Friday, 2 November 2012

Canapes, bigots, champers and Holly!

“Going so soon? I wouldn't hear of it. Why, my little party's just beginning." - The Wicked Witch of the West

Amazingly, no Christopher Biggins, Louie Spence or Graham Norton in attendance this year, but the heavenly surroundings of the Victoria and Albert Museum once more played host to a massive horde of celebs from the "A"-list (Dame Joan Bakewell), "B"-list (Sue Perkins, Charlie Condou, Amy Lamé, Scottee, Johnny Woo, Jodie Harsh), and "Z"-list (TV talent show contestants), plus a smattering of politicians (Ben Bradshaw, Iain Stewart, Lynne Featherstone), sportspeople (Carl Hester, Matt Cook), musicians (Holly Johnson [above], Dan Gillespie-Sells, Beverley Knight), literary legends (Paul Burston, VG Lee), meeja'n'marketing-types, and people "whose face you know but you're not sure where from". Mostly gorgeous; the majority of them gay.

The occasion was (of course) the glittering Stonewall Awards ceremony, the annual back-slapping-fest "celebration of the outstanding contribution of individuals and groups towards lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, in the past year". I attended last year's (I am co-chair of Islington's LGBT forum), and was overjoyed once again to be able to attend this one. With lashings of free champagne, the most ludicrously OTT canapés (that you needed a microscope to see, and an insider knowledge of macrobiotic trendy cuisine to understand - one looked like a tray of grass and ferns) and a backdrop of some of the most sumptuous pieces of artwork in the world, it is a wonderful evening out.

Hosted by the very entertaining Gok Wan and Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill (with their constant flirting repartee, these two made a perfect double-act), the awards this year were the usual mixture of the inevitable (Jeanette Winterson won the Writer of the Year - commiserations Val Lee, your time will come! - and Rev Giles Fraser, who was in the news a lot around the "Occupy" campagn at St Paul's and happens to be gay, won Hero of the Year), the popular (Sue Perkins won Entertainer of the Year; columnists Hugo Rifkind of The Times and Owen Jones of The Independent were jointly awarded Journalist of the Year), the worthy (newbies in the online news world Gay Star News won Publication of the Year; the Rugby Football League in its entirety won Sports Award of the Year; the tiny local group East London Out Project won Community Group of the Year and received a cheque for £5,000) and the downright bizarre ("Britain's Got Talent" won Broadcast of the Year, for fuck's sake).

Jeanette Winterson

Sue Perkins with the boys from Gay Star News

Rev Giles Fraser

The champagne flowed, we cheered, we clapped.

What of the "controversy"? It was over the Bigot of the Year award, of course. Ruth Davidson, the first openly-gay leader of a major political party in Britain (the Scottish Conservatives), was cheered when she was named Politician of the Year. But the audience began booing when she stood there, award in hand, and rounded on Stonewall for having a "bigot" award, saying the organisation should "respect people who have a different view".

[Here we go again, I thought... Read my last blog on the subject of the word "bigot".]

The intensely unlovely Cardinal Keith O’Brien was this year's deserved recipient of Bigot of the Year - a tough choice, up against Christian Peoples Alliance leader Alan Craig, who compared gay rights campaigners to Nazi stormtroopers and called them the “Gaystapo”; Ulster Unionist Ken Maginnis, who referred to equal marriage as "unnatural and deviant behaviour"; Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia, who said of the death of the MP David Cairns that it was directly due to him being gay; and the murderous Simon Lokodo, Uganda's "ethics and integrity minister" [sic], whose anti-gay witch-hunt could lead to the death penalty for homosexuality being applied in that benighted country.

Is this the same Cardinal O'Brien, the leader of the unelected and undemocratic Catholic Church in Scotland, who publicly declared "war" on plans for same-sex marriage equality, who described equal marriage as "a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right" and said that campaigners for equal rights operated "the tyranny of tolerance"? The same Cardinal O'Brien who, in the context of the debate made this most insulting reference - "Imagine for a moment that the government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that 'no one will be forced to keep a slave"? Of course he's not a bigot. That much is clear.

