Why did Paul O'Grady give up the chat show He couldn't stand the guests!
It’s a good job Paul O’Grady’s landed his dream job on the new Coronation Street musical, because wild horses wouldn’t drag him back to the sofa…
Career change: It's a good job Paul O'Grady's landed his dream job on the new Coronation Street musical, because wild horses wouldn't drag him back to the sofa…
Paul O’Grady has got the bit between his teeth. He’s talking about chat shows. Or, rather, why he decided to chuck in ITV1’s Paul O’Grady Live. And, boy, does Paul talk.
‘I felt I was part of the PR machine. There was so much interference. They’d want this guest or that guest. Every question had to go through the lawyers. I was just another plug for someone’s book or film.
‘And I can tell you I saw some dross
and read some rubbish, but I was too polite to say, “This is shameful.
How you’ve got the nerve to publish this is beyond me.” So I’d say, “Oh,
I really enjoyed your book,” but I was thinking, “I can’t do this any
‘Guests would be on
the couch coked off their minds. They’d start conversations, forget what
they were saying, go onto something else.
'When I was doing my daytime
show (The Paul O’Grady Show) I’d feel like self-mutilating under the
desk thinking, “They’re going to swear. It’s 5pm. There are kids
As soon as the ad break came I’d fly off and say, “They’re off their face on coke. I can’t handle this. It’s live telly.”’
But hang on a minute Paul, hang on. Hadn’t the audiences plummeted
we led to believe it was ITV that dumped you
‘No, not at all. In fact
they asked me to come back this year with Paul O’Grady Live but it was
time to go.’
Either way, Paul’s blown apart the cosy
image of the TV chat show in less than a minute. And he’s off again.
‘I’d be sitting there and, if they were in a soap, they’d be talking
about the long hours they worked or their Jimmy Choos,’ he says. ‘I
wasn’t interested in b***** shoes.
It would flash across my mind, “You’re sitting here talking about shoes and there’s a man dying in my bed.”’
He’s talking about his partner of 25 years and former manager Brendan Murphy, who died of brain cancer seven years ago, which goes to the nub of what Paul, 56, is trying to explain.
Although he’s always lived alone, he nursed Murphy through the last six weeks of his life. The dreadful rollercoaster of those weeks, as he watched the man he loved slip away, continues to trouble him.
Then a couple of months ago his dear friend, newspaper columnist Sue Carroll, died of pancreatic cancer on Christmas night. She was only 58 and Paul was beside himself.
‘She was smashing,’ he says. ‘It’s such a waste it sickens me. She just picked the short straw. Too many of my friends have.
Corrie the Musical! Paul with Coronation Street actors Julie Goodyear, Kevin Kennedy, Brian Capron, William Roache and Katy Cavanagh, pictured as past and present members of the British soap
Last year there were so many deaths I was scared to pick up the phone.’
These deaths have changed him.
Suddenly he’s reached a point where everything seems trivial compared to the big stuff, so he’s decided to concentrate on things he enjoys. Which is why we meet on ITV’s Coronation Street set where he’s filming segments for Street Of Dreams, a live musical tribute to Britain’s longest-running soap that premieres in Manchester next month.
The show is a trip back through 50 years of the Street, revisiting momentous events and iconic characters along with song-and-dance routines, and Paul is hosting the whole shebang. It’s a dream come true for him because it’s the soap he was brought up on. Born the youngest of three children in Birkenhead, Merseyside, he says it might just as well have been Weatherfield.
‘There was a woman just like Elsie
Tanner round the corner and we had our own Ena Sharples down the road,’
he says. ‘Watching Coronation Street was like watching the inner
workings of the lives of people we knew.’
Today, he’s as giddy as a barfly
during happy hour at the Rovers Return when we meet on the cobbled
‘I feel like a child on their first visit to Disneyland,’ he
burbles. ‘I’m standing here thinking, “Oh my God, I’m on Coronation
Street,” then out of the smoke and shadows Bet Lynch appears.
Happy family: Paul with daughter Sharyn and grandson Abel
That’s right, Julie Goodyear with the full Bet Lynch hairpiece, earrings, leopardskin coat. We’re filming with dry ice – it’s magical, a very Alice In Wonderland experience.’
