August Bank Holiday in Manchester. Aka, Gay Christmas.

For 25 years, Manchester Pride’s Big Weekend has seen the city proudly paint itself in rainbows, celebrating its stance as one of the best LGBT cities in the world, basically by having a chuff-off party lasting the whole weekend.

The camp goodness kicked off spectacularly on Friday evening with Texas headlining the main stage. As the arena quickly burst its capacity, it’s fair to say that I was not the only one giddy about a real-life Spiteri fix. You’ll be glad to hear that their set, full of nostalgic tunage, did not disappoint.

Sharleen Spiteri was on fine form, armed with so much swagger and charm that several of my lesbian friends are still gushing. But what impressed me most (aside from their music obv) was Spiteri’s delightful potty-mouth. In between songs, the ‘f*cks’ were flying out almost every other word. It really was quite something.

As their set reached its climax, the party was well and truly started. But there were attempts to not totally overdo it as the ever-popular Pride Parade beckoned on Saturday.

Thousands of people (albeit some slightly the worse for wear) lined the streets the following morning to cheer heartily in the name of gay. It was all-kinds-of-cute to see so many children with families taking prize position at the front of the crowd, all keenly engaged in the sticker-collecting game. They clearly had no interest in what was on the stickers. They just wanted AS MANY STICKERS ON THEIR PERSON AS POSSIBLE. Although I did wonder how their parents explained the man dressed in a PVC dog suit being walked on a lead by his ‘owner’.

saturday-manchester-pride2015Leading the procession this year was all-round awesome Sir Ian McKellen who confirmed his legendary status by not just sitting in a car and waving. Instead, he walked happily among the hyped-up crowd, offering out hugs and digging the selfies. What a ledge. If you’ve not seen the picture of Sir Ian hugging a man holding a sign saying ‘You Shall Not Pass Without A Big Gay Hug’, I suggest you get on Google immediately.

By Saturday afternoon the gay village was so rammed it was near impossible to get anywhere. Attempting to safely navigate by means of squeezing through gaggles of drunken gays while avoiding being trodden on, spilt on or elbowed could easily be best-selling game on the app store.

Finding solace in a breathable side street, I bumped into Sian Lambert, women’s coordinator at the LGBT Foundation. Armed with women’s safe sex packs and ‘I love girls’ goodies, Sian’s weekend (along with other LGBT Foundation staff and volunteers) was to rock the outreach and ensure that people stayed safe and informed among the chaos of Pride.

As well as practical advice and services, every year the LGBT Foundation offers a quiet, safe space for people to relax and escape the craziness of the weekend. They do such great work, so a big shout out the LGBT Foundation. If you feel so inclined, do chuck them a donation so they can continue to support our community by offering vital services.

I’d like to mention Danni Minogue who headlined the main stage on Sunday night. However, my inability to think ahead meant that I was met with the ‘Main Arena Full’ sign. I’d be lying if I said I wept tears of disappointment. Alas, I got a full report from friends and apparently it involved a lot of talking and not a lot of singing. That’s a review and half for you right?

After what seemed like a particularly frenzied Pride weekend, it came as no surprise to find the village somewhat subdued on Monday afternoon. The poor weather didn’t help but there was still plenty a-happening. Just as the rain came in, lesbian favourite Lucy Spraggan took to the main stage. For a relatively young performer, Lucy has charm and stage presence by the bucketload. Even if she’s not your brew, she’s undoubtedly talented and a refreshing antidote to the cookie-cutter pop factory.

Closing the party were fellow X Factor peeps Union J. I’m a secret X Factor watcher (shhhhh) so I was happy to find out if they’d fulfil my never-ending desire for cheesy-pop goodness. However, despite the modest but enthusiastic crowd, they weren’t exactly enthusiastic themselves. The small, smiley one kept his smile. As for the rest…well, let’s just say, at one point, one member introduced a song by saying “this song makes me cringe”. Hmmmm.

Booze and partying aside, Manchester Pride ended with the George House Trust Candlelit Vigil. It’s a quiet, moving tribute to those who have been lost to or affected by HIV, a stark contrast following a weekend of hedonism for many.

Pride candlelit vigilHope Theatre Company took to the stage to read out extracts of the call log archive from the Manchester AIDS helpline in the mid-80s. With volunteers manning the phone lines in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, it was as warm and uplifting as it was utterly heartbreaking. Scattered with frequent logs referencing terrified young men concerned about being covered in lesions and lumps, it was deeply affecting. Equally though, the logs were dotted with calls ending in ‘Reassured’.

Culminating in a sea of remembrance candles that lit up Sackville Gardens, the vigil was a beautiful and poignant end to Manchester Pride.

Reflecting on the weekend, I’m left with an empty bank account, no voice and a liver begging to be dried out. But above all I’m damn proud to be a gay in Manchester.

By Hayley-Jane Sims