Celebrating Paul O’Grady: A Scouse Drag Icon’s Enduring Influence

Lily Savage

Liverpool comedy drag performer, Filla Crack, share their reflections on the indispensable legacy of the working-class drag icon, Paul O’Grady, aka Lily Savage. They also their upcoming charity event, a fitting tribute to the star who left an indelible mark on the city, the drag scene and the entertainment world.

As a young working class gay lad from Liverpool, seeing Lily Savage streamed live into our homes on a Saturday Night was the representation people like me needed to see. Skip decades ahead, having watched Paul O’Grady continue on a majorly successful career (still touring with Annie the Musical and due to appear at The Liverpool Empire before sadly passing away) it’s fair to say Paul left a legacy. One of which is pure inspiration for people like me, who ended up joining the whacky world of drag. To feel there is a career for us, through representation, whilst also having hope and understanding that we can play these comedy characters, whilst also having morals.

A drag queen who swears but also cares? Absolutely.

We all know the North / South divide is real, look at HS2 for example. The media likes to push out narratives of us working class being rude, unwilling to work, abusing drink / drugs, brash, unhealthy, tasteless. Now think about that. The word “queer” has historically been used as a slur, meaning “strange / odd,” but used as a weapon to offend people who fall away from sexuality and gender norms, so to reclaim the word takes back power. I think that’s exactly what Paul did with charm, in a comedic way. To play into the stereotypes takes away power from the slurs, but to be horribly funny whilst doing it, is typically Northern. We win when we claim our culture. I might start identifying as a pauper.

So it’s fair to say, when Paul passed away, the city felt a loss, especially amongst the drag scene. For those of my generation and those before us, we adored the character and the man behind the dark roots, fishnets, charm and offense. We all have admiration for celebrities, peers, and those who live in the limelight, so to see the media presence and tributes pour in after Paul’s passing rippled through the city, the media, and the drag community.

We all felt the loss and wanted to mourn and celebrate his life. But, in times we lose an idol, understand it’s important to remember they are human and let those near and dear deal with the loss in a way they feel fit, whether they choose to mourn and celebrate his life publicly or privately.  

Cut to a few weeks later, Carla Lane Animals In Need posted an image of empty dog food shelves on social media, the first thing I thought was “if Paul was here now, he wouldn’t have that!” I called upon a few drags in the city and suggested we celebrate Lily as the drag community in Liverpool, whilst also helping those in need. Entertainment and charity? Perfect. 

Savage! A Celebration of Lily Savage, is an arts market with food and drink which will feature drag performances, hosted at Birkenhead Arts Palace on Sunday 8 October. Entry is free and all proceeds will go to Carla Lane Animals In Need. Dogs are welcome (and cash preferred.) There is still space for stallholders, so contact Filla Crack here for information.

The community has come together to create an event nodding to the area where Paul was brought up. I’m so very proud our scene can pull together for a worthy cause. Our drag queens, kings and things are the new generation of drag. We hold space to represent the future of gender bending art and working class representation. This event is more than just a fundraiser, it’s an excuse to celebrate the community spirit us Northerners do best.

Savage! A Celebration of Lily Savage
Sunday 8 October
From 5pm
Birkenhead Arts Palace, 128 Whitford Road