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Paul O’Grady celebrated with Honorary Freedom of the Borough in private ceremony

The late Paul O’Grady was awarded Honorary Freedom of the Borough in his hometown of Birkenhead for his achievements.

On 14 November 2023, Paul’s husband Andre, sister Sheila, daughter Sharyn, and grandchildren gathered in Birkenhead Town Hall to accept the award on his behalf, before a civic dinner for invited guests.

Paul O'Grady MBE DL celebrated with Honorary Freedom of the Borough in private ceremony
Children from Paul’s former school St Joseph’s Primary

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

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.

“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.”

During the event, Paul’s family was given a scroll depicting glimpses of Paul’s childhood, including photographs of his birthplace, St Catherine’s Hospital, and his alter-ego Lilly Savage’s birthplace outside the Legs of Man pub.

Paul O'Grady MBE DL celebrated with Honorary Freedom of the Borough in private ceremony
Paul’s sister Sheila and husband Andre enjoying the performance by children from St Joseph’s Primary

Paul’s family home at Holly Grove, Birkenhead Park gates (which were close to his secondary school), the No. 11 bus he used to take, and Birkenhead library, where he was a frequent visitor with his mother, Molly, were also depicted. Of course, he has his beloved dogs, Buster and Olga.

The Honorary Freedom of the Borough is the Council’s highest honour. Only 12 individuals and groups have received this honour, and it is only given to someone who has made an exceptional contribution to the borough. At an extraordinary meeting of the full Council in July 2023, it was decided that Paul O’Grady would receive this honour.

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.”

Children from Paul’s former school St Joseph’s Primary

Following the presentation of the scroll, guests were treated to a performance by students 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.”

READ MORE: BIRKENHEAD PARK UP FOR UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE STATUS

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