Last September Gaydar and the Tussauds Group teamed up to launch gay days at Thorpe Park and Alton Towers, PinkNews.co.uk’s Marc Shoffman discovered why events like this are vital.
“F**king freaks” was the endorsement one visitor to Alton Towers gave last weekend as we sat in the monorail carriage with a family who wouldn’t look out of place on Neighbours from Hell, returning to our hotel after a day of roller coasters, chocolate factories, ghost trains and farm yard animals.
The man, who in a muscle filled black shirt seemed to fit in with the theme of the day was commenting on the drag queens and gays and lesbians who frequented the Gaydar Day event at Alton Towers theme park last weekend.
But his bigotry was overshadowed by an event which saw over 8,000 gays and lesbians attend Alton Towers free from discrimination.
On our arrival the hotel receptionist asked if I was aware there was a gay event taking place, I nodded with a smile, acknowledging the warning that I will see men kissing today.
It was a clear sign that staff were well prepared for the day, even the paraphernalia on the walls provided a sense of irony, especially one warning ladies that wearing high heels may cause injury, the drag queens must have been devastated.
Those who attended face risks of homophobia and transphobia everyday, but all were happy to come out and express themselves and according to park owners the Tussauds Group, there were no problems between the gay and straight visitors, “Both the gay and straight communities enjoyed the fact that the event was non exclusive and that the mix of both communities created a ‘party’ atmosphere just as we had promised.”
Gay and lesbian couples walked hand in hand, drag queens waddled onto rides warning operators not to turn the water on in fear of smudging their make up. It was like a gay utopia, no judgement, and no fear.
But the usual plagues of the gay community threatened to damage the event with three people ejected from the park on suspicion of drug use, a Tussuads Group spokesperson said: “Alton Towers has a zero tolerance on drugs and deserve the right to conduct random searches if they felt necessary.
“Security was in place at both venues throughout the weekend.”
The representative said three guests were taken to hospital having been given medical treatment on site and were asked to leave on their return on suspicion of drug use.
Obviously three incidents does not mean a disaster but it maybe suggests as one visitor told PinkNews.co.uk that the event was very much aimed at one side of the gay community.
The event seemed to be orientated around the clubbing aspects of the gay community which are often reported to involve drugs. The event could have been more balanced perhaps with cabaret or something more for the G-A-Y lover.
Dance music boomed out as we queued up for Nemesis and somehow calmed the nerves and adrenaline of the ride we were about to embark on.
The big rides such as Oblivion, Rita and Air were open late which helped stem the length of the queues and meant there was more time for other rides.
Unfortunately this persuaded my party to take advantage of Riverbank Eye-Spy at Old McDonald’s Farm, a ride aimed at small children teaching them about farmyard animals and the noises they make. Who would have thought it would have brought such joy to an investment banker and a technology guru?
Alton Towers does have diversity down to a tee and Gaydar clearly picked a great venue. For the children there are light hearted rides such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which for a building cost of £4 million could have at least included chocolate.) While adults can enjoy a mixture of roller coasters as well as a bar area.
The hotel’s conference rooms were easily turned into reception and clubbing venues with TV personality Sue Pollard, who appeared to have plucked a flamingo for her dress, attempting to bring in the crowds with overdone jokes about “more mince than Sainsbury’s.”
Earlier in the day EastEnder’s Barbara Windsor had also made an appearance at the event, not sure how she dealt with the height restrictions on many of the rides.
The hotel accommodation of either the Alton Towers Hotel or Splash Towers provided interesting themes of being on a ship or on the beach, this resulted in the strangest looking carpet I have ever seen, with pictures of shells and sand hiding the natural colour of the floor, leaving us wandering whether it ever has to be cleaned.
Gaydar flags flew proudly on the walkway into both hotels and to the VIP dance tents, but further into the park a rainbow flag perhaps would have kept the gay theme going.
A Gaydar spokesperson admitted there were some lessons learnt from the event, “This was our first attempt at trying to set up something unique and different for the gay and lesbian community.
“As with any first time event, there were plenty of lessons learned. We plan to learn from these events going forward.”
But a majority of guests did appear to have a good time, the Tussaud’s Group’s marketing manager is reported to have been inundated with praise from visitors.
One message said: “Credit must go to the park, guests and the organisers for delivering a great party atmosphere. I’d like to think Gaydar deemed the event a success and will work towards doing something similar next season, even with the late park close!
“It just goes to show it doesn’t take much effort to make Alton a ‘magical’ day out.”
A gay couple said the team deserves a pat on the back, “The atmosphere on park was fantastic – both with the guests and the staff. The mix of visitors worked well and generally the feeling was one of fun, even up to the end at 930pm.”
As we disembarked from the monorail along with all the other smiling, adrenaline filled but exhausted gay and lesbian participants, I contemplated the bigot’s remarks, and thought that while he made his way home in the rain, at least the “freaks” inside the hotel were warm, dry and free. His comments provide a reminder of why an event like this is so important.
Pictures courtesy of Gary Samuels at agi photography.