Clad in seven-inch metallic silver stilettos, a shimmery gold bodycon dress, flame-shaped glasses and a multi-tonal weave as his drag persona Eva More, 18-year-old Noah Colton was ready to party as tens of thousands of people marched – and danced – through the capital for Pride in London, the UK’s biggest LGBTQ+ parade.
“I’m trying to focus on enjoying it, and seeing it as a coming together of the community where you can be who you want to be,” he said.
After following the parade for a few hours, the plan for his first Pride was to head to Trafalgar Square for live music and on to a drag night in Clapham, south London. “I have got more comfortable shoes in my bag,” he admitted.
With the parade led by the Gay Liberation Front, which organised the first UK protest in 1972, the event was celebrating its 50th anniversary – it was also the first Pride for two years after a Covid-forced hiatus.
“It feels amazing to be back, everyone’s happy,” said Patricia Rocam, 29, who was accompanied by a jack russell with a Pride bandana. “To me it’s about visibility and representation, to see people like you – it feels like a safe space.
“It’s both a protest and a celebration. We’re here today celebrating but it’s off the back of those who campaigned before and it’s important to remember that.”
Amber Whiting, 27 – watching the parade from Haymarket with her friend Connor Mathews, 29 – first attended Pride in London 10 years ago.
“At the time, I didn’t even know the terminology for bisexuality,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve realised I’m actually pansexual but I still get stigma from friends who in a ‘jokey’ way say I’m just indecisive. Here I feel represented.”
Having been to three other annual Pride events, she noted that this year’s felt less “commercial”, with more of a focus on LGBTQ+ groups marching together than branded floats fronted by minor celebrities.
“It feels bigger. It feels like everyone who’s here is enjoying it and has missed it – it’s nice to be back,” she said.
While the throngs of young people, dressed in festival finery, were unmissable on Saturday, plenty of proud veterans were also in attendance.
Winston Woodfine, 59, dressed down in a Nike cap, Ralph Lauren tracksuit and trainers, said this year would be a more “subdued” affair for him.
“I used to get dressed up with friends, but some of them are no longer with us and some of them have moved away,” he said.
But he added that he felt the event itself was no less significant. “With any anniversary, it’s nice to thank [the campaigners] for what they’ve done, while acknowledging there’s still a long way to go. We think of Pride as this big coming together but there also might be people who are lonely, or just coming out, and this is a place they can meet people or find out about support,” he said.
Uniformed officers from the Metropolitan police did not take part in this year’s parade in the wake of inquests that concluded police failings “probably” contributed to the deaths of young men murdered by serial killer Stephen Port. Woodfine described the decision as a “shame”. “It’s important to be inclusive. We need them and they need us,” he said.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said there was still a “danger” to the LGBTQ+ community of “discrimination, bias and violence”, and warned against being “complacent”.
He said: “This year is the 50th anniversary of Pride, celebrating this community, celebrating the progress made, but also continuing to campaign and never be complacent.”
As the event dominated the capital’s centre, with floats blasting out dance music, groups of passersby peered from the sidelines.
Adam, 60, an NHS worker, said he and his friend Marcus, 55, who works in construction, had stumbled upon the event while on a day trip. “It’s just fantastic. Everyone’s having a good time. I’m from rural Lincolnshire and you just wouldn’t see something like this in a small town,” he said.
Many of those the Observer spoke to at the event noted there was still room for improvement when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights.
“It’s been really good to see that nearly every single float and flag has included the trans flag,” said a 25-year-old who didn’t want to give his name. The main thing he’d missed about the event, he added, was being able to wear glitter on his face in public.
Rosy, 23, a bisexual student watching her first Pride parade, pointed out a group of anti-LGBTQ+ Christian protesters on the other side of the road. “Bit of a downer, but it just goes to show how important this still is,” she said, ading that a gay couple had been defiantly “snogging” in front of them.