Paul cuddles up with his festively dressed pooch Bruno (Photo: ITV)
"Once upon a time there was a wicked old queen…" says Paul O’Grady with his signature smirk on his face. "And that queen was me!"
As soon as we meet the comedy star, he’s cackling away and taking the mick out of everyone and everything (his first victim: a man on a kids’ scooter. "What’s bl**dy wrong with you?!"). But we wouldn’t expect anything less from the irascible Mr O’Grady.
Dressed in a winter jumper and furry boots chewed to bits by his pooches, Paul’s gearing up to be on our screens a lot this Christmas, rehoming his beloved doggies in ITV’s For The Love Of Dogs and investigating the truth behind our best-loved stories in Paul O’Grady’s Favourite Fairy Tales. And he’s no stranger to these fables.
"I love reading to my grandkids. But I just turn into the villain and take it too far," he laughs. "The kids say, ‘This isn’t how Mama tells it,’ so I say, ‘Well, Mama’s a liar. I am the truth.’ When my daughter tells me off, I just tell the kids she’s been drinking again."
Panto king Paul stars in a production of Sleeping Beauty in 2012
Villainous, indeed. And it goes one step further now he’s playing the Wicked Stepmother in London panto Cinderella.
"Every bl**dy year I say, ‘I’m never doing it again!’ I’m notorious for it," he says with an eye roll. "But I’ve done them all. Only the villains. Because if you’ve got the hump on a matinee, you can stagger out and say, ‘I hate kids, I hate Christmas and I hate you!’ And they all roar with laughter. I’m not bl**dy joking, though."
And actually, he’s really not joking. He isn’t a fan of festive tidings.
"I hate Christmas. It gets on my bl**dy nerves. I hate decorating the tree. All you hear is ‘smash!’ where I’m dropping the baubles and all the dogs end up weeing on it. Then I have to take the bl**dy thing down, tangled in lights," he says, exasperated.
So we’re guessing he’s not a lover of the standard Christmas flicks either? "Oh, the crap on the telly?" he says wide-eyed.
"I hate the Christmas weepies. My friends make me watch them and they’re sobbing. I just say, ‘I’ll vomit if I have to watch another five minutes of this.’ But Bad Santa I do like. Smoking and effing and blinding? He’s right up my street," he laughs.
Paul is no stranger to a costume. Having played drag icon Lily Savage for over
35 years, he’s done high heels, wigs and short skirts. But a big beard and a red suit? No chance.
"I had to wear one for Birds Of A Feather last year and never again," he explains. "Padding, woolly beard, hat… I was burning up. I did do the Easter Bunny one year, but it was like something out of a horror film. The kids were screaming their heads off."
Paul whizzes the late Coronation Street star Jean Alexander around the dance floor (Photo: Rex)
One thing that’s a constant love in Paul’s life are his beloved animals. Living on a farm in Kent, he has pigs, cows, sheep, owls and, of course, five pampered pooches.
"I managed to not take any more home when I went back to Battersea to film this year," he explains, pleased with himself. "But I’m literally the worst person for the job. It’s like taking someone who’s giving up smoking to the Lambert & Butler factory and saying, ‘Go on, there’s all these ciggies here, have one if you want.’ I’d take them all home if I could."
Paul has been with long-term partner Andre, a former ballet dancer, for almost 30 years, but the pair don’t live together (“Who’d want to live with me?!”), so he’s short-handed when it comes to animal care.
"I work away a lot, so I have a man who helps. He’s bl**dy worse than me, though. He cries over them when they get poorly. But on weekends, I never get a lie-in. I’m up at 8am to let the dogs out and give them their tablets. Then it’s mucking out the pigs and goats. Then I walk back inside and there’s an owl in the lounge," he smiles.
Despite his reluctance for Christmas, we bet he still spoils his furry friends.
"I do get them a squeaky toy if I remember," he admits. "But they’re quite happy with a pair of my socks or underpants. They’re always pinching them from the washing basket and running off with them. If you come to my house, you’d think there had been a terrible sexual assault!" he says, deadpan as ever.
