Remembering Lily Savage's iconic performance with Barbara Windsor and Cilla Black

29 March 2023, 10:07

TV personality and comedian Paul O’Grady dies unexpectedly aged 67

By Mayer Nissim

Three pop culture legends have left us – we celebrate all three with a reminder of this all-time classic performance.

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The world woke this morning to the sad news of the death of Paul O'Grady, aged just 67.

In the past couple of decades, Paul ruled the airwaves as himself, but for a generation, he'll always be remembered for his era-defining turn as the caustically funny Lily Savage.

From her early days on the drag circuit through to a Royal Vauxhall Tavern residency and TV success, Lily became arguably the most famous drag queen in British history.

If any single moment underlined Lily's total conquering of the mainstream, it was this classic performance at the 2001 Royal Variety Performance alongside Cilla Black and Barbara Windsor.

They performed 'You Gotta Have a Gimmick' from the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim musical Gypsy, and it was everything you would expect and more.

Lily Savage - Barbara Windsor - Cilla Black - GYPSY

It opens with a nipple-tassel-twirling Lily, trumpet and all, before an equally fishnetted and bedazzled Cilla Black pops out and gives a few verses before teeing up her light-up-heart bra and knickers.

"Mind you don't singe yerself," drawled an unimpressed Lily in response. "I blame HRT for this."

Then things go next level, with Barbara Windsor emerging in what can only be called a butterfly frock to finish things off. It has to be seen to be believed.

The Lily Savage Show trailer

The performance, which was watched by a massive 11.5 million people on TV, came at a vital time for Paul, who had recently recovered from a spell of clinical depression.

It followed his Paul O'Grady's Orient and Paul O'Grady's America TV series, which had hinted at a post-Lily future, though didn't come close to suggesting just how popular he would become over the next couple of decades.

All three icons are now sadly no longer with us, but we'll always remember them wowing Queen Elizabeth II and the rest of us that night in London.