Well, what an experience!
I am of course talking about Pride London, a day of celebration of the whole gay/lesbian/bi/trans community. I’ve always wanted to go to a Pride march but it wasn’t until Anthony from Paleday asked me to take photos of the band on stage that I got the impetus to get off my fat arse and go.
“What prodded you to go then?” I hear you ask. Easy answer: Paleday were playing the main stage, we had press passes kindly arranged for us – these gave us some fantastic vantage points along the parade and also access to the main photography pit in front of the main stage. All we had to do was turn up at the press stand to collect them, we were pretty damn excited!
I’d been kit-shopping the day before and picked up a 24-105mm f/4 IS L lens for the 5Dmk2 (sidenote: Calumet London are really helpful). This was a bit of a risk, a brand new lens for such a huge shoot but I was really pleased with it (I suppose hiring/borrowing it before means it’s not quite ‘blind’). Alongside the 5Dmk2 I was carrying the Canon 400D with the f/2.8 70-200 IS L and a rather large amount of compact flash. Sorted!
So we showed up around 11am in Trafalgar Square, retrieved our passes and had a little walk around before catching the Tube up to Baker St where the parade was due to commence around 1pm. What struck me immediately was how polite everyone was – I’m used to folks giving me black looks when I take a photo, but we got poses! There were some excellent outfits including an entire cast of “Michael Jackson’s Thriller”, sparkly dresses, a huge 16ft-wide feather set, and lots of flags. I even had a little chat with Boy George, who seems like a nice enough chap!
(Thankyou to the nice young man who wolf-whistled me at Baker St station – very complimentary, gave me a little morale and confidence boost did that!)
I’d split off from Simon and Nicky by this point and walked down Baker St towards the junction of Oxford St: the head of the parade where Sarah Brown (as in ‘wife of Gordon’) was standing. The conditions weren’t very photogenic so I thought I’d stroll down Oxford St – a disastrous move, I got stuck behind the barriers amidst the crowd which ain’t great for taking photos! Ten minutes of walking later – sheer relief – I managed to find a break in the barriers thanks once again to the miracle of the press pass (“let me through! i’m important!”)
And so I found myself standing slap bang in the middle of Oxford St, crowds on either side, walking backwards while taking photos of the head of the parade and officials jostled us to keep our distance from the very important people at the front. As we snapped away I picked up some tips (and observed how more experienced news photographers handle situations) – all very very useful.
There were about 10 of us photographing at the front, very courteous behaviour (again something I’m not used to) – and quite easy to get some fab shots of the costumed people in the parade. We were hustled behind a barrier at Oxford Circus because of the tight turn (dangerous territory as you could get snagged under the wheels) although once the officials all buggered off the photographers joined bits of the parade.
At this point I was starting to feel the heat, literally. The temperature was at least 30C in the middle of the road and although I had a hat on it was blisteringly dry: another photographer I’d hooked up with was also having dehydration problems, our water was all gone, no chance of us getting through the crowd barriers let alone the crowd to get water. Si was on the other side and had a bit of water left, as a lifesaver I texted him – he met us outside H&M and goodness me a mouthful of H20 has never been so welcomed, plus he was waved into the parade too and we started strolling down the middle of Regent St.
(In a rather unexpected moment, Si revealed a gift for me: a Gaydar Radio lanyard! Apparently these are highly prized and I shall treasure it forever, wish I’d seen them in person but t’was not to be.)
The parade participants marched around us, Simon and I occasionally joined in. We became honorary members of Norwich LGBT for about 10 minutes (“Isn’t Norwich a bit flat?” said one photographer. “Depends who you’re lying on top of.” came the reply). As the march continued we dropped back to join the Krishnas for a bit, then the LGBT Catholics, the scouts, and goodness knows who else. Thanks to everyone who let us march with them, it was great fun 🙂
Scorching hot with crowds cheering around us we rounded into Piccadilly Circus and down towards Trafalgar Square – punctuated by the shenanigans of rough lesbians, onlookers partying on scaffolding and bus-shelters, footballers, marathon runners and rugby scrums. The parade marched down Whitehall and petered out in the shades of a side-street – some hugs with participants before myself and Simon decided now would be a great time for a pint, heading for the Sherlock Holmes pub just down from the Square itself. A pint of lager never tasted so damn good.
