With this year marking the 20th anniversary of Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend, we are set to make it a weekend to remember. But how did it all start?
One of our longest-standing committee members, Rob Keetch, who hosted the first ever Cardiff Mardi Gras as Dr Bev alongside fellow drag act Miss Kitty, looks back on the event’s developments since its beginnings in 1999.
Over the years we have witnessed unforgettable performances and experienced moments that left everyone in awe. From Charlotte Church to Beverley Knight and Alesha Dixon to Ruth Madoc, we have welcomed great singers and performers to the Pride Cymru stage. One year, screenwriter Russel T Davies appeared alongside John Barrowman and a Dalek. We have also welcomed Luke Evans, who is now one of Wales’ most famous actors, singing with cast members of Miss Saigon.
However, while Pride Cymru has established itself as a celebration, its roots are grounded in something more sinister. Following a rise in hate crime towards the LGBT+ community, South Wales Police approached some LGBT+ community members to find a solution to the problem. The inaugural Cardiff Mardi Gras was subsequently launched to create a platform where everyone, regardless of their gender, age or sexual orientation could come together and just be themselves in a safe environment.
The event, which is now known as Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend, debuted on 4th September 1999 with its first headliner Tina Cousins, who is widely known for hits like Mysterious Times and Wonderful Life.
Held in Bute Park by the Circle of Stones on a single day for a few hours, it attracted just under 2,000 people. Since then, the event has consistently grown and now, twenty years later, attracts up to 50,000 people over the course of three days. Today it is one of the fastest-growing LGBT+ events in the UK and has turned into Wales’ largest celebration of love, equality and diversity.
Together with Miss Kitty, I was asked to host the VIP area in 1999 and somehow ended up on the stage (which was the back of a lorry!) myself. The ambiance was amazing and the whole crowd were with us, singing and dancing along. It was a great experience that really highlighted how much the LGBT+ community needed this.
It is great to have performers, local politicians and businesses come together and support us each year. We are grateful to have had that backing from most local political parties very early on, which has helped us grow, not only as an event but also as a charity.
Ever since the beginning we have made creating a safe space for people from all backgrounds our mission. Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend has become a space in which people can come together to celebrate each other, their diversity and their uniqueness. I am proud to see that this has turned into a community and family-friendly event, attracting hundreds of parents with their children each year.
One of my favourite memories of the event was in 2006 when I spoke to a family who had driven all the way down to Cardiff from Scotland. Their 18-year-old son had just come out to them a few days before and they wanted to show him their support by celebrating diversity and inclusivity together as a family. Stories like these highlight the importance of Pride events throughout the UK.
Every year families and friends come to Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend to show anyone who has recently come out their support and love. The event continues to grow and it is great to see how many people from across the UK choose Cardiff to celebrate their love for one another. I think it is a joy to see that Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend has become a place where you can truly be who you are and don’t feel like you need to hide. At the end of the day, this is what it is all about and that should never be forgotten.
During the last twenty years, Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend has become a great platform for showcasing local talent. As the event has grown and moved onto Cooper’s Field, we started to show more drag acts and created extra performance space, introducing cabaret and comic tents along the way.
There are many memorable performances that come to mind, but one of my favourite acts of all time was Iris Williams. During one of our first years, she sang Amazing Grace which left everyone speechless. You could have heard a pin drop in that field on which thousands of people were stood.
It has become our priority to ensure our event is accessible to all and I am proud to say that Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend received the Gold Accessibility Award by Attitude is Everything for their dedication to this. As a charity that focuses on being inclusive, we cater for everyone’s needs and want to make sure everyone who wants to join our Big Weekend is able to. The volunteers that make up the charity have worked hard during the last years to meet accessibility needs of anyone with a disability, whether visible or not, by offering British Sign Language interpreters, designated viewing platforms and quiet zones throughout the weekend.
Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend comes to Cardiff City Hall Lawns this August bank holiday (23, 24, 25 August). To celebrate its 20th anniversary, we are welcoming back performers from previous years, including original hosts Dr Bev and Miss Kitty. Share your memories of the event over the last twenty years on Facebook in our dedicated group: #StillProud – Celebrating 20 Years of Pride Cymru.
Tickets are available here.