Bursting with pride

Bristol Pride is marking 15 years of inclusive and diverse festivals that have illuminated the city’s LGBTQ+ community since 2010, so we caught up with Aled Osborne (aka famous local drag queen Miss Beaver, who has programmed the famous Cabaret Stage for more than a decade) ahead of this year’s parade and spectacular event at Clifton Down on 13 July.

Pride festivals have come a long way since the first parade held on these shores in London on 1 July 1972. It’s estimated that 2,000 joined the march to show their support to the LGBTQ+ global community, which was still reeling from the Stonewall uprising three years earlier across the Atlantic.

Since then those 2,000 attendees have turned into many hundreds of thousands who flock to more than 280 Pride celebrations held across the UK each year. Yet despite the many events curated at villages, towns and cities, those in the know all acknowledge that Bristol’s annual Pride festival is a rather special affair, glittering with a certain magic that sets it apart from many others.

“Bristol Pride keeps the very meaning and purpose of Pride in general very close to its heart,” says Aled Osborne (aka Bristol scene drag queen Miss Beaver), who’s a key part of the organising team and has programmed the Cabaret Stage line up for 11 years. “Bristol in general
is such a welcoming city, and has its own kind of vibe. Last year, one of my headliners [series two winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs The World] Tia Kofi was a bit weepy back stage because of how incredible the feeling was at Bristol Pride.”

For Osborne, one of the reasons Bristol’s event is so special is that despite its growth into a huge city-scale Pride, it still feels like a tightknit community celebration.

“Even though it’s one of the largest UK Prides now – and with that comes all the additional challenges associated with holding an event of its size – it still holds true to its core values,” he continues. “Everybody wants to be there. From the acts to volunteers to paid members of the Pride team to everyone who turns up, we’re all there for the same reason. If you were to cut through the middle of Clifton Down on the day like a stick of rock – everybody has Pride running through them. It shows on the stages, when you’re walking around the festival, backstage.”

Imgae credit: Dan Regan

Osborne also flags the fact that Bristol Pride entry is by donation, making the event more accessible for members of the community who may not have the means to be able to pay for tickets themselves. There are different tiers of donation available, with a sliding scale of benefits on the day – from free travel on First Bus to onsite bar discounts and afterparty entry. And though the team is grateful for its success and welcome reception in the city each year, its members are always keen to remain conscious about ways of improving the event.

“Bristol Pride is always evolving,” says Osborne. “It’s always looking to be better at what it’s doing, never resting on its laurels – whether that’s regarding sustainability, diversity, considering what ‘pride’ actually means and in turn not allowing certain people at the event because their ethos doesn’t match what Pride is all about. We’re asking how can we be better? How can we represent the community even more? That shows on the day with regards to who is booked and performing. The line-ups speak for themselves, we really think about it with care.”

Speaking of line-ups, 2024’s festival on 13 July following the parade is positively beaming with pride. More than 200 artists will be performing at the festival across five stages, with the newly named Uplift Stage, Dance Performance Stage, Circus Tent and – of course – the Cabaret Stage, which will be headlined by RuPaul’s Drag Race star Heidi n Closet and Pixie Polite. The day also features a dedicated Family Area and Youth Area, Community Area, Silent Disco and multiple bars and food stalls. Pop legends The Human League will also take to the main stage for a headline set on Saturday evening – a performance that Osborne recognises will be poignant for many people in the crowd.

“They’re synonymous with the 80s and early 90s when things were tough and as a community we had to get together and fight for a myriad of reasons. A lot of the community are going to hold The Human League’s music close to their heart as it will remind them of that era within our movement when we had to band together.”

A busy beaver

Osborne balances Pride commitments with a 9-5 job working at a local HIV charity with gigs as professional drag queen Miss Beaver. “This is my 11th year involved with Bristol Pride, which is crazy. I won a local drag competition back in 2012, and one of the prizes was to perform on the main stage at Pride – which was a smaller event that year due to Jubilee and the Olympics, on College Green rather than Castle Park, so they didn’t have space for the Cabaret Stage. At the time I was working in one of the LGBTQ+ venues that no longer exists on Old Market, booking cabaret for their weekly cabaret slots on a Sunday.

“Daryn Carter, one of Bristol Pride’s directors, knew that and reached out to me after the 2012 Pride and asked me to help, knowing they wanted a Cabaret Stage back for the 2013 event.”

Osborne’s in depth knowledge of both local and global cabaret performers was exactly what Bristol Pride needed, and he’s never looked back, nearly doubling the number of acts booked on his stage in the years that have passed. “I had quite a small, dedicated team back then on our humble little stage, but the acts were still phenomenal. As it’s progressed, I’ve ensured that there’s a good representation of good local talent. Bristol’s drag scene has evolved exponentially. The number of drag performers in Bristol now compared to when I was first booking is absurd, in the best way. Now, thankfully I have so many to choose from, because our drag scene is amazing, although it makes my job a lot harder!

“Over the years as Pride has evolved, I always try and keep some Bristol favourites on the list. Now it’s got to a place where I don’t have to host the stage for the whole day. All the hosts throughout the festival are local talent – and every act on our diverse line up this year is the best in their field.

“Now we have a huge stage, with a catwalk and a big screen next to it dedicated to our performers. The crowd in front of that stage are just because they are phenomenal. They feed all the performers everything they need to get through the day.”

Feel seen and loved

At the heart of Bristol Pride is a dedicated team who spend all year planning, programming and spreading the word about a jam-packed two weeks of events (which this year started on 29 June and runs until 14 July). More than 45,000 people are welcomed to the celebrations 15 years on from its first gathering, with 25,000 marching last year alone.

There’s a huge community joining forces to embrace, support and lift each other up. Though not everyone will have attended a Pride event before, Osborne urges newcomers to join the fun.

“If you ever need a place to feel seen, to feel loved, to feel represented, and to feel 100% safe while having the best time and the most fun with thousands of other people who think like you, then you should go to Pride. Whether that’s your first time, your 20th time, or 50th time; it could be your home Pride, or one that’s out of area because you would feel a bit safer being somewhere else instead; come and join us, and remember to take all it in. At some point throughout the day, find a spot, breathe, and just soak it all up. It is one, if not the best, feelings you’ll ever have.”

Bristol Pride’s two-week events programme runs from 29 June to 14 July, with the parade and festival on 13 July. For more information and to donate, visit bristolpride.co.uk