady, who's already published a three-volume autobiography.

Not all his celebrity meetings evoke fond memories, however. Jackie Mason's just one he can recall. "I find American comedians are [tricky] because the chat shows over there are often quite brittle, with lots of snippiness, so they come on all guns blazing. But the big stars aren't monsters."

And, despite the faint cuts on his arms, nor are the canines he works with at Battersea Dog And Cats Home for his series For The Love Of Dogs.

An animal lover, and an ambassador for the charity, the 59-year-old finds it impossible to film a series without adopting another addition for his ever-evolving family.

"It's deadly in there. You go, 'No, I'm not going to get fond of anything', and of course you can't help it. I should have aversion therapy and turn into Cruella De Vil!"

Unfortunately one of his dogs, Eddie, isn't so keen on newcomers and took particular dislike to a boxer staffy puppy O'Grady brought home.

"Eddie hated her, and because she was so passive and gentle, he bullied her ruthlessly."

For her own good, she was rehoused. "God, I was upset, it was ridiculous," he says shaking his head. Fortunately, another attempt, with a Labrador puppy this time, has proven a greater success. Eddie might not like her either "but she's ballsy, so will have a go at him, and you'll see him retreat".

He reveals the scratches on his arms are actually down to the new pup. "I think she sees me as a chew toy. Everybody else she jumps around, but with me it's, 'Let's drag him down the carpet!'"

Despite suffering two heart attacks in 2002 and 2006 and an angina attack in 2013, O'Grady is looking well and reveals he feels "smashing".

"The worse thing for your health is to sit down on the sofa, count your tablets and watch daytime TV," he states.

Following the last scare, he was out of hospital on Thursday and back at work on the Monday. "My cardiologist rang me and said, 'What are you doing? You said you'd take it easy?' I said, 'I am'. It's a state of mind really, and how you respond to it, because I know people who enjoy bad health."

He also attributes his new lease of life to clean-living, and camping, on his farm in Kent. "Down there, you do a lot of hiking about, whether you want to or not," he says.

The farm is now home to nine sheep, six pigs, six chickens, five barn owls, four dogs, two goats (along with a wild pheasant named Archie who's taken to living with them) and a one-legged crow.

"We put bird food out and he started hanging around. Now he sits on the table and I say, 'How's tricks kid?'"

O'Grady often talks to the dogs he meets at Battersea, too, and confesses he cringed watching footage from For The Love Dogs. "I thought, 'When did I turn into Catherine Tate's [comedy character] Nan?' I go in the kennels going, 'How are you sweetheart?' I've never called anyone sweetheart! So I realise I go completely soft."

The soft-touch might explain why his sheep have almost reached double-figures.

"I say no more and then someone turns up with an orphan lamb and I think, 'The farmers don't have time to bottle feed a lamb every two hours, so I'll take it' and the next thing you've bonded. But it's impossible not to bond with a lamb," he insists, particularly when you're integral to their safe arrival.

"I didn't even know one of our sheep was pregnant and heard her kicking off in the barn. I went in and there's a leg sticking out."

After removing his "nice sweater" and telling himself to get a grip, O'Grady successfully delivered the breech lamb.

"I walked out the barn like I'd been reborn. There should've been music behind me," he laughs.

Known for his larger than life, acerbic-tongued alter ego Lily Savage, who emerged in the capital's clubs four decades ago and retired in 2004, the idea of O'Grady toiling on the land might seem strange to some, but he doesn't think so.

"It's not a chore. Well, it is in the winter when there's a six-foot snowdrift."

In fact, while he was born in Merseyside, he's of Irish descent and spent a lot of his childhood on a farm in Ireland "so it's second nature to me to milk a cow".

"I remember my uncle said, 'Come and see this calf that's just been born. I must've been about five, but remember it vividly." It's why he tries to emulate such experiences with his grandchildren (although openly gay, O'Grady had a daughter with a friend, who's gone on to have two children).

"I put them in with the pigs and sheep. At first, they were a bit scared, but they're fine now."

O'Grady still has a flat in London and admits he loves the city "as much as I did when I stepped off that coach in Victoria in the Seventies".

"I've got the best [of both worlds] because I can enjoy it in London and then go down to the farm and sit with an owl on my shoulder."

If he's not working in the capital, he's catching up with friends, including Cilla Black, the woman he thinks of as a sister. "We talk to each other like you wouldn't believe," he exclaims.

"She's a tough cookie, Cilla. She's had stuff in the paper recently portraying her as a sad character and she's far from that. She has friends all over the world, a party animal." It was O'Grady who introduced the Blind Date presenter to Sheridan Smith, the actress depicting her in an upcoming drama for ITV.

"We had dinner and Sheridan was terrified but Cilla was really sweet," adds O'Grady, who muses it must be hard to see your life story unfold on screen.

"Cilla's not nervous about the production, but the reaction to it, and how she's going to feel seeing all that again," he explains.

"But I say to her, 'You can't remember last week, let alone the Cavern in the Sixties!'"

EXTRA TIME - IT'S A DOG'S (AND CAT'S) LIFE

  • Battersea Dogs & Cats Home was founded by Mrs Mary Tealby in 1860 and has looked after 3.1 million animals.
  • In 1881, the home received almost 16,000 dogs. This is compared to almost 9,000 animals in 2012.
  • Last year, 44% of the dogs and 47% of cats that came into the home were strays, but more 800 lost dogs and cats were reunited with their owners.
  • On average, the cats eat 58,944 pouches of cat food, while the dogs eat 42,384 tins of dog food. 
  • In 2013, the team at Battersea were assisted by more than 1,000 volunteers who donated over 91,000 hours of their free time.

For more information visit www.battersea.org.uk For The Love Of Dogs is back for another series on Thursday, September 4 Ends

 

 

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