All eyes are on the new chief executive of the Manchester Pride festival as reigns are handed over by the ever successful Jackie Crozier. So what does Aberdeen’s John Stewart have to offer Manchester?
Scottish bred John isn’t a stranger to the Pride scene as he admits to attending the festivals world wide, including destinations such as Barcelona and Benidorm. He declares his infectious love for the festival in a recent interview, and after losing his Manchester Pride virginity only last year, he assures the LGBT community he’ll continue to make them proud.
Life before Manchester consisted of John working on the Aberdeen council and being a Governor at The University of Aberdeen. Now after taking the decision to leave he finds himself at the most challenging, poignant and critical points within his career as he plans to revamp one of the most famous and successful festivals.
“I’ve tried to set myself a lot of strategic goals. New events will be added to Pride but are still in the pipeline and are being kept under wraps at the moment. If money wasn’t an issue I’d have Annie Lennox performing,” he said.
“Two thirds of people who attend Manchester Pride are from the North West, we want to engage with them all year and give something back to the local supporters.”
With a new year holding many new prospects, the new chief executive is helped in his role by a new team. Events managers Kieran Bussoopun and Deputy Michael Lever bring a range of expertise and local knowledge, with Michael running the Manchester Food Festival for many years.
They all plan on making the event grow throughout the upcoming years and hope to re-brand the event as being known as a charity which organises a festival rather than just a festival which raises money. This will include expanding and producing new ideas for the Fringe event which leads up to the big weekend in August and steps away from the traditional pop culture. It introduces theatre, comedy, classical and sport events; all free for the participating public.
All of the hard work would not be manageable without a little help from the former face of Manchester Pride herself, Jackie Crozier, he confesses.
Talking about the Fringe event he said: “Pride has grown quite a lot under Jackie; it’s very much a big part of the legacy she left behind.”
Jackie will be leaving the office at the end of the week but will probably still be in the shadows of the festival as it will always remain one of her great loves.
He laughs: “I’d be very surprised if you could keep her away.”
Expectations of fundraising are still high after hitting the milestone of one million pounds last year. John is aiming for £100,000 this year and believes it is completely achievable with the festivals proud reputation and loyal supporters. He said reaching the target is essential as it is important everyone remembers what Pride is about: charity.
Much will remain the same this year due to John finding his feet and taking time to absorb the enormous responsibility he acknowledges the success from previous years and doesn’t want to rock the boat just yet.
“Why would you change something that has been working for so long just for the sake of changing it?” He asks.
“You could be risking the fundraising side of things, it works brilliantly, it has a great reputation, its popular, it has got a loyal base of support and I’d be silly to do anything which jeopardises that. What we will do is look for things we can change but I think it’s something I can only learn from doing the job and being there.”
Pride is obviously a subject close to John’s heart. After marrying his partner at Aberdeen University Chapel back in 2005 he admits he has been through a lot to get to this state of content.
“When I was at school there was the AIDS epidemic. It was seen as a ‘gay disease’, it was a horrible time to grow up. We have come a huge way in theUKand there has been some brilliant new legislation such as the civil partnership, but I don’t think kids today realize how quickly that has all changed.”
Speaking about issues within the LGBT community he believes that Pride is continuously relevant even though homosexuality is now accepted throughout society, he states there are still areas of inequality and accepts that it is it very easy to slip back.
“It is about ensuring the public at large are aware of the gay community, are aware ofManchesterand that we are contributing to the city,” he said.
“We are a diverse bunch, we’re not all the same, there’s discrimination within our own community, and we have our own prejudices and preconceptions. It’s good to pull everything in and celebrate visibly as a reminder of how far we’ve come, as a marker that we’re not going backwards. I want people to hear that message.”
Whilst living out of a suitcase is necessary for John at the moment, after stepping down in May he promises to move to Manchester permanently in order to throw himself into work. Joking about his partner becoming a full time house husband, he ensures that the community of Manchester Pride will be given his full attention.
Of course he will be subject to scrutiny and only time will tell of John’s capability but his passion and determination speaks for itself. Watch this space.