Paul O’Grady was “laughing, smiling and full of life” shortly before his death, his friend and radio producer Malcolm Prince said, as the Queen Consort joined those paying tribute.
The comedian and TV presenter, who rose to fame on the nightclub circuit as the acerbic, platinum wig-wearing Lily Savage, died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening at the age of 67, his partner, Andre Portasio, said in a statement.
Paul has been hailed as a “trailblazer” for breaking into the mainstream broadcasting landscape with his alter ego and for his charity work around animals and Aids.
Malcolm, who worked with O’Grady at both BBC Radio 2 and Boom Radio – an independent station aimed at Baby Boomers – said he is devastated by his loss and wrote in a tweer: “Yesterday afternoon I popped round to Paul’s for a good old catch-up.
Paul O'Grady's life in pictures: from drag persona to royal seal of approval
“Surrounded by his beloved dogs, he was laughing, smiling and full of life.”
He said that Paul, who had been touring playing Miss Hannigan in the musical Annie, had been “so proud” of the role and added: “He was looking forward to so many new projects. And now he’s gone.
“I can’t believe it. We have lost a unique talent – and I’ve lost a dear friend. We were all lucky to have Paul in our lives. My heart goes out to Andre, Paul’s family, and friends. Oh how I’ll miss him.”
The pair were due to return to the radio together on Easter Sunday to host a special one-off radio show on Boom Radio.
Paul left his Radio 2 Sunday afternoon slot in August last year after almost 14 years, following a schedule shake-up which saw him regularly swapping with comic Rob Beckett.
He and Malcolm, known to fans as #TeamPOG, appeared on Boom Radio for a Christmas special and were due to return to the station for a one-off show on Easter Sunday.
The royal family’s official Twitter account paid tribute, posting an image of Paul with Camilla, after they worked closely in support of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
The post read: “Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Paul O’Grady, who worked closely with Her Majesty in support of @Battersea_, providing lots of laughter and many waggy-tailed memories.”
Camilla will be sharing her sympathies with Paul’s family privately in due course, Buckingham Palace added.
Last year he was joined by Camilla in a special one-off episode of For The Love Of Dogs to mark 160 years of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, an organisation for which he was an ambassador.
In a statement shared with the PA news agency, the charity paid tribute to Paul as a “devoted animal lover” and a “champion for the underdog”.
The organisation’s chief executive, Peter Laurie, said: “Battersea will forever remember Paul as a devoted animal lover with the biggest heart, who fell head over heels in love with every dog he met at our centres.
“Paul will always be associated with Battersea and we are truly saddened to have lost such a true friend and huge part of our charity.”
Good Morning Britain presenter Richard Arnold was also among those paying tribute and reflected on the impact the animal-loving star had had on him.
He recalled meeting Paul in character as Lily Savage in 1990, adding: “It’s impossible to overestimate what a trailblazer he was because Lily was of course a persona that became famous on the drag circuit in south London… and you idolised him as a gay man actually because trailblazer really doesn’t do him justice and then of course he broke in to the mainstream broadcasting landscape…”
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