Heartbroken and his blood boiling that millions of hungry kids live in crippling poverty in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, Paul O’Grady’s on a crusade.
The TV presenter and comedian’s mission is to give every youngster in Britain a life we can all be proud of.
Filming another series of ITV hit show For the Love of Dogs about Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the champion of four-legged friends doesn’t flinch answering when asked which is more important: saving children or saving animals?
“I would have to put a kid first. I do love my animals, you know I do,” replies O’Grady.
“But I’d have to put a starving kid before a starving cat or a starving dog. The kid would have to get the priority. You can’t be sentimental when there’s a wolf at the door.
“They say a society is judged by how it treats its kids and animals and at the moment we’re failing both.”
The honest star stresses he adores both people and animals.
Yet O’Grady, a tender man frequently photographed with rescued dogs or surrounded by animals at his home in the Kent countryside, is moved close to tears by the breadline deprivation endured by millions of too often overlooked boys and girls.
To find out more about the Mirror’s Christmas appeal click here
The long-time ambassador for Save the Children accuses Boris Johnson ’s Conservative Government of inflicting dreadful harm on the young.
And he’s dismayed well-off people shut their eyes to poverty often close to their own cosy homes.
“I’ve seen too much of it, too many children still suffering and going hungry when it doesn’t have to be like this and shouldn’t be like this,” says the former social worker who honed his breakthrough Lily Savage drag act while helping struggling families as a social worker in Camden, North London, during the 1980s.
“It’s heartbreaking, it really is. You see scruffy little kids with nothing and a few streets away are other kids with iPads and phones, and I’m not having a go at them, but there’s extreme poverty and extreme wealth close by in the same country.
“Every kid should be cared for, looked after, comfortable. Poverty, extreme hardship, isn’t inevitable but it’s still here, in 2020, in a country where there is enough money to go around so there’s no excuse for this suffering.”
O’Grady, 65, enjoyed a happy childhood in a Merseyside working class Irish family overflowing with warmth and characters.
What generates molten fury is that the desperation he witnessed as a social worker is not only surviving 40 years later but worsening.
The Mirror needs your help to save Christmas for thousands of children in Britain.
We are raising funds for Save the Children UK, so it can buy gifts for some of the country’s most vulnerable kids and offer Christmas meals to hard-up families.
Every penny you donate to our Save a Kid’s Christmas appeal will make a difference.
It could mean one less child going without a hot Christmas meal or pay for the only gift they will get to open.
Or it could help buy books and learning packs for kids who risk falling behind at school.
- Call: 0800 8148 148
- Visit: www.savethechildren.org.uk/mirror
- Text MIRROR5 TO 70008 to donate £5 or MIRROR10 TO 70008 to donate £10
- Send a cheque payable to Save the Children UK to Freepost Daily Mirror Christmas Appeal 2020, Save the Children, 1 St John’s Lane, London, EC1M 4AR. The Save the Children Fund is a charity registered in England and Wales (213890), Scotland (SC039570) and IOM (199)
“I was lucky as a kid,” he recalls. “We weren’t well off but I had a fabulous upbringing and I didn’t starve.
“When I worked in social services I used to see the dreadful conditions of starving children whose lives were blighted while they were at school because they didn’t get enough to eat or have enough clothes.
“We have a moral duty to protect the young and this government does not follow that creed.
“I was making a Sally Army documentary and there was this mother who did three jobs, miserable cleaning jobs, zero hours jobs, and she had to go without food sometimes because she still didn’t earn enough to feed her kids. How can that be right?
“Diseases like rickets are even coming back from a lack of vitamin B, Thatcher letting bakers take it out of bread. Can you believe this? Victorian diseases are returning.”
O’Grady is infuriated by the rise in number of kids in poverty from 3.6million to 4.2 million during a Tory decade of welfare cuts and austerity.
Tales of teachers buying food for hungry pupils triggers flashbacks to his social work days. “The kids would have nits, I would have nits from them. I was always having nits. It’s not true they only like clean hair. They like any hair,” he recalls.
“I would look into the cupboard in a house and it would be piled high with dirty washing.
The conditions were unimaginable. I had the odd dose of scabies, caught from the kids.
“Teachers are here to educate children, not feed them. It’s as if we haven’t moved on.”
The big-hearted star is urging Daily Mirror readers to get behind our Save the Children Christmas appeal to help youngsters the Government has abandoned. Every penny you can donate will make a difference.
* £5 could pay for a day’s’ food for a child so they don’t have to miss a meal
* £10 could buy a Christmas present for a child
* £20 could buy an educational toy
* £50 could buy a pack of educational games and books
* £100 could buy a bed for a child so they can get a good, safe night’s sleep
“I know times are really hard at the moment and many people are struggling,” says O’Grady, “so I don’t like asking people.
“But if you’re lucky, someone is OK, slip a couple of bob to Save the Children.
“It’s better than clapping. Clapping never put a sausage on a plate.
“Imagine you get up in the morning and you haven’t got a present, never mind a Christmas dinner because there’s no money in the house. What makes it worse is kids watch TV and are bombarded with adverts for this and that. We have to do something.”
O’Grady is damning about a government he accuses of not caring.
“I lose my temper. It upsets me,” he admits. “The people suffering don’t like to talk about what’s happening to them. They have working class pride. They don’t want to be poor, reliant on charity and dole. They want to work.
“The Government can find £30million for a Festival of Brexit but flag-waving won’t put food on anyone’s table. They wouldn’t give £20m to feed hungry kids until they were forced to.
“This Government’s priorities are all wrong. Where’s Guy Fawkes when you need him? Where is he?”
If you would like to donate to our Christmas appeal, click here