Tributes are being paid to comedian and presenter Paul O'Grady following his shock death at the age of 67.
His family say he passed away "unexpectedly but peacefully" yesterday evening.
The beloved star, who lived in Aldington near Ashford, rose to fame with his drag queen persona Lily Savage in the 1980s and 1990s before going on to host a string of television programmes.
O'Grady's husband Andre Portasio revealed the tragic news, saying: "It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening.
"We ask, at this difficult time, that whilst you celebrate his life you also respect our privacy as we come to terms with this loss.
"He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion.
"I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years."
His cause of death is not yet known but O'Grady had previously survived three heart attacks in 2002, 2006 and 2014 and suffered kidney failure. He talked very openly about his battle with Covid in April 2020.
The star's most notable appearance came on his daytime chat show The Paul O’Grady Show which began airing in 2004, followed by the New Paul O’Grady Show.
In 2008 he was made an MBE in the 2008 Birthday Honours for services to entertainment.
O’Grady took over the reins from Blind Date’s long-running presenter and his close friend Cilla Black, who died in 2015, to host the Channel 5 reboot of the show in 2017.
He also fronted Blankety Blank, as well as ITV’s multi-award-winning For The Love Of Dogs.
Last year he was joined by the Queen Consort in a special one-off episode filmed at the Battersea rescue centre in Brands Hatch.
O'Grady was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent last year.
A tribute from The Royal Family on Twitter reads: "Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Paul O’Grady, who worked closely with Her Majesty in support of @Battersea_, providing lots of laughter and many waggy-tailed memories."
LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell said "he was one of the loveliest people you could ever meet" and TV presenter Lorraine Kelly described him as a "special man."
Carol Vorderman said: "Already giving them raucous, ripping up the rulebook, mischief making, calling it out, loving hell in heaven. Paul, what are we meant to do without you?"
Fellow radio host and presenter of Ward's Children Awards Charlotte Hawkins tweeted: "Such sad news to wake up to that the magnificent Paul O'Grady has died at the age of 67. What a warm-hearted, hugely talented and funny man he was."
O'Grady was one of Kent's best-known residents and regularly took part in community events such as the opening of Aldington Primary School's fete.
In an awkward moment while tributes were paid to the star in the House of Commons, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab – filling in for Rishi Sunak during Prime Minister's Questions – referred to him by the wrong name.
Responding to the tribute led by Labour MP Chris Bryant, Mr Raab referred to O'Grady as "Paul Grayson" drawing heckles from the benches to correct himself which amid nervous laughter, the deputy prime minister obliged.
Mr Bryant had earlier recalled an occasion with him performing as Lily Savage at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern – a well-known and popular cabaret for the LGBTQ community in London.
He said: "Lily was performing at the height of the AIDS crisis in 1987 when police raided the pub and arrested her amongst others.
"They were wearing rubber gloves supposedly to protect themselves from contracting HIV from touching gay men.
"Lily amazingly said at the time 'oh, lads you've come to do the washing up, that's great'.
"Paul O'Grady campaigned acerbically and hilariously for elderly people and care workers and against oppression of every kind."
He called on deputy prime minister Dominic Raab to comment on it being "time we celebrated our naughty, hilarious drag queens and comics of every kind to inspire us to become a better and more generous nation".
Although getting his name wrong, Mr Raab described O'Grady as an "incredible comic" before praising his alter ego Lily Savage who "broke glass ceilings and boundaries in a way politicians would struggle".
He added: "It also shows we need greater and more rambunctious free speech and avoid wokery and limitations on comedy, which I'm afraid both of them would have had no time for."
"Lily amazingly said at the time 'oh, lads you've come to do the washing up, that's great'..."
O'Grady, who was married to ballet dancer Andre Portasio,was firmly settled in the area, where he had lived for more than 26 years, and in 2021 won planning permission to build a new guest house in his grounds.
He also planned to improve his blue-painted Knoll Hill home by converting the loft into a sixth bedroom and adding an entrance lobby to “create a sense of arrival” at the house.
The renowned animal-lover kept a huge variety of animals, including dogs, cats, ducks, geese, sheep, goats, ferrets, New Zealand pigs and alpacas at his farm.
Paul revealed how initially moving to the Kent countryside had been a huge culture shock, but he quickly came to love his new way of life.
Speaking in 2017, he recalled: “I felt really stressed at first. I thought, ‘What have I done?’ I didn’t drive, I didn’t have a computer. 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.”
He also spoke passionately about protecting the area from over-development.
“We’ve already got four housing estates which have gone up in our village and there are more to come,” he said.
Further tributes have been coming in this morning as people wake up to the shock news.
The Lord-Lieutenant of Kent, The Lady Colgrain, said: "It is with great sadness that we have woken to the news of Paul’s death last night.
"He was a wonderfully warm-hearted and talented man and would always have a welcome smile and kind word to say.
"I appointed him as Deputy Lieutenant last November as I knew how much he loved the county that he had made his home for over 21 years.
"His love of Kent saw him travelling around the county highlighting many of the coastal areas, with a particular fondness for the Romney Marshes.
"He did a huge amount of charitable work and his renowned passion for animals was universally known.
"My thoughts are with his husband, Andre, at this incredibly difficult time."
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home described O'Grady as a "devoted animal lover" and a champion for the underdog.
Chief executive Peter Laurie said: "Battersea will forever remember Paul as a devoted animal lover with the biggest heart, who fell head over heels in love with every dog he met at our centres.
"Paul will always be associated with Battersea and we are truly saddened to have lost such a true friend and huge part of our charity."
Chris Sherwood, chief executive of the RSPCA, said: "Paul O'Grady's love for animals and the incredible way he told their stories inspired countless families to re-home rescue pets and give them a second chance of happiness.
"His tireless campaigning saw Paul recognised with an RSPCA Animal Hero Award for his outstanding contribution to animal welfare, while he once adopted a little lamb Winston from us who had been rescued from a wheelie bin.
"The thoughts of all at the RSPCA are with his loved ones and our friends at Battersea at this difficult and sad time."
His long-time radio producer Malcolm Prince said he had visited his friend on Tuesday, describing him as "laughing, smiling, and full of life".
Mr Prince posted on Twitter: "He was looking forward to so many new projects. And now he's gone. I can't believe it. We have lost a unique talent - and I've lost a dear friend."
O'Grady's most recent project had been playing the role of Miss Hannigan in a touring production of Annie.
He posted on social media that he was "thoroughly enjoying" playing the role again after so long "especially with a truly amazing and lovely cast".