Rob Keetch is one of Pride Cymru’s longest-standing committee members. He hosted the first ever Cardiff Mardi Gras as Dr Bev alongside fellow drag act Miss Kitty.
Pride Cymru is turning 20 in 2019. 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 LGBTI community, South Wales Police approached some LGBTI community members to find a solution to the problem.
The inaugural Cardiff Mardi Gras was subsequently launched. Our aim was 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.
Today, both homophobic and transphobic hate crimes — from stalking to violent attacks — have drastically increased in England and Wales over the past five years. This only proves that Pride Cymru, as well as other celebrations across the UK and the world, are still crucial.
The very first Pride Cymru
The very first event, which is now known as Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend, debuted on 4 September 1999 with its first headliner Tina Cousins. She 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, 20 years later, attracts up to 50,000 people over three days. Today it is one of the fastest-growing LGBTI 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 ambience was amazing and the whole crowd were with us, singing and dancing along. It was a great experience that really highlighted how much the LGBTI community needed this.
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 performers to our stage.
One year, screenwriter Russel T Davies appeared alongside John Barrowman and a Dalek. We have also welcomed Luke Evans, one of Wales’ most famous actors, singing with cast members of Miss Saigon.
Pride Cymru is a safe space
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. That 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’m proud to see that this has turned into a community and family-friendly event, attracting hundreds of parents with their children each year.
The stories that matter
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. 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’s great to see how many people from across the UK choose Cardiff to celebrate their love for one another.
It’s 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 20 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 favourites 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.
Accessibility is crucial
It has become our priority to ensure our event is accessible to all. Therefore, 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 to everyone’s needs. We really 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 back to Cardiff City Hall Lawns this August Bank Holiday (23, 24, 25 August). To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the Welsh LGBTI charity will welcome back performers from previous years, including original hosts Dr Bev and Miss Kitty.
The Welsh LGBTI charity is currently encouraging everyone to share their memories of the event on Facebook in a dedicated group: #StillProud – Celebrating 20 Years of Pride Cymru.
Tickets are available at www.pridecymru.com.