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I grew up wearing Dad’s high heels – but I don’t think he knew he was gay when I was born, says Paul O’Grady’s daughter

SHARYN MOUSLEY had three very special parents – her mum Diane Jansen, her father Paul O’Grady and a wicked stepmother called Lily Savage.

A year after the death of the much-loved entertainer, she has revealed what it was like being brought up by one of Britain’s best-loved drag acts.

A tell-all documentary surrounding the life of TV personality Paul O’Grady, who died last year, is set to be released

Paul’s daughter Sharyn Mousley insists being raised by the drag queen was unique, educational and, at times, downright terrifyingRex

Sharyn, 49, insists it was unique, educational and, at times, downright terrifying. But having Paul as a dad never felt weird.

She explains in her first major TV interview: “People say to me now, ‘Isn’t it strange that Paul O’Grady’s your dad and Lily Savage?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know any different’.

“I remember going to the shop for him, and the guy would say, ‘Are you coming in for your dad’s tights?’ and I’d be like ‘Yeah, have you got tan and black?’ That was just normal.

“He used to leave me in the flat and go to work and I used to love looking at his make-up. I remember walking round the flat in his thigh-high boots thinking I was so grown up. I think I was about 13.”

Sharyn shares her cherished memories of her father in the documentary The Life And Death Of Lily Savage, which airs next week on ITV1.

Filled with laughter and celebration, it is the perfect tribute to Paul, who died unexpectedly on March 28 last year, aged 67, as a result of sudden cardiac arrhythmia.

The tragic loss brought to an end a career in showbusiness that began in 1978, when he first created his female alter ego.

Beaming from ear to ear, Sharyn recalls how, at the age of five, when most children were still learning to read, her dad had taught her every word of the musical Gypsy.

‘He didn’t know if he was gay’

The stage show tells the story of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, who was actually one of the inspirations for Lily.

Then, when she turned seven, showman Paul gave his girl a celebration with her pals she would never forget.

Sharyn says: “I was having a birthday party and my dad said, ‘I’ve got a great surprise for you. He swallows this fluid and then starts fire-eating.

“This was in my mum’s little flat and there were all scorch marks on the ceiling, and all the girls were screaming, ‘It’s a fire, it’s a fire!’

“I was mortified, but he’s still blowing fire. I mean, I was seven — I wanted a clown.”

Despite getting a crash course into the world of showbiz courtesy of her father, she wasn’t immediately allowed to be introduced to Lily when she was very young.

Sharyn, now a grandmother of two who was given away by Paul on her wedding day, says: “I wasn’t allowed to see a lot of Lily when I was little, I think because of the language.

“And I didn’t understand a lot of the jokes anyway.

“As I got older I went to see Lily. It was a lot to take in because he was my dad and, at the end of the day, he’s in six-inch heels in a massive blonde wig.

“Lily had a vile tongue. I mean, my dad did as well, but he got away with more dressed as a character.
“He could say things he couldn’t say as Paul, so he got away with murder.”

Sharyn’s birth was the result of a brief relationship he had with his pal Diane, now 77, in the early Seventies in Liverpool.

Sharyn said: “I think he didn’t know if he was gay or straight when I was born. Then he went to London and started a new career.”

That was in the late Seventies, when he first came up with the idea for Lily who, despite being a sex worker whose main trade was dock workers in her native Liverpool, wasn’t that far removed from Paul himself.

He was born in 1955 and spent most of his formative years in Birkenhead, on the western side of the River Mersey, while Liverpool was a ferry ride away on the east side.

In the documentary, archive recordings have Paul talking about his formative steps into the city’s gay scene when he was just a teenager.

Mousley wasn’t immediately allowed to be introduced to Lily Savage when she was youngRex

He says: “Liverpool was a thriving port and a thriving port meant thriving sailors.

“If you went into the gay bars then with a gang of sailors you were instantly branded as a tart and I absolutely revelled in this notoriety.

“I used to work in a pub and all the sailors used to come in and a gang of Chinese sailors came in one night. So off I went for a Chinese with them — it was the best food ever, booze flowing.

