Arts

Paul O'Grady: We're doing a Helena Bonham-Carter and Tim whatshisname

As his new book is published, comedian and TV presenter Paul O'Grady tells Hannah Stephenson about marriage, mayhem in the countryside and how he has finally learned to switch off

Paul O'Grady with one of his animal friends on his smallholding in Kent, where he has lived for 20 years
 
Hannah Stephenson (PA)

HE'S been bitten by a poisonous snake, toppled by a cow, dragged to the ground by vicious geese and terrorised by a sheep – but for animal-loving Paul O'Grady, it's all just part and parcel of countryside life.

The 62-year-old comedian and For The Love Of Dogs presenter, reckons there's no place for sissies in his neck of the woods, rural Kent, where he's lived for almost 20 years.

His husband, ballet dancer Andre Portasio, whom he married in August, still doesn't live with him in the Georgian farmhouse surrounded by rolling hills, Paul reveals. And it's not just because of his menagerie of animals – which includes five dogs, plus pigs, goats, sheep, chickens and ducks – or the work that goes with looking after them, mucking out and feeding, as charted in his latest book, Paul O'Grady's Country Life.

"Andre's got used to all the animals now. He was terrified of animals when I first met him but now he takes it all in his stride. But he's not like me. I don't think anyone's like me.''

They've been an item for more than 10 years, but have never lived together.

"We're doing a Helena Bonham-Carter and Tim whatshisname [Burton], and it works a treat. We got married because I thought, 'It's been 10 years', and also for financial security like death duties. You have to think of the practical side. I thought, 'Oh for God's sake, it's about time', so we had a little private one. We just had friends and family.''

Paul, who admits moving to the country from the city was a rude awakening, writes hilarious anecdotes about dealing with rats and bats and struggling with no 'leccy' when winter set in, as well as moving tales of birthing a lamb and his no-tolerance policy when it comes to animal cruelty.

"I felt really stressed at first. I thought, 'What have I done?' I didn't drive, I didn't have a computer. I was like Catweazle. Now when I'm in the countryside, I look like Worzel Gummidge. When friends come down they recoil in horror! It's called letting yourself go and I'd highly recommend it.''

Andre goes back to his own place during the week, which is near to Paul's flat in London, and teaches at the Royal Ballet.

So is he enjoying married life?

"I am, it's the same as before. We didn't even bother with wedding rings, we just kept our own Claddaghs. I don't like wearing jewellery. I wasn't going to wear a wedding ring and the Claddagh, going round like I own a Northern club. Forget it.

"We see each other all the time, we just don't live together, which for me makes for a perfect relationship because when you've had enough, you can say, 'I'll see you, I'm off'.''

Paul admits he's not the easiest person to live with.

"I'm a bit cranky of a morning. I'm a cobra. I don't get up, I'm exhumed, and I slither down the stairs looking for trouble. But otherwise I'm fine.''

Away from showbiz, Paul has got himself involved with country pursuits including growing his own produce and campaigning to save the countryside. And he still gets angry about many things.

"We've already got four housing estates which have gone up in our village and there are more to come,'' he says sternly. "We haven't got the infrastructure or the skills to cope with the overcrowding. You couldn't get into the doctor's if you had a letter from the Holy Ghost.

"The country is fast becoming smaller, and my worry is we will lose our farms because of all the trade deals we've done with the US. I go in supermarket and say, 'Why haven't you got Kentish tomatoes on sale? Why does this asparagus come from Peru?' I've got it in my garden. Why aren't we supporting our farmers?

"Brexit is going to kill it all. Farmers will lose all their grant subsidies, everything. I personally think we're all in for a big shock when Brexit comes in. I think the market's going to collapse. The pound's already worthless.''

For now, he's looking forward to spending Christmas with his husband, daughter Sharyn and two grandchildren – Abel (11) and Halo (seven). He's also writing a children's book with a conservation message, will be filming a For The Love Of Dogs Christmas special plus a new series of the hit ITV canine show next year, as well as another series of Blind Date for Channel 5.

Country life has helped him switch off from showbiz, to feel happy about doing nothing.

"I could never relax before. I was always being told off by family and friends, who'd tell me to sit down. Now, I'll sit and read a book in the afternoon and I don't have the guilt.''

He certainly looks the picture of health, despite two heart attacks (he has regular check-ups).

"My cardiologist does the blood pressure, the heart and the ultrasound. Everything is normal. The heart is working efficiently, even though a quarter of it doesn't work. He always says, 'Are you a vampire? I don't know how you do it.'''

:: Paul O'Grady's Country Life by Paul O'Grady is published by Bantam, priced £20.

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