This summer my swimming club, Out To Swim, is holding a pool party at the Brockwell Park Lido in South London.
As with any community-based organisation, getting the budget right on something like this is essential – not only do we need to sell enough tickets to cover the costs of the event, but we’re raising money (to provide dedicated swimming lessons for people living with HIV and AIDS), so we also need to sell enough tickets to make it worthwhile.
500 tickets doesn’t sound like a lot when you say it quickly, but until you see the money in the bank it can be a bit of nerve-wracking proposition.
We’ve been promoting the event through all the normal channels, and the response has been really great. However we thought we’d save our big push for the May public holiday weekend for a flier run through the streets of Soho – hitting the British capital's the main gay and lesbian bars to raise our profile and sell some tickets.
After a bit of pressure from Shih-Ming Yao (the club’s social rep), I agreed to don a pair of Speedos for the occasion, however it wasn’t until we all congregated outside the busy Rupert Street bar that the realisation hit me that not everyone had shown the same level of commitment - so while Ming and I were stripping down to a pair of small blue trunks, our Out To Swim team-mates were keeping their jeans and t-shirts safely on.
The other key factor in this venture was the weather – unseasonably cold for early May in London. Honestly, seriously cold.
After a shot of bourbon to steady the nerves and numb the cold, the adventure began. I’m not a particularly shy person, but it is a pretty bizarre feeling to be standing virtually naked in a room full of fully clothed gay men. The crowd in Rupert Street were pretty friendly though and happy enough to take our fliers and talk about the event – I found it difficult to smile, hand out fliers and suck my stomach in all at the same time.
The cold really hit as we left Rupert Street, but luckily the next stop was The Yard just across the road and they had their heating on full blast. It was a bit of a squeeze moving through the bar and I was feeling increasingly vulnerable in my Speedos – I kept trying to pull them up and tighter but there really wasn’t enough material to work with. Our fliers were proving popular though, and despite the cold night everyone seemed pretty buzzed about the prospect of a summer pool party.
We hit the Village, we wandered down Old Compton Street, went to Circa and The Edge. At some point on that journey I stopped feeling cold, forgot my nerves and really began to enjoy the experience. It’s not often you get to walk into a room and have everyone’s eyes immediately on you, or have the confidence to walk up to complete strangers and ask them if they want to come party with you.
One of the warmest receptions we had was at the women-only Candy Bar, London's most famous lesbian bar in Carlisle Street – understandably the door staff were initially reticent to let a bunch of guys into the bar, but once we explained what we were doing they were happy enough for the two of us in Speedos to work the crowd. ‘Excuse me ladies!’ Ming announced politely. ‘Could I have your attention please…’
Our final stop was at pop-loving Ku Bar in Chinatown – to get there we walked down busy Gerrard Street and stopped under the big Chinese arch there for a photo opportunity – unfortunately this led to all the photo-happy tourists also wanting to pose with us: I felt like Mickey Mouse at Disney World, only with less clothes on.
While it was fun for one night, it’s pretty clear that I’m not cut out for a career as a promo boy or a podium dancer.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! All for charity of course...