Brighton Pride; festival of Love for a city, a nation and a global LGBT community.
2015 was the 25th anniversary of Brighton Pride which, given the scale of the event, seemed ludicrous. (How far has it come?!?) Anyway, I’m ashamed to admit that previous experiences of the festival has only ever featured the nightlife component; rocking up on a train with a bottle of wine in my hand and joining the longest queues in town. I’m (apparently) more grown up now so I decided that Preston Park’s event was worth a gander. For the first time in my life I didn’t question the entrance fee. This is despite me being bankrupt and unemployed. (In hindsight, I would have happily paid more too!)
Not being from the South we ended up over-indulging in London the night before. (In fact, I think I had about two hours’ sleep on the Friday night!) We therefore missed the parade part of the event. A nice benefit of this though was that the train was quiet, allowing for a power nap en route.
The streets of Brighton.
From stepping off the train to wandering 5 miles in the wrong direction we joined one continuous street party. The entire city was flooded with bodies, litter, music and laughter. It was truly alive; genuinely the happiest place I think I have ever been. Debris was strewn everywhere as if a city wide explosion had occurred; every green space swamped with bodies intertwining with alcohol; chants whistles and squeals literally echoed down every avenue. Although, down one back alley was the sound of a middle aged women crawling around being sick – at 4pm?! (Propped up by a friend, I’m sure, once composed they would have carried on with their celebrations!) Electronic bill boards were taken over by messages of support from the Liberal Democrats, Smirnoff vodka banners flew from lamp posts celebrating the festival, LOVE WINS was arched above a pub doorway in the form of lettered helium balloons. I felt like a ten year old entering the world’s greatest theme park for the first time. This was only the town centre. And it would only get better.
The Greggs we entered was virtually sold out of pasties whilst Papa John’s had their promo staff dancing on the street (no prizes for guessing who had been more prepared here!) A chav asked if a copper walking past was real or in fancy dress (… your guess is as good as mine mate!) There were drag queens, drag kings, feather boas, mankinis, fans, placards, balloons, tree branches, rainbow flags, peace flags all marching down the street towards the park. It felt like we were the parade. Onlookers staring, others barely noticing; too absorbed in their own party that an elephant could have floated through on a magic carpet and they wouldn’t have flinched. An equal number of rainbow flags and Pride banners blew out of apartment windows, off balconies, shop windows (one charity shop had ‘Gay OK’ t-shirts in their window – adorning manikins which also had black leather mankinis across them!) An independent coffee house blasted out Aha’s, Take On Me from their upstairs window – inadvertently hosting a small street party of its own on the pavement outside. A random house overlooking a common blasted drum and bass for everyone absorbing the 26 degree rays. What looked like independent shop owners from different community groups watched in awe; as if confused by the masses of people. Were they even aware of Pride? Surely they must have been?!
No amount of words can do justice to the atmosphere created by the people on the streets. No word in the English dictionary can sum up the feelings it evoked. Trust me, I spent parts of the day trying to figure out how I could begin to describe the experience.
After stopping off for toilet breaks, food and to take photos of Banksy’s work on the Astoria, we eventually reached the park. Again, litter continued to adorn the streets as if we had missed the party; the late comers everyone would be too drunk to remember..
The truth is, the day was only young.
The festival; Preston Park.
My Lord. On walking through the gates, we saw the main stage. We thought this was it, which was impressive alone. Naturally we wanted to venture around so we followed the path through bushes and trees only to discover there were dance tents, fair rides, temporary bars the size of city centre nightclubs, rows of food trailers, even the toilet area looked like its own village. Different types of music could be heard blasting from one side of the park to another, familiar looking drag queens entertained the crowds on the main stage, the entire park (all the way up to and beyond the horizon) was banging, pumping, bouncing. This was 5pm.
After ditching our bottles of spirits at the entrance, we bought a round of drinks. The logistics behind the bar were fab; one staff member serving, one managing a till, one pouring the drinks, plus another lining up batches of pints. This sequence working down the length of each tent… Nice, quick, effective. We found a spot close enough to the main stage that we could see what was going on via the large screens, but far enough away that we had space and could hear each other. Apart from bumping into old friends and familiar faces (and missing those who I later saw on Facebook had been there) I don’t really know where the rest of the day went.
We came in completely blind and had no idea who was even performing. The only act we were expecting was Blue, but it turned out we had been looking at last year’s website! (Added a bit of excitement to the day at least…) Tulisa came on, followed by Foxes, Ella Henderson and finally the Human League. (Literally, until the Human League were introduced we had no idea they were headlining. (To be honest, we still don’t really know who they are – but that didn’t matter because the park was swamped) I’m not majorly interested in artists / celebrities at the best of times, but I did get caught up in the atmosphere – I even recorded a few cheeky videos. We did sneak off during the Human League’s performance but the other tents were at capacity so we pigged out on hog roast followed by jerk chicken.
Prior to the headline act, the organisers showed a video featuring the many changes to UK law which has positively affected our community. It also covered major LGBT news stories which had arisen since the event began – 25 years of LGBT history in a five minute video. This was my absolute personal highlight of the day. Too many Pride events focus on the entertainment and the alcohol; I’ve been guilty of focussing on this in previous years. But for the organisers to capture so much history and share it to (what I believe was a captive audience of 36,000 people) is nothing short of incredible. And I absolutely take my hat off to all involved. I imagine the clip will be available on YouTube but, in short, it encompassed everything from Hayley Cropper being the first transgender storyline to hit a UK soap to equal marriage being passed in the UK. It highlighted negative news too, like gays being thrown from buildings in the Middle East to sharing HIV rates, something which has affected many in our community since its discovery. The video complimented an earlier appearance from LGBT rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell; another personal highlight, for similar reasons. I became so emotional watching the video I actually dropped my pint of cider on myself and those close to me.
Thank you Brighton Pride, you did your city, our community, and the nation proud. I have no doubt that LGBT folk from across the globe will see what you achieved and try their best to mimic it within their own communities worldwide.
Next year, I’ll be back with more of my northern chums, and I’ll be there for every second of it. I promise.