Paul O’Grady on panto, Lily going posh, and starring with strippers

10:23 03 December 2012

Paul O

Paul O'Grady as Lily Savage as Widow Twankey in Aladdin A Wish Come True at The O2. Picture: Alastair Muir


For most people, leading the cast in an all-singing-all-dancing show twice daily would be quite enough toil for the festive season, but then Paul O’Grady isn’t most people.

As well as starring in Aladdin A Wish Come True, an extravaganza of a musical pantomime, he also has a book to promote (Still Standing: The Savage Years, the third instalment of his life story to date), his weekly Radio 2 show to present and filming to complete for a TV Christmas special for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. Here, he speaks to Vicky Edwards about panto, performing and more.

Do you still keep Lily in a bin liner in your garage?

No, she’s gone posh. The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool did an exhibition of all her costumes last year so she’s hanging up in polythene bags on dress rails now. It’s all very orderly and smart.

Did you love panto as a nipper?

I only ever saw a couple of pantos as a kid. The walk down [the elaborate traditional panto curtain call] always gets me because I remember being a kid and thinking: “Awwr, I’d like to be in that.”

What advice would you give to anyone making their panto debut?

You need stamina, so you’ve got to eat. And you do have to give it 110 per cent. You’ve got gangs of rowdy kids and you’ve got to rise above the racket of that and get them on your side. Most of all you’ve got to get them to believe in it. And you’ve got to keep smiling. Normally it’s the villain that gets all the stick so you really have to be on your toes if you’re the villain.

Apart from a great script and telling the story, what makes a good panto?

I’ve seen some really good amateur productions with people really giving it their all. Forget all the special effects. You need enthusiasm and a cast that really gives it everything they’ve got.

Where does the new book start from and take us up to?

It starts in the present day and then goes back to the ‘80s and a pub in Leeds where I was on at lunchtime with two strippers. It’s all about that decade of working in clubs and pubs before eventually getting offered telly and theatre work.

You have lots of animals. Have you ever been tempted to train them and incorporate them into an act?

None of my dogs will sit when I tell them; they just look at me as if I’m a maniac. But Tom, my pig, gets it. He sits on command. You say ‘circus pig!’ and he stands on his hind trotters and then you say ‘roll over pig!’ and he rolls over on his side. People say I should go on Britain’s Got Talent but it would be a very short act!

• Aladdin A Wish Come True runs at The Theatre at The O2 from Friday, December 7 to Saturday, January 5.

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