We were both wondering what had happened to Nicky – our text messages went unanswered, our phonecalls went to voicemail. Turns out she was in the media pit in front of the stage taking pics of Peter Tatchell and her mobile phone battery had run out! We joined her for a while and photographed Kele Le Roc, Bob Crow (who got boo’d), Harriet Harman, Scooch, Mark Read (formerly of A1), Now Then Now Then, Urban Cookie Collective (fronted by Diane Charlemagne), and The Dolly Rockers. That took us up to about 5:30pm.
(I phoned my hairdresser during Scooch, he’s the spitting image of Russ; I don’t think he was impressed.)
During all this I’d been Twittering with other acquaintances who were at the event. Simon and myself decided to wander up to Soho taking in Leicester Square and Dean Street en route. Being in the protected media pit had spoilt us – we hadn’t anticipated the vast crowds and our progress was slow (especially around the Old Compton Street/Wardour Street end). We totally failed to find the women’s stage, but did gatecrash through the exit to the Soho Square dance area waving our passes (“look! we’re allowed!”).
We totally failed to meet up with @fnar although Si clocked Nadia from Big Brother, apparently. It was then we encountered a gentleman wearing briefs who, if I am going to be honest, was packing a hell of a lunchbox – I swear he was padding with a pair of socks, nobody should have a penis that big. Nobody.
I did not want to miss Paleday of course: we left Soho Square for Trafalgar Square again, enjoyed an ice-lolly on the way and picked up choc bars and water for Nicky. On our return Tina Cousins was singing on the main stage, with Paleday due up afterwards – I could see Alex tuning up his guitar, and Steve checking his drum kit.
A bit of a wibble from the compere, and they’re on! It was going to be a short set but they stormed through Eurotramp with the crowd loving it. Anthony welcomed on stage the Pink Singers (a gay choir) who launched into a medley of disco hits, before completing the act with a full choir-and-band version of YMCA which had the entirety of Trafalgar Square (well over 10,000 people) doing the actions – I looked back across and everyone from the front row up to the National Gallery had their arms in the air. Really, it was the highlight of the day for me, absolutely mind-blowing! I also have to say I love Anthony’s new costume coat – and please, more songs from Paleday next year.
Following on was Suzerain and Elouise as we snapped away from the front of the stage. The Dame Edna Experience drag queen from the Vauxhall Tavern bringing South London Action Girls Society to the party with the entire crowd singing along! Finally, Jimmy Somerville – only three songs but he finished with a beautifully calm, quiet comedown version of “Small Town Boy”. Utterly magical, taking us up to about 8:45pm and the end.
We gradually ‘came down’ in the Wetherspoons on Whitehall after meeting Clare and her friend, before grabbing some food and having a walk up through Soho once we’d finally come to the dawning realisation we were just too knackered to go dancing.
My legs hurt like hell as well – principally the top of my thighs since I was crouching, jumping up, crouching, jumping up, rinse and repeat from about 1pm straight through to 9pm. It’s making walking up and down stairs rather difficult.
I took about 14,000 photos (roughly 55GB) and I’m still sorting through although some have been filed to photo agencies already. I’ll get the lot on photo.jml.net over the next day or so I think – if you publish a magazine or are part of an organisation I photographed, and want to use any, please get in touch.
Next year’s Pride is set for 3rd July. Regardless of passes and such, we’ll be there — it was just such a wonderful experience. Meantime I’m back in the office, listening to Gaydar Radio and reliving the happy manic bounciness of the day. Smoochies, darlings.