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Manchester Pride, or Mardi Gras as it is sometimes referred to, is a celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Lifestyles. It takes the form of a huge themed festival and usually runs for around 2 weeks altogether, culminating in the 'Big Weekend' and Parade which take place August Bank Holiday weekend. The event has been running since 1990 so 2010 is a big year, celebrating 20 years of Pride festivals in the City. Although there are other Prides in the country, Manchester is one of the biggest and longest running, attracting thousands of visitors to the 'Village', primarily the infamous Canal Street. Money is raised throughout the festival and donated to LGBT and HIV charities. Not only is there the Parade / Pride March, but there is also arts, music and cultural events, big club nights, a Lifestyle Expo and a Market. Manchester Pride festival won the Pink Paper [LGBT Publication, as name suggests!] Awards 2010 for Best Festival / Pride Event.
The great city of Manchester is a perfect base for this event, served by it's own International Airport, with super transport links and inner city services it really is easy to get to and to find your way around. Plus it has a Selfridges - I mean what more could you want? It's important when your being 'Out and Proud' that you feel safe to do so, in Manchester I have always felt safe to be who I am, not only in the Gay Village area. As I have mentioned, the hub of the Pride event is centred around Canal Street.
Getting there / around
If at all possible I would recommend public transport, if you drive there like I do the City Centre traffic is vulgar because of the volume of visitors. Best to use park and rides, or park up at your hotel on arrival and then use public transport for the duration of your stay. Walking, Trams, Licensed Cabs, Buses (particularly Magic Buses as they're cheap) along with the trains between Piccadilly station and Victoria station are all good ways of getting about. Just be sensible, i.e. don't walk back to your hotel on your own at night, don't get in an unlicensed cab, etc.
Tickets go on sale each year around May time, if you visit the website http://www.manchesterpride.com and sign up to receive email alerts or become a follower / fan on their Twitter or Facebook pages, then you will be the first to know tickets are available. Quite often they offer earlybird tickets, or they usually cost around a tenner each full price. You can sometimes pre-book tickets for exclusive events once you're at Pride, such as Club nights - best thing to do is subscribe to every email alert, Twitter page and Facebook group going, then you wont miss out!
As I may have already mentioned, this festival means Manchester's Gay Village is BUSY! Accordingly the accomodation costs are inflated and a room on Portland Street (runs parallel to Canal Street about a minutes walk) for 1 night over the big weekend will cost around £100, discounts are often given if you stay more than 1 night. The best thing to do as with the tickets is to begin looking early, consider getting a group together and splitting the cost of a 'family - sleeps 4' room, or stay further afield and 'commute'. Or, call up the friends or relatives who live in Manchester who you haven't seen for a while and see if they fancy a catch up ;o) My favourite is the Britannia on Portland Street, this year it seems to be around £125 per night for a 'budget' double (i.e. in the basement, or with only a skylight rather than a window!). It might seem expensive but it saves on evening taxi fares, travelling around, etc as everything is within a few minutes walking distance.
So, so far I have spoke in general about the event, how to get there, where to stay, but what actually happens? Briefly: You arrive at the 'gates' to the Village, situated at various points (you get a map with your tickets in the post so these gates will be easy enough to find). Then you exchange your ticket for a wristband and are granted entry to the Village. This wristband lasts the duration of your visit, so take care of it. Now you're through the gate, it's up to you what you get up to. You will receive an Events listing with your map, so now all you need to do is make sure you're in the right place at the right time. Keep in mind this is primarily an opportunity to meet other like-minded people and feel comfortable / relaxed being yourself.