Paul has always been a dreamer. As a boy, he wanted to live like the fictional Pippi Longstocking in a house full of animals with no responsibilities.
Today, he has three dogs, two pigs, countless chickens and ducks, an owl and a sheep that thinks it’s a dog and wanders into the kitchen at his Kent farmhouse. He now shares his life with former ballet dancer Andre, but continues to live alone. ‘If I want to get up at 5am and run through the fields with no shoes on, I can. I like my own company. I like space to think.’
Paul, you see, thinks a lot. He’s in the middle of his third and final autobiography which, he says, has forced him to ‘dig deep’ into the truth about himself. His first book, At My Mother’s Knee, introduced us to his mum Molly and two aunts Chrissie and Anne, who along with every outspoken Merseyside housewife contributed to the DNA of his viciously hilarious alter ego Lily Savage.
It also told us Paul had become a dad at 17. ‘I was terrified when I saw Sharyn (his baby daughter),’ he says.
‘I wasn’t around for her childhood but now we’re older we’re very, very close and I adore her kids.’ (Paul has two grandchildren, Abel, five, and Halo, two.)
The book sold more than a million
copies. The final instalment will bring us up to the present day and
includes Murphy’s death, which brought about the end of Lily too.
still get days when I think, “Where the hell is Murphy when I need him”
Andre’s smashing, but he’ll never be Murphy. When you’re with someone
25 years they’re family.
‘We used to fight like cat and dog. We
were two alpha males vying to be top dog. He was a tricky b****** and I
can be tricky too. We’d have real punchups.
‘I like living alone. If I want to run barefoot in the fields at 5am I can’
But I’d tell him everything. Suddenly, I was totally on my own. That’s when I said, “Lily’s going.” Because he’d always been here with Lily. I thought, “I can’t do it any more.” So she sort of died with him.’
Murphy was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2005 within days of Paul receiving his BAFTA for The Paul O’Grady Show. Six weeks later he was dead.
‘I said to Barbara Windsor when I won the BAFTA, “I’m going to pay for this,”’ says Paul. ‘And by God I did.
‘But Jackie Collins was fabulous. We got very close over that period. Her husband went the same way and we emailed each other every day. She’d ring up and say, “How’s it going Stay on in there.” It’s watching somebody slipping through your fingers and there’s nothing you can do. I was with him when he died. I said, “Go, Murphy. Don’t be hanging round.” And off he went.’
A year after Murphy’s death Paul suffered a near-fatal heart attack, his second in four years. He blames ‘the four Cs – Carlton television, cigarettes, cholesterol and caffeine,’ but should probably add ‘congenital’ as both his parents died of heart disease.
‘When hearts were handed out in our family, they gave us the job lot of pokey old ones,’ he jokes, but he continues to miss his mum like mad.
‘I think it’s bad for fellas when they lose their mothers. Mine was such a character. Oh it was sad, really sad. And, with her gone, the family home was gone, so what was left of any roots I had were completely dug up. There was nowhere to go back to when the going gets tough.’
Paul was in his local supermarket when he began to suffer pains in his chest.
‘I felt so ill I had to sit down by the yoghurts for a while. I did my shopping, went home and went to bed, thinking, “Oh God, I don’t feel well at all.” Then it went. I woke up at 2am in agony. I lay there until 9am when Sean, who works for me, came in and I staggered down the stairs. I said, “Run us to the hospital. I’ve had a heart attack.” I didn’t think I was going to die. I didn’t think it was my time.’
As a lapsed Catholic, does Paul believe in an afterlife
‘I believe in something, not a man with a beard and a flowing white robe,’ he says.
‘But I’ve a need for something spiritual. Years ago when Murphy and me were in Venice sat in St Mark’s Square and we were a bit drunk, I said, “If I die first Murphy, when you die you’ll find me here.” He said, “OK, this is where we’ll meet.” We were going to dance to a tango. So that’s what’s going to happen. When I snuff it, there’ll be two ghosts on St Mark’s Square. We’ll meet up again.’
Street Of Dreams premieres at Manchester Arena this spring. 0844 847 8000; www.men-arena.com