“I went into the pub the next night and there was a very sardonic barman called Brian there and he said, ‘Oh here she is, Shanghai Lily’.

“That’s where it came from, so it stuck and I was known as Shanghai Lil. There’s a lot of my Aunty Chrissie in Lily too. She used to think she was Marlene Dietrich — and she was a clippy on the buses.

“She had a lot of one-liners and was the talk of Birkenhead.”

But Paul knew he was only going to find fame if he moved to London, where he spent most of the Eighties performing by night as Lily.

His outrageous brand of comedy proved an instant hit.

I first met him as Lily, not Paul

Sir Ian McKellen

Pal Julian Clary recalled how he once had a set of business cards printed which read: “Lily Savage: Riot consultant — Brixton, Toxteth, Los Angeles.” His days were spent as a social worker helping children from broken homes, and he described himself at the time as being:

“Like a very strange Mary Poppins.”

It was while performing as Lily that he met some of his many famous friends who appear in the documentary, including Shakespearean legend Sir Ian McKellen.

The Lord Of The Rings star said: “I first met him as Lily, not Paul.

“It was in Edinburgh, both doing publicity for our shows, and I arrived quite early in the morning.

“He was already there, dressed as Lily, and we were friends thereafter and I invited Paul to the premiere of my film, Richard III.

“Paul used to carry Lily around in big plastic bags, you know, and those outrageous beehive wigs. They were not carefully looked after — they were just dumped in a black bin bag and his costumes the same.

“I don’t know how long it took him to put on the make-up. I never saw him — I wish I did.

“He couldn’t really have been as outrageous as a man as he could be with the mask.”

‘Head office said she pushes it too far’

Although Lily Savage was already a huge star in London’s bars and clubs, it took Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan to invite him on to ITV’s This Morning to make her a household name in the Nineties.

Although it was daytime TV, she was still outrageous, once telling a wronged woman who called in for advice to get revenge by sewing raw prawns into the hems of the man’s curtains.

Richard recalls: “When we first used Lily Savage on the programme we got calls from our head office in Manchester saying, ‘We can’t have her on again — she pushes it too far, she’s over-the-top’.

“We said, ‘You’re wrong, you couldn’t be more wrong’.

“Lily became a mainstay of This Morning. She understood exactly how far she could go and exactly how far to push the envelope.
“Back then you didn’t really see that many spoof working-class women on TV, but you didn’t see many really working-class women either, and Lily was the perfect fusion of the two.

“She was a caricature, but still a representation of working-class northern reality — a particularly Liverpudlian Scouse reality.”

Viewers lapped up Lily and within a few years she found herself interviewing huge stars on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast, hosting Blankety Blank for the BBC and even getting her own An Audience With . . . show.

Then, in 2004, Paul decided it was over and Lily should finally be put to rest.

He was tired of having to constantly dress up and, according to one pal, he had developed varicose veins as a result of those high heels.

Paul says in the documentary: “I just said to my manager, ‘I’m not doing this any more’.

“I just thought, I’ve got to change — I’ve got to have a change.”

Sharyn shares her cherished memories of her father in the documentary

But after making pals with the likes of Blind Date presenter Cilla Black and Carry On legend Barbara Windsor, there was no way he was going to retire completely from showbusiness.

Paul even admitted: “Once you’ve been used to the high life you can’t go back.”

He never did look back. Instead he had huge success with his self-named chat show on Channel 4 and ITV, as well as For The Love Of Dogs and several spin-off animal documentaries.

In 2008 he went to Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE for services to entertainment.

Alongside Paul was his daughter Sharyn, who couldn’t have been prouder of him — or Lily.

What was Paul O’Grady’s cause of death?

Paul died from sudden cardiac arrhythmia.

This happens when a person dies from a cardiac arrest, and no obvious cause can be found.

A cardiac arrest is when the heart stops completely, unlike a heart attack where the heart speeds up to an uncontrolled rhythm.

He died at home, which was revealed on his death certificate.

Paul suffered from a range of health issues during his life, including heart attacks in 2002, 2006 and 2014.

His husband Andre Portasio shared the sad news on the morning of March 29, 2023.

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