They do say you should never work with animals or children. But hey, what do they know? Paul O’Grady has proven them wrong on both accounts. Whilst his multi-award-winning Battersea series For The Love Of Dogs continues to go from strength to strength, in this new programme he swaps sick dogs for sick kids as he volunteers as Great Ormond Street Hospital.
By Matthew Gormley @MatthewPGormley
“They do say you should never work with animals or children. But hey, what do they know?”
Paul O’Grady has proven them wrong on both accounts. Whilst his multi-award-winning Battersea series For The Love Of Dogs continues to go from strength to strength, in this new programme he swaps sick dogs for sick kids as he volunteers as Great Ormond Street Hospital.
GOSH is one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals, with 600 children passing through its doors each day. There are 4,000 staff, from doctors and nurses to cleaners and cooks, all helping to keep spirits up as these brave, courageous and awe-inspiring youngsters battle the struggles which life has unfairly thrown their way.
In last year’s For The Love Of Dogs Christmas special, Paul took a handful of rescue dogs from Battersea to meet some of the children who, unfortunately, weren’t going to be able to spend Christmas at home. Inspired by their bravery, his experience birthed this brand new six-part series.
For Paul, this is a case of going back to his roots. In the late 1970s, he may have been performing on the dingy stages of working men’s clubs as his comic creation Lily Savage in the evenings, but by day he was a care worker at Camden Council. Here, he puts his experience to good use. Since then, his circumstances may have changed dramatically, but his empathy and compassion remain, as he demonstrates beautifully.
In the opening episode, he meets 13-year-old Mackenzie, whose condition Microtia, commonly known as ‘little ear’ has left him subjected to many years of cruel taunting in the playground. Paul follows this remarkably chipper young man during a ground-breaking procedure in which part of his ribcage is used to construct a brand new ear. Putting a comforting arm around his anxious mother as she cries watching her son being taken away to theatre, Paul knows exactly what to say to reassure her that everything’s going to be okay, fighting back his own tears.
It’s far from all doom and gloom. Paul knows exactly how much humour to introduce. Donning a hairnet and getting stuck into making lunches for the patients, he’s in his element when given the opportunity to perform for the children, offering a young girl the wine menu as he serves up a plate of sausages and mash, encouraging her to pretend it’s a gourmet meal.
It isn’t just O’Grady churning out the gags. We meet eight-year-old Emmanuel, who is unable to use his legs and has spent his short life in and out of the hospital receiving all kinds of treatment. Despite this, he’s full of beans and, having just had pins removed, delights in giving Paul a tour of the ward, which he describes as ‘fantastico’, and having his casts decorated in glitter and emblazoned with his favourite football strip.
‘Why did the golfer wear two pairs of pants?’, he asks Paul, grimacing.
‘Because he had a hole in one.’ Of course.
‘I do the funnies round here!’, Paul smirks as he laps it up.
Emily (8) and her brother Luke (5) both suffer from the genetic condition Cystic Fibrosis. Whilst at GOSH for their latest round of treatment, the siblings explain to Paul how they need to remain active in order to keep their symptoms under control. The temperament on these children as they deal with such a debilitating condition is inspirational. At such a tender age, the sheer fact that they’re able to process the seriousness of their condition is remarkable. They’re so well-adjusted and their maturity shines through.
‘You should be so proud of yourselves, you are little stars’, says Paul when there are simply no other words deemed appropriate.
Singing in the hospital chapel is nine-year-old Lara, belting out an undeniably cute version of Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. Lara was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening blood disease when she was just one. Attempting to pronounce the official medical name, Paul segues into a Mary Poppins number, painting a beaming smile across Lara’s face.
As she puts it, ‘I had cancer and the cancer made me small’. From the mouths of babes.
Paul tells us that ‘a key part of the philosophy at GOSH is making sure their illness doesn’t get them down’. From the first 30 minutes of this series, it’s clear to see that all the staff and patients believe in this, the children determined not to let their illness define who they are.
Paul is the perfect host, his genuine kindness and warmth seeping through the wards. As always, he’s performing, it’s what he does best, but he ensures the kids are the stars of the show throughout.
The hospital documentary isn’t exactly a new concept, but this series already stands out from the crowd. It’s charming, it’s uplifting, it’s life-affirming and, most of all, it’s real.
Paul O’Grady’s Little Heroes continues on Wednesday 15 August, 8:00pm on ITV.