Anyway, in my view Miss Davidson was stupid to say what she did, knowing she was addressing a room packed with luvvies brimming with Dom Perignon. Even more stupid is the news that sponsors Barclays have threatened to pull out. As Stuart Smith, in his blog The Politics of Marketing, says:
Mark McLane, managing director and head of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Barclays told The Telegraph: “I have recently been made aware of the inclusion of a ‘Bigot of the Year’ category in the awards. Let me be absolutely clear that Barclays does not support that award category either financially, or in principle and have (sic) informed Stonewall that should they decide to continue with this category we will not support this event in the future. To label any individual so subjectively and pejoratively runs contrary to our view on fair treatment, and detracts from what should be a wholly positively focused event.”

So, righteous fulmination at the underhand introduction of a new category, eh, Mark? Well not quite. Some swift desk research, which even someone as grand as a managing director and head of Global Diversity and Inclusion might deign to do before opening his mouth, would reveal that Bigot of the Year has been a staple of the Stonewall awards since 2006. And, even more interestingly, Barclays itself seems to have supported the self-same awards since 2009. Now I know that there has been a lot of staff churn at Barclays recently and corporate memory tends to be – at the best of times – short. Even so, wakey, wakey, Mark. Or is Stonewall so low down the list of sponsorable causes that you simply haven’t noticed it before?

Either way, Stonewall should sack Barclays before Barclays sacks Stonewall. With friends like that… Surely corporate bullying is just the sort of thing Stonewall is trying to stamp out?
Mr Summerskill was equally scathing and defiant about the whole thing. As he said, "Disagree with us all the time, and as much as you like, and Stonewall will always respond to you respectfully and courteously, but deride us as paedophiles or bestialists and the word 'bigot' seems an appropriate description."

Nothing dampened the evening's pleasures and schmoozing, however. I worked the room (of course), celeb-spotting, and got chatting to Dan Gillespie-Sells (who was a supporter of the charity I used to work for), who kindly took that photo of me with the lovely and chatty Holly Johnson.

Amy Lamé gave me a hug and an air-kiss (I have no idea who she mistook me for, but I hope it was Rupert Everett!), and Johnny Woo took photos of us together.

I chatted with the very lovely Allegra McEvedy (whose Turkish Delights cookery programme is a fave at Dolores Delargo Towers).

And Vanessa Feltz and her gorgeous hubbie Ben Ofoedu both liked my purple velvet jacket, so all's right with the world...

A fantabulosa night! (Unspoiled by any nastiness.)

Stonewall Awards


  1. Lovely to get a first hand view of last night's event.

    The Bigot row has been all over Twitter and FB today, which is maybe why Barclays have suddenly been drawn to awareness of the Award - it really wouldn't surprise me if they knew nothing of what has gone on in the past - it's all about having their name there as sponsors - heaven forbid they should actually know or care beyond that.

    Great photo of you with Holly Johnson and good to hear you schmoozing the room, getting Johnny Woo to take your pictures dear x

    1. Storm in a Dom Perignon glass, dear. The "Bigot of the Year" award will be an annual feature, no matter what Miss Davidson nor Barclays (nor indeed Coutts - which I discovered today is actually not such a prestigious bank after all, as it is actually owned by Royal Bank of Scotland - and has also threatened to pull out) have to say on the matter. A bigot is a bigot, and a gay rights organisation is a gay rights organisation, after all.

      Thanks for the compliments - I love the photos too. It was such fun meeting these fab people... Jx

  2. It seems a bit ironic that Barclays should be so touchy. I remember them being boycotted by students because of their involvement in South Africa - maybe the word 'bigot' hits a nerve.

    I think there should be a future award for the most stylish of wearing a purple velvet jacket...

    1. Bless, thanks dear!

      And yes, Barclays is an organisation I only have contact with today because they unfortunately took over the Woolwich... I wouldn't touch them otherwise. Jx


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