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WINNERS 2016

Paul O'Grady

Paul O’Grady’s deep love of animals has its roots in childhood summer holidays to his father’s family farm in Roscommon, in the west of Ireland.

paul ogrady

There the young Paul ran free among pigs, sheep and chickens, and first learned to milk a cow.

Back home in Liverpool, his first pet was a budgie called Joey and a hamster called Suki - “a grand name for a hamster in Birkenhead”, he jokes - and he has been surrounded by animals ever since.

Today the menagerie at his farm in Kent includes three goats, six pigs, eight sheep, chickens, eight owls and five dogs, and as he finds it impossible to turn away rescue animals, he is unlikely to stop there.

But Paul is much more than an animal lover - he is one of our most powerful advocates for animal welfare, a steadfast campaigner against cruelty, and through his award-winning TV shows, has given millions of people a deeper understanding of the bond between animals and humans.

After becoming one of the nation’s best-loved comedy acts with his acid-tongued, bottle-blonde alter-ego Lily Savage, Paul reinvented himself as a chat show host, winning over some of the world’s biggest stars with his down-to-earth charm and effortless Scouse wit.

But despite the pressures of his career, his dedication to animal welfare has never wavered. He has been an Ambassador for Battersea Cats and Dogs Home since 2012 and is a patron of the Orangutan Appeal UK and CROW based in Durban, South Africa.  He is also patron of the Cairn Terrier Relief Fund, the Flicka Foundation, a horse and donkey sanctuary in Cornwall, and Ashford Cattery.

His is also a tireless supporter of animal charities, including SPANA, the PDSA, PETA, Compassion in World Farming and the  Lilayi elephant orphanage in Zambia.

In recent years, the two strands of Paul’s life - his TV work and his campaigning for animals - have become increasingly intertwined with award-winning TV shows For The Love Of Dogs and Animal Orphans.

For The Love Of Dogs sees Paul go behind the scenes at Battersea, and his passion for the dogs shines through in every moment on screen.

Paul insisted the programme showed the darker side of animal rescue work, helping raise awareness of animal cruelty.

He says: “I want to be truthful to the viewer. A lot of very sad things happen at Battersea, dogs arrive in the most appalling state, sometimes so bad we can’t even show them because it would just be too harrowing for the viewer. But we have to show what really goes on.

“And there is always somebody who will come in and out of pure kindness take them home. You see the good in people as well as the bad in there.”

It is more than just a TV show for Paul - while filming he adopted Eddie, a jackahuahua, as a puppy from Battersea and three of his other dogs are from other rescue centres. The show won two National Television Awards and was nominated for a Bafta.

He has also made three series of Animal Orphans, filming with endangered animals such as elephants, turtles, gibbons and orangutans in countries including South Africa, Zambia, Namibia and Borneo.

Again, this is much more than simply an entertainment show. Through Paul’s knowledge and passion for the animals he films, Animal Orphans is a powerful tool for conservation, highlighting welfare issues across the globe, and informing and empowering millions of viewers to take action.

He says: “Put it this way - in less than ten years the elephant, vulture and rhino will be extinct as will some of the wildlife indigenous to the British Isles such as the Barn owl. Time is quickly running out and unless action is taken immediately to stop poaching, the use of lethal pesticides and a ban on palm oil and the deforestation of the rain forests to provide it, then we are in serious trouble."

It’s a long way from the family farm in Roscommon to Robben Island, where Paul helped teach young penguins to walk on Animal Orphans, but one thing has never changed - his boundless love and empathy for animals, and his unwavering commitment and dedication to protect them, whether that means adopting a rescue dog, or helping save a species for future generations.