Richard Arnold fights back tears as he pays an emotional tribute to Paul O’Grady

Richard Arnold fought back tears while paying an emotional tribute to Paul O’Grady on Wednesday’s Good Morning Britain following his death at the age of 67.

Tributes have poured in for the legendary presenter and radio star after his partner Andre Portasio shared overnight that he had passed away ‘unexpectedly but peacefully’.

Speaking to GMB hosts Martin Lewis and Susanna Reid, Richard said: ‘You never felt like you were ever on the raw end of his wit, it was done with such generosity and compassion.’

‘I’ve been in Cilla and Paul’s orbit in London, and yes I’m gravelly-voiced this morning from shock alone.

‘There were some lunches that went on for quite some time. That was Paul’s charm.’

Moving: Richard Arnold fought back tears while paying an emotional tribute to Paul O’Grady on Wednesday’s Good Morning Britain following his death at the age of 67

Susanna then shared that she had received messages from cast members in the musical Annie, which Paul was starring in before his death.

She then turned to Richard and said: ‘Richard we’re sorry for your loss as well. It’s just awful, You’re involved in the news you’re involved in covering stories…’

Richard continued: ‘It does feel very close to home this morning, I must say.

‘I’m looking forward to hearing more stories from people tuning in as well and paying their own tributes as they’re the people he touched.’

Susanna and Martin then read out various tributes sent in by viewers who had met Paul throughout his TV career.

Andre, who married Paul in 2017, paid tribute to his ‘humour, wit and compassion’ in a statement announcing his death released just before 3am.

O’Grady became a household name in the early noughties, known for his wit and love of animals, and hosted a string of television programmes including his self-titled daytime chat show, The Paul O’Grady Show, which began airing in 2004.

He also took over the reins from Blind Date’s long-running presenter and his close friend Cilla Black, who died in 2015, to host the Channel 5 reboot of the show in 2017. And he fronted Blankety Blank, as well as ITV’s award-winning For The Love Of Dogs.

The father-of-one’s cause of death wasn’t immediately known, but he had previously spoken of surviving heart attacks in 2002, 2006 and 2014, and also kidney failure.  He also had a debiltating Covid battle that left him unable to work for two months.

O’Grady married Portuguese lesbian barmaid Teresa Fernandes in 1977 to stop her deportation. They divorced in 2005 and he married ex-ballerina Mr Portasio in 2017. 

Decades earlier in 1974, he had his only child, a daughter called Sharyn Mousley, with his dear friend Diane Jansen. O’Grady is also a grandfather to Sharyn’s son Abel, who was born in 2006 and is now aged 16, and Sharyn’s daughter Halo, born in 2009.

Portasio said: ‘It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening.

‘We ask, at this difficult time, that whilst you celebrate his life you also respect our privacy as we come to terms with this loss.

‘He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion.

‘I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years.’

O’Grady and Portasio were married during a low-key wedding ceremony in 2017.

During his career, he hosted The Paul O’Grady Show, Blind Date and Blankety Blank, as well as ITV’s multi-award-winning For The Love Of Dogs. He also hosted ITV celebrity game show, Paul O’Grady’s Saturday Night Line Up.

O’Grady took over the reins from Blind Date’s long-running presenter and his close friend Cilla Black, who died in 2015, as he hosted the Channel 5 reboot of the show in 2017.

Last year he was joined by the Queen Consort 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 August last year he presented his final BBC Radio 2 show having hosted the Sunday afternoon programme for nearly 14 years, later saying the station’s drive for younger listeners ‘doesn’t make sense’.

O’Grady had been set to return to the airwaves next month to host a one-off Easter Sunday radio show on Boom Radio. 

And he was performing right until the end – taking to the stage as Ms Hannigan in Annie at the Edinburgh Playhouse. 

In a statement, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home paid tribute to O’Grady 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.’

O’Grady’s love for animals was well-known, and he had lived in a farmhouse in Kent with Portasio along with a menagerie of animals including four dogs, goats, sheep, chickens and barn owls.