Within the Village, out on the streets, inside bars, restaurants, cafes, etc it is like a huge carnival; you will see people dressed up and down, families, mixture of ages, backgrounds, etc along with hundreds of street sellers, PR staff and consequently, because they can be easily absorbed in to the croud, there will definitely be a few unsavoury characters around too. So just becareful, keep your safety at the forefront of everything, don't be tempted to buy drugs regardless of whether you normally would take them, seriously I know its taboo, but date rape drugs disguised as other drugs are common, so just say no. Keep your bag and possessions close by, leave anything of value at home. Don't be aggressive towards the other visitors, if someone bumps in to you, it is probably an accident owing to the huge crowds, rather than a personal attack! Mind your drinks at all times, I was with someone who was really spiked at Pride. To say it was frightening for me as an observer would be an understatement. Stay with your friends, don't go off on your own. If you're lucky enough to get 'lucky', swap numbers and go home with your friends. Don't go back to a hotel or home with a stranger, alone. Ooo and before I forget, do not use your phone or digital camera for pictures on nights out - you will be a little bit inebbriated and ask someone dodgy to take a group pic, bang, that's your beloved phone or camera stolen. Take a couple of disposables or if you take your phone or camera keep it on you, hidden at all times.
Leading up to Pride there are several competitions which you will be made aware of either through signing up to email newsletters, or by following Pride on social networking sites. In the past an example of a competition was to design the Pride logo for the Theme they'd chosen. Winners are rewarded with all sorts of freebies including free tickets (normally VIP), club night tickets, free drinks, merchandise, etc. Some competitions even give you an opportunity to feature on a float in the parade or to have your work featured in the festival, great advertising for budding designers.
Throughout the Pride event, all of the Gay Village bars and clubs have special promotions on drinks and entry and some have some really exciting acts on. A lot of Club nights require pre-booked tickets as the demand is so high they simply cannot meet it. You should be aware of these club nights and pre-booked tickets before you go to Manchester for Pride, especially if you don't live close. You do not want to spend your first Pride in your hotel room, feeling sorry for yourself and missing out on all of the fun!
Pride is great for seeing Celebs, and not just D Listers. Sure I have seen Andy out of Emmerdale and some of the original Atomic Kitten line up, but I have also been lucky enough to see Kelly Jones out of Stereophonics around Manchester during Pride. Kelly Llorenna, my favourite Clubland Diva was at Pride one year I was there performing at a Club and we just bumped in to her when we were walking down Canal Street!
The Big Weekend
So I've mentioned it a few times. The Big Weekend is where it's at when it comes to being Out and Proud and having a party to end all parties! It's the culmination of all of the preceeding Pride events and it's basically a big blow out incorporating the Pride March (I'll talk a little more about this later). The Big Weekend is most popular with out of towners and is wild. Along with overpriced but super fun fairground rides there is a huge LGBT crafts and merchandise market which is brilliantly full of funky clothing, bags, accessories even Wedding Stationary! There are reading groups and book fairs, theatre groups performing and of course the Main Stage, which you will see on your maps / tickets. I saw Beth Ditto and the Gossip for the first time on the Main Stage at Pride! Also acts such as Kelly Rowland have played too. There is also a Lifestyle Expo, which was introduced to the Festival in 2003 and consists of over 50 exhibitors like the Royal Air Force and NHS Direct along with The [Official] Gay Wedding Show, Adoption agencies, etc promoting and supporting equal integration of LGBT lifestyles. It is really one not to be missed, particularly if you've always thought you can't adopt, or can't join the military. Literally the streets are filled with people like a sea of faces and everyone is there to have a great time so enjoy it!
The Pride Parade
Make your way to Princess Street in plenty of time for the Pride Parade. Along with floats, dancers, music and various exhibitors, this is a time for families and friends to come together and really feel proud. There are so many floats, my favourites included the North West Fire Brigade who all danced with their shirts off and the Vanilla float with an onboard DJ was pretty cool too. It's really good fun, really exciting and you can't help but feel akin to those around you. Its brilliant and if you're on Canal Street having a few drinks, lunch and a great time; thinking, I'll just miss the Parade - then Don't! It's a major highlight of the weekend and if you're lucky enough you may even be given freebies from the floats or picked out to go and get up and dance!
Parade theme 2010...
The theme for this year's Manchester Pride Parade is THROUGH THE DECADES. Applications will open in Spring. You can also show your support for Pride by Volunteering or submitting a Business Float for advertising in the Parade, again, check on the website. 2010 Pride will be 20-30 Aug 2010 and tickets officially go on sale May, hope to see you there!