Paul O'Grady awarded Wirral's highest honour in special ceremony

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The legendary entertainer, who was born in Birkenhead, died suddenly in March this year.

The late Paul O’Grady has been awarded Wirral's highest honour at a private ceremony in his hometown.

The legendary entertainer, who was born in Birkenhead, died suddenly in March this year, aged 67, prompting a huge outpouring of love and tributes from across the country and beyond.

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In July, councillors voted unanimously to honour the star ‘who never forgot his roots’.

During a special service held in Birkenhead Town Hall on Tuesday (November 14), Paul’s husband Andre, sister Sheila, daughter Sharyn and grandchildren gathered to receive Honorary Freedom of the Borough award on his behalf, before a civic dinner for invited guests.

The family were joined by the Mayor and Mayoress of Wirral, the Leader of Wirral Council, the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside (Mr Robert Owen) as well as other family members, and close friends.

Paul’s family were presented with a scroll which depicted snapshots of Paul’s early life including images of his place of birth, St Catherine’s hospital and his alter-ego Lilly Savage’s place of birth - outside the Legs of Man pub.

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Other illustrations included; Paul’s family home at Holly Grove, Birkenhead Park gates (which were close to his secondary school) and the No 11 bus he used to take, Birkenhead library, where he was a frequent visitor with his mum, Molly. And of course, his beloved dogs, Buster and Olga.

For the Love of Paul: the TV icon is laid to rest in a private service (Pic:Getty)For the Love of Paul: the TV icon is laid to rest in a private service (Pic:Getty)
For the Love of Paul: the TV icon is laid to rest in a private service (Pic:Getty) | Getty Images

The Honorary Freedom of the Borough is the highest award the Council can give – only 12 individuals and groups have had this honour bestowed upon them and it is only awarded to someone who has made an exceptional contribution to the borough.

Cllr Jerry Williams, Mayor of Wirral, said: “Paul O’Grady exemplified the best that our borough has to offer. Birkenhead-born, he dazzled his way to the national stage as Lily Savage but never forgot his roots.

“Sharing stories with his family and friends as they received the Freedom of the Borough on his behalf, in the town where it all began, it was never more clear that his warmth, kindness and determination leave a lasting legacy.

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“Paul was a man of great humour – a true entertainer – but also fearless and passionate in his support of the causes close to his heart. He remains a national treasure and British cultural icon, and as such it is only fitting that we bestow this rare honour in his memory. On behalf of the people of Wirral, I’d like to thank Paul’s family for celebrating his life with us.”

The Mayor continued: “It is my great honour, on behalf of the Council – and the people of Wirral – to present these scrolls to Paul’s family, which we hope will provide a permanent reminder of the esteem that this borough holds for its newest Freeman - the broadcaster, comedian, actor, writer, campaigner, friend, cousin, uncle, grandad, brother, father and husband. The unique and irreplaceable Son of Birkenhead, Paul O’Grady MBE DL, Freeman of Wirral.”

Following the scroll presentation, guests were treated to a performance by pupils from Paul’s former primary school, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary in Birkenhead who sang ‘Thank you for being a friend’ (the Golden Girls theme) and ‘This is me’ (from The Greatest Showman).

Alex Turner, Headteacher at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary, said: “It was a real privilege for our school to represent the Borough in paying tribute to one of our school’s former pupils, Paul O’Grady. As a performer and campaigner, we felt it was apt to honour him with songs about the importance of friendship, integrity and being true to yourself – as Paul embodied these traits entirely.”

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