London, UK: Planning for London WorldPride 2012 has kicked into high gear, as organizers prepare to host the biggest Pride event in Britain’s history.
And for the first time since the economic downturn in 2008, major sponsors appear eager to join the party.
“Like everyone else, we’ve been hammered the past couple of years,” says Paul Birrell, chairman of Pride London, which is organizing the event. “Whether it’s because of the WorldPride brand or because sponsorship is picking up more generally, we appear to be in a much better position than we’d hoped for.”
Late last month, British retail giant Tesco became the second corporate sponsor, after headline sponsor Smirnoff. Two more major deals are in the process of being finalized, says Birrell.
A growing list of sponsors is only appropriate for a festival expected to draw anywhere between 1.5 million and 2 million revellers, about double the number Pride London usually attracts. In any other year it would be enough to rank Pride atop London’s summer event calendar, but 2012 sees the city play host to a staggering array of international events, including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Summer Olympics. The timing is no coincidence.
“WorldPride hasn’t been held for quite some time, but the Olympics give us an ideal opportunity to bring it back out and dust it down,” Birrell says. “There was a lot of press in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, all those journalists looking for something to cover. We thought, Let’s try to reach a worldwide audience by staging an event that’s going to interest the worldwide press and actually ensure massive coverage.”
Meanwhile, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee presents a timely opportunity to campaign against the criminalization of homosexuality in some 42 Commonwealth countries. A conference scheduled for July 4, as well as the parade and main stage in Trafalgar Square, will be used to highlight the issue, Birrell says.
“It’s not going to be all doom and gloom — nobody wants to come to Pride and be taught to be depressed — but we hope to have international contingents (from affected countries) along to participate as well,” he says.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the campaign’s potential impact on Jubilee celebrations.
WorldPride 2012 marks only the festival’s third installment — previous events were held in Jerusalem in 2006 and Rome in 2000 — and organizers in London admit they are operating without a blueprint.
Nonetheless, pride organizations from both Toronto and New York City are sending large fact-finding delegations to London.
“New York’s eyeing a bid for WorldPride 2019, and Toronto’s talking about getting into sponsorship deals with us, looking at cross-promotion and so forth,” says Birrell.
As host of WorldPride 2014, Toronto will have a special place in the London festivities, he says. A handover ceremony is being planned to mark the end of the festival, which runs from June 23 to July 8. And because WorldPride coincides with Canada Day, which annually attracts thousands of expats to celebrations in Trafalgar Square (home to WorldPride’s main stage), Birrell hopes to blend the two parties.
“We’ve got good relations with the Canadian High Commission,” he says.
Pride organizations from Madrid, Barcelona, Marseilles, Boston and Atlanta are also planning to get involved in WorldPride, he says, but the full extent of their participation is still under negotiation.
The interest from outside bodies is “brilliant,” says Birrell, but it does make planning more complicated. So, too, do 2012’s heightened deadlines, which have forced Pride London to stay six months ahead of schedule — the result, mostly, of stretched authorities who need every spare minute to plan for the Olympics. Every spare penny, too. The bulk of London WorldPride 2012’s approximately $2 million budget (CAD) will go directly to local authorities, paying for road closures, traffic management and related costs, Birrell says.
Deadlines or no, British tourism officials couldn’t be happier. “We’re huge supporters of WorldPride,” says Visit Britain spokesperson Paul Gauger. “It’s one of the marquee events for 2012, and we’re hoping people who come to London for Pride also go further afield and see what else Britain has to offer.”
Visitors staying put in London will nonetheless have plenty to see.
WorldPride’s list of events includes black-tie club nights, dog shows and a reinvigorated parade, which this year claims even more of central London, including a recently renovated Leicester Square. For the first time, organizers are also planning an after-party at the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena. A number of “big acts,” which Birrell declined to name, will also be announced over the coming weeks and months.