Saunders and her pal Joanna Lumley were handed the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Award for their TV show Absolutely Fabulous, and the pair donned flamboyant costumes for the 2002 prizegiving.
They were surprised when the event took a sombre turn, and Saunders admits she has “never been so embarrassed”.
She tells U.K. talk show host Graham Norton, “We got made honorary New Yorkers. It was a ceremony at the Senate in New York, during Gay Pride week… so we went and I thought this will be a good old night.
“I said to Joanna… ‘Let’s go dressed up.’ So I got a white hat with the stars and stripes around it, a great white suit…
“So we went dressed up looking like clown versions of ourselves to, honestly, one of the most serious events I’ve ever been to. Lots of songs for people who had died, there was tears and slow piano playing.
“Whoopi Goldberg introduced us with such a lovely citation… I’ve honestly never been so embarrassed in my life. I had a stetson with a stars and stripes (flag) coming out of it!”
The pair later attended another party in the city and felt much more comfortable with their outfits. Saunders adds, “We then went on to a gay club where they’d done a lookalike contest and suddenly I was with my people.”