Yours favourite Paul O'Grady tells us about his plans for a festive family get-together, plus why the For The Love Of Dogs presenter has always loved animals
At this time of year, Paul O’Grady is usually preparing for panto, but not this time. Instead of treading the boards as the wicked stepmother in Cinderella or Snow White, on Christmas Day he’s planning to dress as an elf at his home in the Kent countryside! For the first time, Paul’s ten-year-old grandson Abel and granddaughter Halo (8) along with their parents, Paul’s daughter Sharyn and son-in-law Philip, will be spending Christmas with him in Kent.
“Christmas is for kids and I’m really looking forward to it,” he tells us. “I’ve never had the kids at mine for Christmas before because I’m usually doing panto but this year, I wanted a change and I’m going to town – I’m hoping they’ll walk in and think, ‘Wow, it’s Disneyland!’ They’re so excited, which has got me all gee-ed up and I’m going to make sure they have a good time!
Mind you, I have had to have words with my grandson! He’s been texting me daily, doing a countdown to Christmas. I’ve told him if he doesn’t stop it, he won’t see 11.” Paul’s joking, of course, but being with his grandchildren will mean he thoroughly enjoys the festive season – something that’s not always the case.
“Christmas can be like an endurance test, with all the cards to write, presents to buy, food to get in – it’s exhausting, chaos! I know it sounds a bit Grinchy but there’s so much pressure on people at this time of year – and they can get into mountains of debt.”
Grandkids aside, Paul’s favourite part of Christmas will be Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. “There’s an ancient marshland church by me that doesn’t have any electricity so our Midnight Mass service is candlelit and it’s so lovely and peaceful – not at all commercial,” he explains. “You come out and everyone’s chatting and I do feel very Christmassy. Far more than wearing a daft red hat and pulling a cracker.”
Having moved to Kent 12 years ago, Paul has fully embraced the country life – so much so that he’s written a book entitled, Paul O’Grady’s Country Life, a hilarious, warts-and-all account of his transformation from night owl and party animal to countryphile.
“It took a while,” he says. “At first I tried to fight it but you can’t live a city life in the country – you’ve got to embrace it. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I love living in the countryside – the fresh air, the fields, the woods, the clear, star-lit nights and really seeing the seasons change. I’ve become fascinated by the healing powers of certain herbs and plants... if you suffer from migraines, I’ve discovered that a couple of leaves from the daisy-like plant Feverfew eaten with a small piece of bread will get rid of a thumping head. Yes, there are some inconveniences, like a poor mobile signal, the occasional infestation of rats and not having any leccy when the power goes down in winter but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. I can play music at 4am if I want to and there are no neighbours to get annoyed.
“I don’t want nightclubs and pubs any more, I’d rather make jam and bake cakes in the Aga. Yes, that’s right, I’ve got an Aga. The first time I saw it, I thought, ‘What’s that iron lung doing in my kitchen?’ but once I’d got the hang of it, I realised the dry heat makes the best sponges. Mind you, I’m a filthy cook. I make such a mess – I really need a couple of kitchen maids.”
- Find out when For the Love of Dogs Christmas Special will be on TV
Some of Paul’s favourite recipes are included in the book – including his Auntie Chris’s Apple Pie and his Auntie Sadie’s Rhubarb tart – but in the main, it’s devoted to the animals who have shared his life in Kent. Over the years these include some very vocal pigs, a mad cow who liked to wander into his kitchen, goats, hens, ducks, rescued barn owls, gestapo-like geese and a psychotic sheep called Christine. Then there are his numerous much-loved dogs, although sadly he lost one of these recently, treasured Shih Tzu Louis, who bowed out at the ripe old age of 14.
So just what is it about Paul (61), presenter of TV’s hugely popular For The Love of Dogs, and animals? “I don’t know but I’ve always had a real empathy with them,” he replies. “My dad’s family were farmers from Galway and I spent lots of holidays over in Ireland on my Uncle James and Auntie Bridget’s farm in County Roscommon. From a very early age I was surrounded by dogs, donkeys, chickens and cows. I clearly remember my first encounter with a newly born calf when I was five – at my mother’s bidding I gave his head a rub and when he nuzzled my hand and then gave it a lick, a lifelong love of animals was born. By the time I was 11, I was a dab hand at milking a cow. All my mates back in the Wirral wanted to know how I could do it and I’d say it had just come naturally! Maybe it did in a way.”
- For the Love of Dogs is on ITV and there’s also a Christmas special
- By Alison James
- Read more about Paul O'Grady
Did you know....?
Paul is very superstitious… “I grew up with a mother and two aunts who could have given a very realistic performance of the three ladies in the Scottish Play!” he says. “I never put shoes on a table, open an umbrella indoors and when I see a solitary magpie, I delicately spit into the palm of my hand!”