I got a brief respite in August from the extreme heat of our New Orleans summer when I made a trip across the pond to Merrie Olde England. It was an amazing experience filled with adventure, parades, festivals, hurricanes, and a lot of gaiety! I hope you enjoy my “Tale of Two Gay Cities” except in this story, it will be Brighton and London, not Paris and London.
“Why Brighton?”, one may ask. Well, some friends and I joined New Orleans & Company as they were one of the main sponsors of Brighton’s Gay Pride Celebration. Since the direct flight to London from the Crescent City on British Airways began, the United Kingdom has quickly moved up to the number two spot of NOLA’s international tourists.
Hoping to bring about more visitors and show our diversity, Brighton Pride seemed like a logical promotional opportunity. Brighton Pride is not only the largest LGBTQ+ Pride Festival in the United Kingdom, but considered one of the best in the world. This year it celebrated its 50th anniversary. So this first article about my international exploits will be about Brighton.
But let’s start this adventure from the very beginning with my arrival at Louis Armstrong International Airport. Valerie, Matt and I, just three carefree American girls, ready for some fun arrive at the airport and head over to the Delta Lounge for some pre-flighting.
First, the Delta Sky Club is a beautiful and relaxed environment with food and drink. Greeting us in this magical place was the amazing staff and heading that list was Rueben who works behind the bar. He made me the most delicious Bloody Mary I have ever tasted followed by a few glasses of champagne. The cocktails helped us get ready for the long flights.
We landed at John F. Kennedy Airport for a few-hour layover before our next flight. Because of Valerie’s Delta status, we were able to get great deals flying Delta One from New York to London, which in case you have never done that, you are placed in these space age pods with all sorts of luxuries. You are greeted at your seat with champagne and a little nosh and then you’re fed twice during the fight and given a lovely personal gift pack that contains all sorts of great items including slippers (I mean who gives slippers?!).
This, of course, is the ultimate relaxation when flying but I did not sleep. I never know when I am going to fly in this style again, so I stayed up all seven hours of the flight and enjoyed food, cocktails and movies. I love the attention and service. Not sure, tho, if my flight attendant enjoyed my enthusiasm. I explained to her that she will get her steps on this flight because I love champagne and will keep her busy. She brought me a chilled bottle, which gave her at least an hour of relief to tend to the other passengers. But I digress.
We landed at Heathrow Airport which is a madhouse and quickly found our car to bring us to Brighton which is about 1.5 hour drive from London. Brighton is a seaside resort and one of the two main areas of the city of Brighton and Hove in England’s county of East Sussex.
Today, Brighton’s location has made it a popular destination for tourists, renowned for its diverse communities, shopping areas, large & vibrant cultural, music & arts scene, and its large LGBT population, leading to its recognition as the “unofficial gay capital of the UK” and as of the 2021 census, 10.7% of the population of Brighton and Hove over the age of 18 identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the highest percentage in the entire UK. Brighton has been called the UK’s “hippest city” and “the happiest place to live in the UK”.
We stayed at the historic DoubleTree by Hilton Brighton Metropole. The architect was Alfred Waterhouse, who also was architect of University College London and the Natural History Museum, London. It was built in 1890 and has 340 rooms. It was a great hotel on the seafront near all the excitement and tourist attractions.
We checked in and my friends crashed because of jet lag. Running on excitement and gay energy, I decided to start exploring. It was very cool to walk along the boardwalk overlooking the English Channel. The English Channel is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates Southern England from northern France.
I went to the Brighton Palace Pier located in the city center. Established in 1899, it was the third pier to be constructed in Brighton, but is now the only one still in operation. By 1911, it had become a frequently-visited theater and entertainment venue. Aside from closures due to war, it continued to hold regular entertainment up to till 1973 when the theater was damaged. Following a buy-out, the theater was demolished in 1986, changing the pier’s character from seaside entertainment to an amusement park, with various fairground rides, arcade games and roller coasters. It is also where one of my favorite shows Midsommer Murders filmed an episode in 2010 with their House of Horrors being the setting for a grisly murder. Love it! I also tried fish’n’chips and a pint as I watched the tourist stroll pass. Such a great people-watching spot.
Next I checked out The Lanes. The Lanes are a quirky labyrinthian area of narrow alleyways, hidden squares,intriguing shops, renowned jewelers and plenty of places to eat & drink. It’s a very cool area, but once you start walking around them, you can get turned around easily. Parts of The Lanes date back to the late 16th century when Brighton was a small fishing town called Brighthelmstone. The Cricketers Arms on Black Lion Street was built around 1545, and is believed to be the oldest pub in the area.
Came back to the hotel, freshened up and then met my friends for dinner. We went to The Ivy in the Lanes. The Ivy is a sophisticated chain of restaurants that feature British classics as well as Asian-inspired cuisine. The restaurant was gorgeous as was the weather that night so we opted to sit in their courtyard and watched the area bustle with people enjoying the Gay Pride weekend.
