The co-headteacher of Paul O’Grady’s local primary school has said “we took him into our hearts and he took us into his” as students paid tribute to the TV star.
Children from Aldington Primary School paid their respects ahead of the entertainer’s funeral on Thursday with picture collages and drawings of dogs.
They were among those lining the streets of the Kent village, O’Grady’s adopted home for more than two decades, and brought a large banner that simply said: “Thank you Mr O’Grady.”
“He would not just turn up and then go, he would stay and chat to the children. Everyone who met him would say what you see on the screen is what you see in real life. He was a larger-than-life character who lit up a room.
“His death has been very unexpected and the children and staff had a conversation. We felt it appropriate that we would commemorate with a banner out the front of the school which will simply say ‘Thank you, Mr O’Grady’.”
He added that “as a community there is a great feeling of sadness over losing Paul and for all the things he did for the community. As a community, we took him into our hearts and he took us into his.”
Year six pupil Oliver Burden, 11, told the PA news agency he had met O’Grady a number of times and found him “very, very funny”.
“He was not like one of those famous people who just stays in his house and tries to stay away from everyone,” he added.
“I saw him when I was working at the summer fete and he was doing a dog show.
“I went round and said: ‘Is that Paul O’Grady?’ and he said: ‘Yes, it is Paul O’Grady.’ He told me quite a lot of facts about dogs.
“He was just a wonderful man and I am so sad that he passed away.”
Claire Gates, a year two teacher, also remembered O’Grady, telling PA: “He was lovely and very, very appreciative of teaching, and always said how he could never do it.”
Reflecting on her students’ tributes, she added: “Asking children to draw anything, they get really excited and when they found it it was dogs … they got very, very excited, it is just a great way to show love and how much we love what he has done.
“We are such a small village, it is lovely that he took a shine to us when he didn’t need to.
“He could have lived up the top of the hill and had nothing to do with us, but he didn’t. He made a conscious effort.”
The funeral of the comedy and TV stalwart will take place on Thursday afternoon, featuring a guard of honour with dogs from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, in a special nod to O’Grady who became an ambassador for the animal charity in 2012 and rehomed five dogs while filming his multiple award-winning ITV show Paul O’Grady: For The Love Of Dogs.