It will have been early 1988 when the campaign was at its height to prevent an obnoxious Bill becoming law, which was to make it a criminal offence for a local authority (read 'teachers') to promote homosexuality. Our side's 'anti' campaign itself was unsuccessful as the then Mrs Thatcher's government managed to get her Bill through Parliament in the Summer of that year where it remained for a further 17 years until Tony Blair's Labour government got it rescinded without too much trouble. In fact throughout that law's active life not one single prosecution under it had been made, not helped by no one agreeing on exactly what 'promotion of....' actually meant. (All this, of course, was while AIDS was ravaging the country, knocking gay men over like skittles - a gleeful gift to the gay-hating bigots). But much of the energy of our side's anti-law campaign was on the lines of 'if this gets through, what comes next?' - the answer to which, if not worded as the British law was, can depressingly be seen happening right now in the U.S.A.
As part of the 'anti' campaign there were a number of events in support of that side, including theatrical charity dos. In London there were two such which I attended, possibly the biggest one being in one of that city's largest West End theatres, the 1,200 seater Piccadilly theatre, with a large number of stars, including internationals, making a brief 5-minute appearance to make their support known. I can't list all the names now, the long tally-call being quite breath-taking, though I'll still have the programme somewhere - but I do remember Dame Edna Everidge, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Bates, Alan Bennett, Harold Pinter (and, I think, Tom Stoppard), Simon Rattle with his then wife, the cast of 'EastEnders' and 'Les Mis', Gary Oldman and Sheila Hancock did the seduction scene from Joe Orton's 'Entertaining Mr Sloane'.....and, making their very first live performance ever, the Pet Shop Boys who performed, highly appropriately, 'It's a Sin' (and, I think, 'Always on My Mind').......plus Lily Savage, who was yet to become a national figure though by then very well known on the gay scene. I'd seen her before and, frankly, hadn't cared for her, she striking me as relentlessly bitter and humourless, unless you thought that hurling 'f' and 'c' words with no wit at various celebrities and politicians, was side-splittingly funny which some, indeed, did. I thought his material was all too shallow. Anyway, he did his predictable routine leaving me duly unimpressed. Then after this show I had booked to go straight to another similar event at one of London smaller theatres, half the size of the Piccadilly, with another cast list of more big names but mainly those from the gay circuits. And once again Lily Savage was on that programme too. She came on, same dress as before, and did the very same act which I'd just seen. I was sitting in an end seat on about the third row from the stage, quite conspicuously placed as it was jutting out into a side aisle. In the middle of her piece she suddenly stopped and looked directly at me, probably noticing because I was sitting there, rigid, unsmiling and rather bored despite her best efforts - and it was a looooong, silent, icy, 'if-looks-could-kill' glare. The audience hushed, and I could sense them starting to look for what had caught her attention though I didn't dare to glance around myself. I could have put an end to the dreadful moment there and then by just giving a smile and a thumbs-up, allowing her a sense of relief, but I was frozen into immobility, face and all. Then, after what seemed an eternity, with blood rushing to my cheeks, she looked away. I was certain she must say something, but she didn't. She just carried on with her venomous spiel. She'd have forgotten the moment with me two minutes later, and compared with the vicious heckling she must have got in her early career up to then, it would have been nothing. Yet here am I, over 30 years later, still recalling and cringeing at the memory of that moment of 'nothingness'!
By the time Paul O'Grady died unexpectedly in his sleep the day before yesterday at the age of just 67 (nine years younger than I am now. Eek!) he'd been accorded the now rather over-used accolade of 'national treasure' which is probably fair. He'd ditched the Lily Savage persona for good about 15 years ago and has been appearing on national television since the mid-90s, though in latter years only as his true self, a warm, genial host - a side of him with qualities which Lily Savage's character was devoid and I hadn't been aware of. He was a popular chat-show host, as well as for game shows, though he did also do the occasional theatre appearances, such as the child-catcher in 'Chitty' at the London Palladium - and he was when he died, appearing in Edinburgh as Miss Hannigan on a national tour production of 'Annie', which would actually next week have been in Southampton, just 50 miles along the south coast from where I am.
Paul became particularly well-known for his concern for animals - for which he gets a huge plus from me! - and, in particular, for rescued dogs, the subject of a popular regular TV programme. He leaves behind a husband (rather good-looking, I must say) as well as a daughter from a previous marriage.
Everyone's parting is sad, and it seems my briefest of briefs 'interaction' with him, if one can even call it that, did not do justice to the man.