An Interview with John Stewart CEO Manchester Pride

Publish Date: 15/08/2013

This is your second year as Manchester Pride's Chief Executive after moving down from Aberdeen with your husband, Neil. How's life in Manchester?

I'm thoroughly enjoying the city and everything it has to offer.  It's just a wee bit different to Aberdeen!

How are you feeling about this year's festival?

We're wondering whether we've used up Manchester's sunshine quota for a whole decade already this year!  With the fringe extended throughout the whole of August this year, it give more opportunity for people to attend events, while we're much more advanced with planning for the Big Weekend.

After a storming Manchester Pride in 2012, do you think there's more or less pressure on you this year?

There's always pressure.  With so much of our income dependent on ticket sales, and the Manchester tendency to commit to things late you just hope that you get the numbers that allow us to support the charities and community groups we fund each year.

What is your favourite moment from last year's event?

It was watching the reaction of the crowd at the Vigil when Alison Moyet walked on to the stage. No-one was expecting her and there was a visible ripple of excitement.

Manchester Pride was one of the only LGBT Pride festivals last year to actually turn a profit and raise money for local LGBT charities and projects. Why do you think that is?

Manchester Pride is well established.  There's a professional team who work hard all year round to deliver the festival an excellent relationship with partners and sponsors.  People know when the festival happens and that they'll have a good time.  But there's no doubt the economic climate is making things tougher.  We can't be complacent, and that's why we're looking at how we can freshen up the Big Weekend, and also do more throughout the year.

Tell us about some of the local LGBT projects that you've been able to support.

As well as supporting our two charity partners, the Lesbian and Gay Foundations' condom and lube scheme, and George House Trust's welfare fund.  We support dozens of community groups and organisations.  We supported immigration advice through the Metropolitan Community Church, helped LGBT Youth North West open a cafe at the Sydney Street community Centre, the Manchester Sharks bring a European water polo tournament to Manchester, and provided money toward running costs for LGBT groups in Salford and Bury.  It's a real mix.

This year's Big Weekend line-up includes many more LGBT and Manchester artists than previous years. Was this a conscious decision?

We are an LGBT event, and a Manchester event and I believe it's important that our stages reflect that.  So as well as chart acts from Manchester like Misha B and Ren Harvieu we have excellent up and coming local talent like Swiss Lips and Go Native.  And every day on main stage has a leading LGBT artist, from Amy Lame and The Feeling's Dan Gillespie Sells on Friday, through Sam Sparro, Patrick Wolf to Lucy Spraggan and Rylan Clark on Monday.

Which acts are you looking forward to this year?

There really is something for everyone this year.  I'll be looking forward to Sunday, in particular with Ren Harvieu, Kate Nash and Mutya Keisha Siobhan on main stage.  But Toyah is performing in Sackville that night, too - what a dilemma!  The dance arena line-up also looks fantastic, and will be a great addition to the weekend.

The Gay Village has come under attack in recent months in the local media. How important do you think Manchester Pride is in altering opinions about the village?

Manchester Pride is a great opportunity for the Village businesses to showcase their venues to new visitors, and folk who maybe haven't been to the Village in a while.  The atmosphere over Pride is amazing and it's a safe and welcoming environment.  The Village can still deliver a great night out, and Pride is a chance to remind folk of this.

Manchester Pride has always celebrated the diversity of the local community, with the Big Weekend Lifestyle Expo and Sackville Gardens stage providing a platform for grassroots LGBT groups. Do you think the politics of the event has become lost over recent years?

There will always be a political element to Pride, and quite right, too.  In many ways, coming out is a political act.  While we're moving towards legislative equality in the UK, there's still a lot prejudice and bigotry out there, as the deaths of Lucy Meadows and Steven Simpson show.  There's also a whole world out there where LGBT rights are either non-existent or are being stripped away, and we need to highlight this, too.

What's your advice for visitors to this year's festival?

Come with the right attitude and you'll have a great time.  Do try and catch an artist that you've either not seen before, or maybe don't like that much.  Live performances are completely different form recordings, so give someone a second chance!  Visit the whole site, including Lifestyle Expo and the markets and don't forget to support the venues that support the Manchester Pride charity - they'll be the ones with the big white flags with the pink Pride 'P'!  Above all look after yourself and your friends and have fun!

Finally, what's next for Manchester Pride?

We're looking to repeat our Supersonic event at Concorde in April next year, and are planning an arts festival and community fundraising weekend in May.  Of course, we're already thinking about next year's Fringe and Big Weekend, too.  But we can't do any of this without the support of the people who buy the tickets, our partners and sponsors, so on behalf of Manchester Pride I'd like to say a really big 'Thank You!' to you all.

For more information about Manchester Pride visit www.manchesterpride.com