Monday, 9 July 2012

Not so bad in the end

It’s London, it’s July, it’s raining and it’s Pride – well almost. There can be few people around, who are not aware of the controversy surrounding London’s World Pride this year. There is plenty of speculation about who was to blame, with the main villains emerging as Mayor Boris Johnson, the GLA and Westminster City Council. However you look at it, it does seem that the GLA and Westminster City Council were not exactly helpful when it emerged that the event was in financial difficulties and needed rescuing. When a rescue package was put in place (Smirnoff and QSoft offering to put up the short fall), they announced that it was too late and that resources had already been allocated elsewhere. I seriously doubt that, and I have even heard rumours that the GLA wanted the event to fail this year so that next year the event could be offered to a commercial event management company, the owner of which just happens to be a friend of Boris’s. This may of course be completely untrue, but it sounds more likely to me than the accusations of homophobia being bounced around by some in our community.

To make matters worse WCC was  threatening businesses in Soho with the loss of their licence, if they didn’t strictly adhere to their licence obligations on Saturday, ie no music playing outside bars, and no drinking in the street. They offered no solution as to where up to 250,000 people cramming into Soho would be able to go. Had they not yet worked out that 250.000 into about 20 small gay venues simply will not go. Just do the maths. For these reasons Boris, the GLA and WCC have not surprisingly become the scapegoats for the failure of World Pride 2012, though we can’t lay all the blame at their doors. 

Mistakes have definitely been made by the Pride Committee and they do have questions to answer. London bid successfully for World Pride 2012 in 2008. We had 4 years to plan this event, and what did we have to show for 4 years of planning? A paired down march (definitely not a parade) and a pathetically scaled down concert stage in Trafalgar Square, which finished at 6pm. And who was headlining? Who indeed? Sydney had Kylie, Rome (the home of World Pride last year) had Lady Gaga. We were told we would have Deborah Cox. “Who?” I hear you ask. Precisely. Why not Sir Elton John, George Michael or Will Young, to mention three eminent gay British stars? Or why not Adam Lambert, who has just released his new album Trespassing over here?  I’m not even sure Deborah thingy appeared, because I subsequently heard that Boy George headlined. We love you George, we really do, and, it has to be said, you do your bit; but when was the last time you had a top ten hit? 

It’s been a long time since I had any high hopes for London Pride. Whilst other cities in the UK, like Manchester and Brighton seem to have no problem staging worthwhile events, London has been something of a damp squib for years now. In previous years it has clashed with Madrid, and it seems the majority of London’s queers all book to go over there, in the safe and secure knowledge that London will be rubbish, so they won’t be missing anything. The decision to stage the two events on different weekends was presumably taken so that Madrid wouldn’t clash with this year’s World Pride. In the event, they needn’t have bothered. I had a young friend from Spain over here this week. He, no doubt like thousands of others, was under the mistaken impression that, this being London, and this being World Pride, he would be coming to an amazing party, one to rival Madrid, or Sydney, or Tel Aviv. I actually began to hope so myself, but as the date got closer, and publicity was suspiciously quiet, I started to have my doubts.

First indications that all was not well was this article in Time Out by Paul Burston on June 21st. At that stage the Pride Committee weren’t giving much away, but it seemed evident that they were not on top of things. Then, just over a week before the event, the Pride Committee made an announcement that they would only be able to stage a severely scaled down version of the event. There would be no party in Soho, the parade would now be just a march with no floats (all of which, around 120 I am told, many of them charities, had paid a minimum of £2500 for the privilege)and would now start at the earlier time of 11am, as opposed to the original start time of 1pm, and that the event in Trafalgar Square would now be finishing early. Many people, who bought their travel tickets in advance, would now miss the parade. All the money spent on decorating floats and on costumes would be wasted. Many with disabilities would not now be able to join the march at all. Is it any wonder people were angry? The chair of the Pride Committee, Patrick Williams, resigned over the mishandling of the event, but I think we do need a full enquiry into exactly what went wrong. 

I have to say that as the event gets bigger, I am not completely averse to the idea of a professional event team being brought in, but I would hate to see London Pride descend into the commercialised event Sydney Mardi Gras has become, reportedly now not so much a gay event, but a huge freak show that the straights all come to gawp at. I have always thought Pride should be both political and a celebration, a celebration of our diversity and our victories, but, most assuredly also a political reminder of all that we still have to achieve, both here in the UK and in the rest of the world, where gay people are still in fear of imprisonment or the death penalty.

Happily, and in typically British fashion, the day went much better than I expected. The march was a little sombre, it’s true, but political points were made rather than lost. I was particularly moved by those representatives from countries which do not enjoy the same freedoms that we do. For them, it must have meant a great deal to be able to march in solidarity with other LGBT people without fear of repercussions. Their pride and joy literally shone out from their faces. After the march we made our way to Soho. No provisions had been made to close off the streets, but eventually the police, who had behaved impeccably throughout, had no option as thousands and thousands flooded into the area. Admittedly it was a shame that there was no music or dancing in the streets, but, in the end, neither the rain, nor Boris, nor the GLA, nor WCC could dampen our spirits. 

We left quite early in order to get a little rest before going out that evening. I’m not as young as I used to be, so, out of the many events on offer, I elected to go to just one party, as opposed to the five or six I would have attended in the past. XXL, now settled very firmly into its fabulous new home, Pulse, was rammed to the rafters, as, I have no doubt, were all the other clubs on Saturday night.
Very tired we returned home at 6am. Before he left on Sunday, my friend from Madrid said he had actually enjoyed London more than Madrid. He said he liked the fact that the march was about political issues, and not just about sex, as the Madrid Parade can sometimes appear to be. It may also have something to do with the fact that we decided to take our friendship on to the next level. Whatever the reasons, World Pride 2012 did, in the end, turn out to be one I will always remember.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head here, Greg. I was pleased that things went off well on Saturday rather than the complete disaster it could have been. I was very relieved that the Police showed the common sense to close Soho streets rather than stick to the letter of WCC policy. While it was definitely low-key, I did manage to meet old friends and make new ones, and show our numbers on the streets of London which is important.

    It's difficult to know what way forward now for London. We've tried the big party in the Park, which inevitably ends up outpricing parts of the Community and can end up serving certain sectors of the community only. We've tried the independent trust, which ended up so opaque and mismanaged that we ended up with Saturday's problems. One thing that worries me about the 'party in the park' approach is that it worked in the 90s when there weren't so many pubs in Soho, so it made sense to trek to Brockwell Park or Kennington in order to be part of such a large body of gay people. Nowadays, would people pay £10 or £20 for an event of unknown quality rather than stay in Soho at the bars they like with their friends?

  2. I'm not sure that a party in the park (like Brighton) is the right way forward either, and, given the vicissitudes of the British weather, a park event is always dodgy in any case.
    I'd be curious to know how Manchester manage to do what they do. I've been a couple of times and it works very well. Couldn't something like that work in Soho? Unfortunately I doub t you'd evern get WCC to agree to it.