Shropshire Star

Peter Tatchell recalls Paul O’Grady’s quip to police during 1987 LGBT venue raid

The comedian was due to lead an upcoming campaign to call for a police apology over the raid.

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Paul O’Grady once made a smart quip to the police after they raided an LGBT venue where he was performing as a drag queen in the 1980s, his close friend Peter Tatchell has said.

LGBT rights campaigner Tatchell recalled that in 1987 officers “burst” into London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern wearing rubber gloves as the late comedian was on stage as his alter-ego Lily Savage.

After O’Grady spotted the gloves, which the officers were allegedly wearing due to misconceptions that HIV was contracted through touch, he told them “Oh good, have you come to do the washing up?”.

In a statement to the PA news agency, Tatchell said: “Paul was preparing for his performance as Lily Savage and adjusting his wig. Suddenly, the police burst into his dressing room.

“At first, he thought they were strippers and were part of the show. He said the officers were rude and aggressive.

“When Paul came out on stage, the police were all wearing rubber gloves and manhandling the gay customers and staff.

“This was at the height of the Aids panic and hysteria. The police thought you could get HIV by touching a gay person, hence the rubber gloves.

“Referring to those gloves, Paul quipped to the officers: ‘Oh good, have you come to do the washing up?’”

The 1967 Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexuality under particular circumstances but continuing prejudice meant that anti-homosexual legislation was still enforced for many years after the Act was passed.

Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced Section 28 which banned local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality. It was later repealed in England and Wales in 2003.

In 2021 O’Grady spoke about the infamous raid to call on the police to apologise for their actions against the LGBT community and he was due to lead an upcoming campaign by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, of which the presenter was a patron.

In a video shared by Royal Vauxhall Tavern, O’Grady said: “Police have apologised all around the world for their behaviour years ago, and I think it’s about time the British police did the same thing and came down here and said we’re so sorry for what happened because it was unnecessary and it was just a homophobic act.”

The venue in south London also hailed O’Grady as a “fierce advocate” of their establishment and one who “paved the way for a legion of drag artists”, in an tribute on Twitter.

Former Labour politician Tatchell remembered O’Grady as a “brilliant comedian and broadcast personality” as well as a “much-admired campaigner for LGBT equality and animal rights”.

He added: “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.”

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