Geordies are (in)famous for their ability to party hard. Every weekend, people flock to the ‘toon’ from all four corners of Britain to experience the city’s legendary nightlife. So, by rights, the odds were always that Newcastle Pride 2012 would be a resounding success. However, three key factors might have put the festival’s success in jeopardy; first, the weather. After two weeks of almost non-stop torrential rain, many were sceptical that the meteorological situation would improve significantly enough for Pride attendees to feel that they were actually at a summer event. Linked to that was the last-minute change of location from Leazes Park, where Pride has been held for many years, to Exhibition Park. Lastly, some people expressed disquiet as to whether the recent controversies surrounding Pride London might have any impact on its northern cousin.
In the end, pessimists were left confounded by what transpired to be an overwhelmingly positive day of blue skies, sunshine and fun on Tyneside. The Pride parade started at Civic Centre at 12pm and made its way down John Dobson Street, Northumberland Street, Blackett Street, Percy Street and Haymarket, before passing Newcastle University en route to its ultimate destination, Exhibition Park. What stood out when studying the participants in the parade was the sheer diversity of those present. There were representatives from several key trade unions, a multi-ethnic group of women from a local domestic violence charity, children, people on stilts – you name it, it was represented. As the snake of rainbow colours moved through the city centre, you could not fail to be moved by the sheer joy of such a display of solidarity and colour against the backdrop of a summer sky. The people of Newcastle clapped, waved and, in the case of a certain group of construction workers, performed a random version of ‘YMCA’ on a crane as the parade passed.
As luck would have it, the move to Exhibition Park proved to be inspired, the expansive green space providing an ideal setting for the many stalls, bars and tents erected for the day. The event was organised to perfection by Pete Darrant and his team and, importantly, a significant but not overbearing police presence meant that visitors felt safe and secure. The entertainment on the main stage began at 1pm, compered by legendary drag queen Miss Rory, whose irreverent mix of humour and time-perfect punchlines did more than an efficient job of filling the time in between the acts. We spoke to Miss Rory during a well-earned break to find out how she felt about being invited back to host the main stage; ‘It’s lovely; it’s the fourth year I’ve been asked to do it. It gets bigger and better each year. This year has topped it all – it’s been fab’. On the reason so many people turned out this year, Miss Rory said; ’I think because there is a semblance of crowd mentality, but mainly because people want an excuse to party and what better excuse to party than just by being yourself? I think people’s attitudes have changed in general. People are more confident in being themselves, and, are allowed to be’. Wise words.
Before the acts took to the stage, Councillor Nick Forbes, the openly gay leader of Newcastle City Council gave a speech to the crowds in which he declared that Newcastle is a city where ‘no one need fear the darkness of the closet’, to rapturous applause. We then took the opportunity to chat to Diva Fever, finalists on X Factor 2010, and found them to be effervescent and eloquent; ’Pride is really important to us; there’s still a lot of prejudice out there, even now. We were just saying the other day about how lots of celebrities are still scared to be out. In this day in age, everyone should be able to be out, proud, themselves’. Having recently discussed the issue of ‘camp-phobia’ on So So Gay, we were keen to hear the boys’ views on the issue; ‘The whole thing about Pride is equality; it’s about celebrating everyone, no matter how ‘camp’ or ‘masculine’ you are. I don’t think people should be pigeon-holed. It’s not like being camp is anything new in the entertainment industry. We’ve got Graham Norton, Paul O’Grady, even going back to Larry Grayson and people like that. We’re not saying that everyone has to be camp; let’s face it, some people ‘camp’ it up, some people ‘butch’ it up. It’s all part of what makes us fun’. True to their word, the duo wowed the crowds with their über-camp antics later in the day.
Scooch were the first act to perform on the main stage and worked their way through a range of Glee numbers, as well as ‘All That I Needed To Know’ and, of course ‘Flying The Flag (For You)’, their Eurovision entry from 2007. The crowd erupted in laughter as the band introduced the song by saying ‘This is the song we took to Eurovision and we came second… to last!’. It set the scene nicely for Kelly Wilde, a Pride stalwart, who sang a number of tracks, including Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ and ‘Gloria’, enthusiastically before, somewhat randomly, asking the crowed ‘Who wants to have sex tonight?’.
Local singer Sam Dickinson, interviewed by So So Gay shortly before Pride, oozed confidence as he performed a heady mix of soul and jazz with his band, which fitted in perfectly with the sunshine warming the crowd. On top form vocally, Sam left his pièce de resistance for his finale, a rousing rendition of ‘Lift Your Head’, an anthemic self-written song, for which he was joined on stage by LGBT community choir, Northern Proud Voices, who had themselves entertained the crowds earlier in the day. We asked Sam what his personal highlight of the day was; ‘The highlight for me was the fact that I was out there in front of 23,000 people with my band behind me – the fact we brought soul music to the North East’.
After a more sombre performance by lesbian singer, Horse, it was the turn of the Cheeky Girls. The Romanian twins were a true highlight of the day, with their characteristically leftfield style perfectly suited to a hedonistic, carefree day in the blazing sunshine. Intermittent use of golden pom-poms only served to enhance the camp factor as they sang ‘Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)’, ‘Hooray Hooray (It’s A Cheeky Holiday)’ and ‘Take Your Shoes Off’. There really was no faulting their infectious joie de vivre and the crowd showed their appreciation by singing, dancing, clapping and cheering throughout.
Headline act, Sonia, looked genuinely ecstatic at the crowd’s euphoric response to her appearance on stage and worked her way competently through a mix of her own tracks and cover versions. Again, Eurovision reared its head as the Liverpudlian legend gave a rip-roaring performance of ‘Better The Devil You Know’, her entry from 1993. She loved it, and so did the audience.
At this point, we were eager to catch up with Pride organiser, Pete Darrant, to find out how he felt the day had panned out; ’It’s going fantastically well’, he told us, with a massive smile, ‘There are record crowds here and we have exactly what we wanted: the sun is out in Newcastle! Last year, we had 2,000 people marching, this year it’s been 4,000. It’s buzzing’. We mention the visible support from the public on the march. Pete is clear in his view as to what lies behind this; ‘I think it’s through things like Pride, awareness raising. Pride is hosted by the LGBT community but it’s for everyone. The idea is to promote diversity while having fun. We are showing the heterosexual community that we are their friends, their work colleagues, their neighbours, their partners in life’.
With those words ringing in our ears, we made our way out of the park, past attendees in varying states of inebriation, but all with huge smiles on their faces. There was no controversy, either before or during this Pride. There were just perfect blue skies, glorious sunshine and a palpable sense of pride to rival that found in any metropolis. Here’s to Newcastle Pride 2013.