Paul O’Grady: Drag queens were the Vera Lynns of south London in the 1980s
Broadcaster and comedian Paul O’Grady has described what it meant to be a drag queen at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
The presenter was interviewed for a heritage project uncovering the LGBT history of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in south London.
O’Grady, who performed at the RVT for eight years as his comedic alter ego, Lily Savage, credits the venue for his success in the world of mainstream entertainment.
He also believes drag performers at the RVT played a vital role in the 1980s when scores of young men were dying from AIDS.
“There were so many funerals at the Vauxhall, wakes and things but then in the meantime even though it was hard morale was good, morale was kept up by the drag acts …
“So literally the Vauxhall, the drag queens, me, Adrella, all the acts raised thousands in the early days and I think people tend to forget that, we were the soldiers really, we were the ones, the Vera Lynns of south London, keeping morale up.”
To celebrate the Royal Vauxhall Tavern’s historic importance as a site for LGBT culture, the Heritage Lottery Fund is supporting a research project to uncover and share the history of the venue alongside the wider changing experience for LGBT people over the last 60 years.