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Kent: TV presenter Paul O'Grady on country life in rural Kent in his new book, Paul O'Grady's Country Life


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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 in Kent.

The 62-year-old comedian and For The Love Of Dogs presenter reckons there’s no place for sissies in Aldington, where he’s lived for almost 20 years.

His husband, ballet dancer Andre Portasio, whom he married in a quiet ceremony in August, still doesn’t live with him in the Georgian farmhouse, Paul reveals.

Paul has many animals at home in Kent Picture: Nicky Johnston/PA
Paul has many animals at home in Kent Picture: Nicky Johnston/PA

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, as charted in his latest book, Paul O’Grady’s Country Life.

“He was terrified of animals when I first met him but now he takes it all in his stride,” Paul says.

“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, and it works a treat.”

So does Andre have to compete with all the animals for Paul’s attention?

“He’s given up. His dog won’t go near him when I’m around – she sits on my knee.”

Paul, who admits moving to the country from the city was a rude awakening, recounts anecdotes about being mounted by a cow, 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. 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.”

Paul with his dogs Picture: Andre Portasio/PA
Paul with his dogs Picture: Andre Portasio/PA

Andre goes back to London during the week and teaches at the Royal Ballet.

As for married life, he says: “It’s the same as before. 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’,” adding: “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. He’s pristine, you know, everything’s tidy – and I’m not. Julian Clary told me that when I walk into a dressing room, I trash it within seconds.”

Paul O'Grady with his pig Picture: Nicky Johnston/PA
Paul O'Grady with his pig Picture: Nicky Johnston/PA

Away from showbiz, Paul has got himself involved with all sorts of country pursuits, from hand-rearing orphan lambs to 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.

“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.”

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.

“This time it’ll be under a new regime – mine. I didn’t like the first one I did because it was quite chaotic.

"We want a set that looks like Mae West’s boudoir. It’s about love and it has to be shot as live.”

Paul O'Grady with his great friend, Cilla Black, at the Arqiva British Academy Television Awards 2014 Picture: Ian West/PA Photos
Paul O'Grady with his great friend, Cilla Black, at the Arqiva British Academy Television Awards 2014 Picture: Ian West/PA Photos

What was it like stepping into his late best mate Cilla Black’s shoes?

“Well, I was morphing into her. My voice had changed,” he says. “It just felt odd. I expected her to keep coming round the corner. It was hard to do at first. It was awful. I felt I was treading on her toes.

"I turned it down at first, and then we had a meeting and I said if they were true to the original formula, I’d do it.”

Country life has also helped him switch off from showbiz a little. “I could never relax before. Now, I’ll sit and read a book in the afternoon and I don’t have the guilt.”

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

“My cardiologist says, ‘Are you a vampire? I don’t know how you do it! I turned on the telly the other night and saw you fire-eating!’”

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

Paul O'Grady's Country Life
Paul O'Grady's Country Life
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