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Paul O’Grady fans in awe of drag queen’s Pretty Polly campaign of 1990s

Paul O’Grady was a real LGBTQ+ icon (Picture: REX)

Fans of Paul O’Grady were left awe-struck following a reminder of his incredible advertising campaign with Pretty Polly.

The much-loved comedian and TV star died suddenly last month at the age of 67, and what followed was an outpouring of grief.

Confirming the devastating news, O’Grady’s husband, Andre Portasio, said: ‘It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening.

‘We ask, at this difficult time, that whilst you celebrate his life you also respect our privacy as we come to terms with this loss.

‘He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion.

‘I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years.’

The Blind Date star performed as drag queen Lily Savage (Picture: Nikki English/REX/Shutterstock)

Since his death, O’Grady has been honoured with several TV specials, including For the Love of Paul O’Grady, which took fans on a trip down memory lane on Easter Sunday.

One segment in particular that really stuck with viewers was the retelling of his drag career, as the Liverpudlian star performed as Lily Savage, bursting onto the gay scene back in the 1980s.

O’Grady’s alter ego got away with all kinds of mischief, solidifying her as a true LGBTQ+ icon, making one specific advertising campaign even more poignant decades later.

The documentary highlighted O’Grady as the face (or rather, legs) of Pretty Polly tights, featuring in a TV commercial to showcase the brand’s tights on her incredible pins.

And as the ITV film revived the clip – a moment that was so ahead of its time – viewers couldn’t help but note how attitudes to drag have shifted, and imagine whether the campaign would get the same response in 2023, given the drag bans sweeping the United States and proposals of harmful legislation around the world.

Lily became the face of brands from Oasis to Pretty Polly Tights (Picture: ITV/REX/Shutterstock)

‘Watching the Paul O’Grady tribute show. Imagine the backlash today if a drag queen was used to advertise tights’, wrote one Twitter user.

Another echoed: ‘Watching the ITV tribute #fortheloveofpaulogrady and just thinking how the Lily Savage tights ad, which were not a problem then, would not be shown today. Sad how many steps back we have gone.’

‘In the late 90s they had the famous drag queen Lily Savage fronting family game shows, morning breakfast shows and the face of ladies tights. Now there would be absolute carnage at the thought’, one added.

Another viewer argued that ‘drag queens and gay people were more accepted in the 90s’, saying society has moved ‘backwards’ while thanking O’Grady for his work.

Praising O’Grady’s activism and spirit, another penned: ‘Seeing all this about Lily Savage really highlights how crazy public figures are for saying Paul O Grady wasn’t ‘woke’. The fact that he wasn’t afraid to speak against things like the aids controversy is what made him so great.’

The much-loved star died suddenly in March, aged 67 (Picture: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Many others compared the response to O’Grady’s drag act to the treatment of the transgender community today, particularly the recent attacks on TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney.

Mulvaney – who has documented her transition with the world – has gained enormous popularity online, leading to brand deals with the likes of Nike and Bud Light which, shockingly, caused outrage, with transphobic comments slamming the brand for using her to advertise sports bras, and so on…

Comparing the stark contrast between the acceptance of drag in previous years and the backlash towards the mere existence of trans people today, one Twitter user wrote: ‘The difference in reactions between Paul O’Grady starring in a tights advert in the 90s and the current backlash against Dylan McVaney shows just how far western society has fallen recently on LGBTQ rights.’

Another said: ‘Just saw a tweet mentioning that Lily Savage used to advertise Pretty Polly tights and it totally was uncontroversial, immediately followed by a tweet showing some people absolutely losing their minds about a trans woman in an ad for a sports bra We have somehow regressed…’

O’Grady was certainly never shy about expressing his views, which is arguably what made him so loveable.

For instance, while performing as Lily at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London, an infamous police raid occurred during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Making light of the situation in typical Lily style, as officers stormed in wearing gloves, he joked: ‘Oh good, have you come to do the washing up?’

In fact, shortly before he died, the Blind Date host was gearing up to lead another trailblazing campaign.

O’Grady was reportedly planning to spearhead a campaign calling on police to apologise for the ‘historic persecution’ of the LGBT+ community, the BBC reported.

Speaking on Wednesday, campaigner Peter Tatchell confirmed that O’Grady, who was a patron of Tatchell’s foundation, would have led the initiative.

‘He was a fierce opponent of the Thatcher government over its attacks upon the LGBT+ community, particularly Section 28, and he was appalled by the levels of police harassment that were still going on right through the 1990s,’ he told the broadcaster.

For the Love of Paul O’Grady is available to stream on ITVX.

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