To add to the ambiance, there was a guitar player stationed directly across the lane from us playing the most beautiful and magical music which weirdly enough included some of my favorite songs. When he did Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”, I knew this was going to be a great trip. After dinner, we returned to the hotel and had a nightcap at their Metropole Bar & Terrace. After my first cocktail, jet lag caught up with me since I had probably been up for a straight 48 hours and tomorrow would be a big day, so I retired to bed.
That Saturday was the day of the Brighton Pride Parade and it was also the day of their first storm of the season. Their storms are named just like our hurricanes and guess what the first storm name was – Antoni! Of course it had to be my name. I brought a friggin hurricane to England, cheers mates.
Anyway, these Brits are a tenacious lot. There were Category One winds and they just said “Watch out for flying debris so you don’t get impaled. Have a good ride and Cheerio!”
So we climbed on the float and got ready. The float had several members from New Orleans & Co. as well as major travel industry clients from London. It was a great opportunity to promote our city as a major destination in the United States.
I wore a brilliant costume I had worn when I was the gay Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville in Armeinius’ 50th anniversary ball. I accented it with a stunning oversized rainbow boa borrowed from the lovely Jimmy Gale and then dumped a ton of glitter on top of me. Talk about Rainbow Bright.
In addition to the storm, there was a railroad strike happening that day. But even though there were many obstacles, the crowds came out in support of Pride. This was truly a memorable experience riding on a float or what they call a float. In reality it was a decorated flatbed truck with sides.
The crowds for both the parade and festival were huge, about 500,000 people. One thing they didn’t allow was for us to throw any beads. But being a true New Orleanian, did that stop us? Hell to the no. We brought beads and just passed them out at the festival which made us the most popular girls there!
The parade ended at the festival grounds in Preston Park. The festival was entitled “FABULOSO in the Park” and ran Saturday & Sunday. They hosted main stage artists as well as popular favorite attractions including Cabaret Tents, Queer Town, the QTIPoC stage, dance tents, a queer movie theater, food vendors, bars, a community booth area, retail and craft vendors and a host of new, diverse & immersive experiences. Music, cocktails, food, shopping and more gay men than you can shake your sugar stick at; I mean this was my happy place. As sponsors, we were fortunate to be in the VIP area, which had its own food vendors, private bars, special stage viewing area, cool seating tents and its own entertainment. The entertainment on the first day was pretty awesome; my standouts were Dylan and the wonderful Black Eyed Peas whose set was unfortunately cut short.It didn’t matter, tho, as they were great.
After the festival, we went for a late dinner at the Salt Room which was connected to our hotel. It’s an award-winning modern seafood restaurant that has great views of the seafront. Their food is delicious and their craft cocktails superb. After dinner, Matt and I traveled to the gay area Kemptown and St. James Street where they were having the Pride Village Party. Kemptown is a small community in the east part of Brighton,known for its Regency architecture, LGBT culture, and shops and cafes.
It was packed with so many people that we ended up just flitting in and out of many of the bars. We finally settled, tho, on a great spot called Bar Broadway which is the area’s number one musical cabaret bar. There were drag queens and lots of gay men.
The party spilled out into the outside alley where people congregated and there was even a small outdoor stage for the evening. Weirdly enough, an altercation broke out between some drunk guy and the bar’s bouncers causing the police to be called. I Agatha-Christied the entire thing and was a witness for the protection of one of the hottest Bobbies. God, overseas law enforcement officers are so hot…and their accents are sexy as hell! Who wouldn’t want to be placed in handcuffs. But I digress again.
So after playing all night and into the wee hours of the morning, I went back to my hotel which was a short walk. The seafront is gorgeous all lit up at night.
The following morning, I had a Bloody Mary to get my day jump-started at the Metropole Bar. Then I grabbed an Uber and returned to the festival to get my retail therapy on. OMG, they had some great vendors and I definitely aided the Brighton economy. I even ducked into the movie tent to get a peak at one of the Queer new films they were showing. I mean this festival had everything. The dance tents were exhilarating and the various cabaret tents had drag performers, musical entertainers and dance groups. It was like a gay Jazz Fest.
The performer line-up for the second day was incredible. I saw B*Witched, Vivienne and it ended with Steps who sang my favorite song remake, “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees. The festival was so much fun and the people in Brighton were so nice and hospitable. I can see why this city is so popular.
That evening, we went back to The Lanes for dinner at Ivy Asia, which is the sister restaurant of The Ivy. It, too, was amazing and had delectable cocktails and tasty dishes. The restaurant was decorated ornately and kept the energy up with a live DJ spinning in the dining room. It was another great dining experience.
We walked back through the Lanes, finally making our way to the hotel where we found out that none other than Steps were staying there. So their entourage along with us New Orleanians shut the bar down. It was a magical night and I have to say Brighton is a great destination for LGBTQ+ travelers.