"In fact, my good friend Amanda Mealing came to stay recently and one of them ate her Chanel shoes. She was screaming! I had to buy her a new pair. Blimmin’ £1,000. I was cursing the dog that day! He had one of her bras too. Bit a huge hole it in, so it looked like one of those Ann Summers ones," he says with a snigger.
We Love Telly – 15-04-11 – Paul O’Grady show
One thing we’re sure Mr O’Grady enjoys about Christmas is the booze.
"I don’t really want to start drinking unless I’m getting hammered."
So his aim is to get uncontrollably drunk?
"Yes," he shouts with a firm smack on the table. "How can people go out and just have one pint? If I’m going out, I’m out to get p*ssed and have a laugh. Everyone’s so bl**dy uptight now," he sighs. "And they’re all artisan pubs. I’ve come to get drunk – I don’t want bl**dy goat’s cheese on avocado. And I certainly don’t want any kids in a pub. Child friendly? They might be, but I’m bl**dy not!"
We can’t help but think Paul missed his calling as a pub landlady.
"Oh, if it was up to me I’d stop the smoking ban straight away. Smoke your head off, it’s a bl**dy pub. Then live music. A barmaid who reeks of perfume and calls everyone love, too. They don’t make them like that any more. The younger gay guys don’t know what a bl**dy good time is. Not that I go out much now. I am 61, after all."
‘The One and Only Cilla Black’ TV Programme
One of Paul’s oldest, dearest friends Cilla Black passed away last year and he certainly misses hitting the town with her over the festive period.
"Jesus, Cilla was a hoot. And we’d have no problem being lairy. People don’t have fun any more, because they’re all too busy being cool, but the secret to being cool is being yourself. I am. And so was she," he smiles.
"She was my other half, was Cilla. I’ve never quite got over that. I spoke to her every single day, but you knew not to phone her before 11am," he laughs with raised eyebrows. "She used to always send me an orchid at panto with a note that said, ‘Let’s see how long this survives.’ And I never got one last year. Then it hit me. And I couldn’t hear her in the front row laughing. It won’t be any easier not having her there this year," he tells us sadly.
But Paul isn’t a man to dwell on the past. "All the good’uns have popped off this year
and we’re left with the miseries. I wouldn’t mind seeing certain politicians popped off, that’s for sure. [Paul goes into great detail about this and we watch the colour drain from his agent’s face.] People are so bl**dy terrified to say things these days, but I don’t care. I’m like the Nan from Catherine Tate."
Video thumbnail, Paul O’Grady reveals Cilla’s ‘Ginger Twist’ in preview for Christmas special on ITV
So as the year comes to a close and Paul prepares to jet off to India to film a special episode of Animal Orphans with baby elephants, what are his resolutions for the new year?
"I never stick to them. Usually it’s to keep a diary. The first entry is always, ‘Woke up in a shocking state. Vomited in bathroom. Had a bacon butty,’ and that’s it. Then there’s one random entry where I’ve written, ‘I’m bl**dy sick of this,’ but I don’t even know what I’m bl**dy sick of."
As we say our goodbyes (spotting the man on the scooter again, who hurries past to avoid another ribbing), Paul gives us a peck on the cheek and, shock horror, wishes us an actual Merry Christmas.
"I’m not a Scrooge, really," he winks. "I’m not that emotionless! But just don’t buy me any scented candles to make my home smell like a whore house."
Can you guess why? Yep, because, he’s ‘bl**dy sick of them".
How does Paul spend his Christmas?
Hungover or fresh as a daisy?
Neither. I’ll be tired after two pantos a day. The boss gives us Christmas Day off, though.
Christmas lunch in or out?
In. And I cook. And I’m good. There’s about seven of us, but anyone is welcome. It’s only a bl**dy roast dinner, I don’t know why people get into such a state about it.
Board games or watching telly?
Probably slumped watching Christmas telly. Nobody speaking. Just sat there, mindless and full.
Relax at home or a walk outside?
I’m not good at relaxing – sitting down is a waste of time – so I’ll be out doing all sorts with the animals down the fields, in between the telly.
Paul O’Grady’s Favourite Fairy Tales, ITV, Tuesday, 9pm; Paul O’Grady: For the love of dogs at Christmas, ITV, Christmas Day, 6.45pm; Cinderella at the London Palladium is on until 15 January 2017, cinderellapalladium.com.