This weekend was the second ever Isle Of Wight Pride Celebration. It took place in Ryde amidst glorious sunshine. The Island has had a reputation of being backward- looking, set in the past. This was not helped by our previous MP of long-standing, a man who had control of one of the largest constituencies in the UK and who voted against any proposals in government to give equal rights to his LGBT+ constituents. When last year a Pride gathering was proposed, an event which would bring about a boost to the fading island economy there was some backlash from journalists in the local press which made news worldwide and was used as further evidence of how unready the island seemed to face the present day. The MP then sealed his own fate by informing a group of sixth formers that gay people were a danger to society and when one of these posted her outrage on Twitter it was not long before this MP resigned, at last accepting that he was out of step with the modern world.
The Pride parade went ahead and hundreds thronged the streets, families, well-wishers who all entered the spirit of the event. The organisers, flushed by the success and positive feelings from a community who we were often informed were not keen on the idea of Pride by those in power decided to go one further and applied to become the hosts of UK Pride, a prestigious event which would bring many more over to the island. Other towns and cities applied but the bid for the Isle of Wight was the successful one and through hard work and dedication of a small group of people UK Pride at the Isle of Wight took place. Everyone was aware that it needed to be more than just a one day event and there has been many fund-raisers and events which have stressed the cultural and political importance of being able to accept and be accepted for your identity. The hashtag- I Own My Destiny has become the theme for the events. My partner Karl organised art exhibitions which displayed work from those artists on the island who identify as being LGBT+ and also from those who were finalists in a UK Pride art competition. His short interview with Solent Radio can be found here.
The 15,000 tickets went incredibly quickly and a parade through the streets of Ryde was cheered by the thousands more who came to see it. We stood to watch the parade on Union Street, which is steep and heads down to the seafront. As well as the floats and marchers representing many different organisations there was a 150m rainbow flag which looked absolutely fantastic as it billowed down the steep hill, being lifted by the breeze and covering the whole street as far as the eye could see. This was a breath-taking moment.
Celebrations continued on the beach for those lucky enough to be ticket-holders. Pride on the Isle Of Wight is apparently the only Pride event to take place on a beach in the world. This is a little bit of a risk if the weather is not so good but Saturday was fabulous and we enjoyed a sun-drenched afternoon watching performers, wandering around the stalls and soaking the atmosphere of a truly inclusive event at which there were people of all ages and very positively, lots of families. It seems a little mean to single out certain performers but there were three which will stick in my mind. The crowd was really lifted by a Dolly Parton tribute act Kelly O’Brien who went down an absolute storm, as did Britain’s Got Talent 2016 semi-finalist Danny Beard who has a great voice and whose version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was terrific. Promoting EuroPride 2019 in Vienna was its ambassador and top of the bill act, Eurovision song contest winner Conchita who charmed the audience and who also really can sing live.
Danny Beard and Conchita – two of the main stage performers
It was a great day, superbly organised and must put Isle Of Wight Pride, on just its second year in the list of the best Prides in the UK alongside London, Brighton, Birmingham and Manchester. It brought in a lot of tourists who were prepared to spend money boosting the island economy (unlike the IOW Festival) and most importantly showed that the Isle of Wight is a relevant place, no longer rooted in the past, but with a vision of the future.
I’ll leave you some words from the official guide publication.
“We really want to capture the essence of Pride, celebrating how far we have come, but realising who much there is still to do. Pride has always been about fighting for rights, for the right to be yourself without fear or prejudice. The right to be in control of your own life and to OWN your destiny.”
On a hot afternoon in Ryde this weekend this was achieved.