During the coronavirus lockdown, he wrote his debut children’s book, Eddie Albert And The Amazing Animal Gang, which was published in September 2021.

Tributes also began to pour in overnight from his showbusiness friends. Carol Vorderman said on Twitter: ‘Paul O’Grady. Already giving them raucous, ripping up the rulebook, mischief making, calling it out, loving hell in heaven.

‘Paul, what are we meant to do without you?’

Lorraine Kelly spoke of her pain at ‘such sad news’, adding:  ‘Paul O’Grady – funny, fearless, brave, kind and wise. Will be sorely missed. A really special man.’

Replying to another Twitter user, she added: ‘I always think dogs are the best judge of character and they ADORED him.’ 

X Factor’s Joe McElderry was also among the first to react to the shocking news. 

‘I was stood in Paul O’Grady’s dressing room less than 3 weeks ago! He was full of life chatting and being so wonderful as always! So so sad! And such a loss! A true showbiz entertainer! May he rest in peace,’ McElderry tweeted.

Actor John Barrowman said he was ‘shocked and sad’ to hear the news of O’Grady’s death.

Sharing two pictures of the TV star on Twitter he wrote: ‘I am totally shocked and sad to hear the awful news that Paul O’Grady has died. An awesome talent stretching decades.

‘From watching him as Lily Savage at the Vauxhall Tavern to sitting with him laughing backstage at West End Bares to being a guest on his @ITV Paul O’Grady show…’

Vernon Kay said Paul O’Grady was ‘always a joy to be around’ and described the presenter as ‘one of the best’ in an online tribute.

‘Paul O’Grady was one of the nicest and kindest people I’ve ever met,’ he tweeted.

‘Always a joy to be around and obviously, so much fun. He will be missed. Telly and friends have lost one of the best….RIP.’

Danny Beard, winner of the fourth series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, said Paul O’Grady was ‘the most important person in British culture for drag’.

‘I don’t think there’s anyone who does the job that I do that doesn’t class Paul as an icon,’ Beard told BBC Breakfast.

‘Paul was a trailblazer, they were on telly just after the Aids crisis.

‘They’ve been the most important person, I think, in British culture for drag, for the queer community.

‘This is a really sad loss today… there’s a massive hole missing now.’

And human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: ‘Paul wasn’t just a brilliant comedian and broadcast personality but a much admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights.

‘He supported my work for many decades and was a valued patron of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

‘Paul was planning to lead our forthcoming campaign for the police to apologise for their historic persecution of the LGBT+ community. We will miss him. Our sincere condolences to his partner Andre and to all who loved him.

‘Paul was one of the loveliest people you could ever meet. Everyone whose lives he touched will miss him greatly, as will those who enjoyed his wit and admired his compassion.’

O’Grady’s former Radio 2 colleague Aled Jones tweeted: ‘So sad to hear of the death of Paul O’Grady – a lovely lovely person x’

Piers Morgan tweeted: ‘RIP Paul O’Grady, 67. A wonderfully warm, mischievous, hilarious guy with a sublime natural talent for broadcasting and making people laugh.’

O’Grady’s long-time radio producer and close friend Malcolm Prince said he was with him just yesterday.

‘I’m devastated’, he wrote in a statement posted online. ‘Yesterday afternoon, I popped round to Paul’s for a good old catch-up. Surrounded by his beloved dogs, he was laughing, smiling and full of life.

‘He was so proud of Annie, so happy to be back on Boom Radio, and he was looking forward to so many new projects.

‘And now he’s gone. I can’t believe it.’

He added: ‘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.’

O’Grady had previously spoken about battling back to health after heart trouble – typically making light of his brushes with death.

‘Three days after my last heart attack, I was back fire-eating with McFly,’ he said.

‘The heart is a muscle so you have two choices, sit on the sofa and count your tablets all day, or get on with it and get moving – swimming and walking, gentle exercise.’

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