The comedian and television personality joined residents, businesses and councillors at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern – the pub where he first performed as his Lily Savage alter-ego in the 1980s .
He joined leader of Lambeth Council, Councillor Steve Reed, local MP Kate Hoey and Chair of residents’ group the Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, Eamonn McMahon, in cutting a ribbon to mark the restoration.
The park has a lavish history and the latest chapter has seen it undergo a major £200,000 renovation that has been led by local residents through the Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, working with Lambeth Council and architects DSDHA and artist Martin Richman.
Describing Vauxhall as his ‘old manor’ Paul O’Grady recalled how he performed at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern as Lily Savage four days a week for eight years in the 1980s before he became a household name.
Speaking at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern he said: “I’ve got so many memories of this place – this area to me is my roots. I may even move back!
“I’m really honoured to be asked to be here, and it’s fantastic to see people round here really care about the area, so congratulations to the Friends and the council and everyone else who’s been involved in this project for all their brilliant work.”
The new entrance is complemented by high quality paving and new planting. Safety has been improved by the introduction of better lighting and new sight lines, and the appearance of the park has been improved by the planting of more trees, creating a welcoming and environment for local people to enjoy.
New all-weather sports pitches have been introduced, which are already proving popular with local young people.
In the coming months, the Friends will launch a competition to determine what should be placed on the tops of the columns.
In recognition of its historic past, the park has been renamed as Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens has a lavish history dating back to 1661 and reached the height of its popularity and fashion in the 1800s when it became one of London’s most popular sites of mass public entertainment. Visited by Royalty, Jaquamo Casanova and the poet Shelley, the gardens hosted the premieres of works by Handel and Canaletto painted a famous view of the Grand Walk in 1751.
Levelled to make way for housing in 19th century, it was restored as a public space in the 1970s.
Eamonn McMahon, Chair of Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens said:
“Paul O’Grady’s opening of the new park entrance, and the park’s renaming marks a new beginning for the entire local community who have all worked so hard to see the park revived and reinvigorated.
“Our future will encompass ideas about Art and Music, cultural events and active involvement with the gardens, all aspiring to reflect the magnificent history of the gardens and ensure that its long term future is protected for future generations…viva Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens!”
Councillor Florence Nosegbe, Lambeth Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, said:
“Good quality public spaces are vital as places of leisure and relaxation. These improvements are fantastic and have made the whole area more welcoming and attractive, turning what used to be quite a run down and threatening area into somewhere that people will want to visit and enjoy.
“I want to thank the commitment of the Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, who have worked tirelessly hand in hand with the council and architects to make this happen.”