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GarySeven -- from the UK

Mardi Gras, GayFest, Europride 2003 & Manchester Pride 2004 & 2005
Manchester's annual gay event began small and with the best of intentions. Now businesses make tens of millions, the public pays a fortune and less goes to good causes
 

LEFT: Huge crowds line the route of the 1998 Mardi Gras parade.

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Monday 26 August 1991. The 'street market' jumble sale takes place in Sackville Park. This includes some shots of the Rembrandt Hotel and Canal Street 'how they used to look'.

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NOTE: the latest news appears at the end of page 3.

This web page started out in the 1990's as an up-beat celebration of Manchester's annual August Bank Holiday event, featuring my own photographs and videos. As the years have passed, it has become more concerned with what goes on behind the scenes.

So a lot of it is about the fibs and misinformation, the double-talk, the politics and back-stabbing, because I just couldn't ignore that side of things anymore. Above all, it shows the transformation from an event that was created to raise money for charity, into one that is now mainly about producing the largest-possible profits for businesses.

It's amazing what you find when you look just under the surface. The problem is, few people do look. Partly because it is so difficult (the current organisers really don't like giving out facts and figures).

But here is what I have managed to piece together, from news reports, leaflets, press releases, and even some info from the organisers, which my Member of Parliament helped me get. Sorry the page has become so long as more and more has been added over the years!

I offered my time and skills for free in the early days of the Bank Holiday Weekend. I make no secret of the fact that I am against Pride being a pay-event. However, I present this page in good faith. The facts and figures are correct to the best of my knowledge.

The page has been up for years and the organisers have never contacted me to ask for anything to be changed or corrected.

If you have anything to add, comments or corrections, please contact me here.

HISTORY

The Manchester Lesbian and Gay Mardi Gras grew out of a small August Bank Holiday event that was started at the beginning of the 1990's by Peter Beswick of the Rembrandt Hotel and Paul Orton and Brian Walker from Clone Zone store.

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'Gay Olympics', Saturday 24 August 1991. Teams from Manchester pubs, clubs and organisations compete.

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The aim was to help people who had HIV and AIDS.

Looking back, it's hard to imagine the degree of panic and distress that there was in the mid to late 1980's. Everyone wanted to do something to help. At the beginning of 1991, the Village Charity was formed, with the August event as its biggest fund raiser.

Canal Street, August Bank Holiday 1990

In the early years, the Bank Holiday weekend included a jumble sale, with the 'Gay Olympics' in 1991 with 'sports' such as handbag throwing!

A Carnival of Fun Weekend, Manchester 1991 (285k)A Carnival of Fun Weekend, Manchester 1991 (240k)Flyer for Manfest '91 Manchester (111k)
Some flyers from 'A Carnival of Fun' 23-27 August 1991 (click to see bigger). Attractions include Mickey Methane and a tripe eating competition. Sunday evening at Rockies is cancelled due to the licence being refused (thanks to the unfriendly Police in those days, probably!). But the management is providing free coaches to Sheffield and you can still enjoy 'Wet Jocks in the Mineshaft' on Monday. Hmmmm...
 
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Paul Orton of The Village Charity says a few words on the final night of the 1991 event.

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Canal Street, August Bank Holiday 1990
A very different looking Canal Street on the August Bank Holiday weekend 1990. At a 'jumble sale', old clothes and other unwanted stuff are sold to raise money for HIV & AIDS, including the ward at Monsall Hospital.

The first few years were small, fun, very gay and made lots of money for good causes. In 1991, fireworks were donated by a city centre development agency and artistes gave their services for free. In 1994/95 the Village Charity was able to give out grants totalling more than 60,000.
TRIVIA
There was embarrassment in '91 when the organisers were hoodwinked by a man who claimed to be one of the Romanov (Russian Royal) family and he appeared on the stage at the closing ceremony. He was later discovered to be a fraud.

August Bank Holiday 1990 on Canal Street, Manchester
The name Mardi Gras was introduced. The event became larger and began to generate a lot of income for the city and its businesses. By all accounts, lots of enjoyment was had by all.

By 1998, the Village Charity had fallen by the wayside and the City Council and major sponsors -- including a radio station -- had become involved. The BBC TV series Made In Manchester gave an insight into what was going on behind the scenes.

But Mardi Gras seemed to be 'less gay' and was promoted more as a festival for the general public. Some of the people who were encouraged to attend were homophobic (I remember a woman shouting 'perverts' at us on Canal Street on the opening night in 1998).

Big money was at stake for local businesses and various people were being paid. It felt that things were going wrong and the original purpose was being forgotten.

Manchester's gay village was also heading downhill, as big business moved in. According to bar-owner Julia Grant (external link/cached version), the few remaining gay-owned bars and restaurants were being 'pushed into the back streets' away from Canal Street.

Up until 1999, the money to run Mardi Gras was raised from businesses, collections and fundraising events. But a change was on the way...

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