Penny Arcade Aka Susana Ventura is a performance artist, author…
David Cameron held the first LGBT reception at a Tory 10 Downing Street June 2010. The event sent Daily Mail readers into frothing fury, and neglected to invite Peter Tatchell. Despite the inherent surrealism and personal misgivings, it proved very entertaining says Stewart Who?
The invite to 10 Downing Street had to be a hoax. “The Prime Minister would like to invite you to a reception for the LGB&T community at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday 16th June from 5.30 pm until 7.30 pm.” Obviously a joke, right?
It was quite alarming to call the number at the bottom of the invite and have somebody answer, ‘Hello, 10 Downing Street.’ No, it wasn’t La Cameron who picked up the phone, but it was still oddly surprising that a human answered the phone. Humanity in 10 Downing Street is rare, right?
Not being a fan of Dave or the Tories, the question remained, why go? At a recent party, enlivened with traditional céilidh music, Guinness and an orchestra of Irish accents, the reaction to my Downing Street invite was at best, muted.
Prior to the reception, I met up with Mike Kear (organiser of Queer Question Time) and Gary Henshaw (owner of the Ku Bar on Lisle Street). We enjoyed a drink or two and shared our anxieties. Gary’s Irish, and like myself, had conflicted feelings about the British establishment’s history with Ireland.
It was a sweltering sunny day. We decided to walk, but on the cooler, shadowy side of the street, which seemed symbolic under the circumstances.
We nipped into a pub on the way, as we didn’t want to appear overly keen. At the entrance to the street, we joined the queue to go through security and gossiped about the other guests. Isn’t she in Corrie? Is THAT his boyfriend? Look at the Botox on that, etc.
Chintzy and lush
To our surprise, we actually went through that door. Mobile phones, cameras and anything else you might have fun with had to be left in reception, then we were directed through the house and into the garden.
It’s bigger than you’d expect and chintzy like a home counties B+B. The garden is huge, lush and well tended. There was a choice of red or white wine and an elderflower spritzer. No snakebite. No Guinness. No Jaegerbombs.
Soldiers and celebrities
Who was there? Well, it was an interesting mix of the good, bad and ugly from various corners of the gay community. There were members of the armed forces, a wide selection of the gay press, several senior staff members from various charities.
Adding a veneer of glamour to the occasion was a scattering of celebrities that included Duncan James from Blue, BBC newsreader Jane Hill, Gerry Deveaux, Anthony Cotton and Amanda Barrie.
Keeping up appearances
Almost every person I’ve worked for, fought with and met on a dancefloor since the mid-’80s seemed to be present. Some I hadn’t seen for a number of years. Many commented that they were surprised to see me in such a hallowed setting and ‘looking so smart’.
Many of the guests had experienced extensive exposure to a more youthful and er, livelier version of myself. After the third person mentioned that they’d never seen me in a suit outside of a court appearance, it seemed increasingly pointless to feign respectability. Nobody was buying it, least of all me.
When David Cameron confidently swept onto the lawn, accompanied by his ‘civil partner’ Nick Clegg, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the surreal weirdness of it all.
The ghosts of my former self had been stirred by faces from the past. They proceeded to battle and haunt my older (and wiser?) self.
Cameron opened with a quip about his ‘partner’ Nick and then proceeded to tackle the elephant in the garden by referring to the Tories’ apalling LGBT record. Understating the history somewhat, Cameron observed that his party had “not always got this issue right”.
He added: ” I don’t need to say that all again, but what I do say is I know we didn’t get this right in the past, I know that we were slow learners, we had a long way to travel, but I am proud of the fact that we have travelled a long way in terms of supporting civil partnerships, in terms of standing up for equal rights and for equal treatment, and I think that is very important.”
My younger self remembers Section 28, ‘AIDS hysteria and persistent, ‘age of consent’ demos. That part of me wanted to ‘boo’ very loudly, rugby tackle him or perhaps just walk up, and slap his rosy, well-fed face.
All of those responses would have been possible. The temptation to act on impulse was magnetic and overwhelming. I edged my way from the front row and observed from a distance. Would I go to prison if I happy slapped the PM? Could I live with myself for NOT taking the opportunity? Would it ruin my life? Or be the making of me?
It was a relief when the speech ended and Cameron mingled into the crowd. I then watched in awe, disappointment and horror as people jostled to glad-hand the Prime Minister, leading to the inevitable selfies.
It seemed churlish not to embrace the occasion, so as a compromise to opportunity, I introduced myself to Nick Clegg. ‘I voted for you,’ was my cheery opener.
‘Are you in my constituency?’ he responded.
‘Er, no,’ I stammered. He then pointed out that I hadn’t really voted for him, which seemed rather pedantic. I wanted to say that I was thinking about him, while voting for Simon Hughes, in the same way you might think of someone else while having sex with your partner. I didn’t, as humour and fun seemed to have entirely departed the situation.
He was rather vague as to why he didn’t give a speech to the assembled gays, then a little careworn when I expressed disappointment that he hadn’t. I asked him to be a panellist on Queer Question Time, but unfortunately, due to security reasons, he admitted this would be impossible.
Perhaps it was my fault, maybe it was an off day, or possibly, he’s actually quite troubled by the position he’s in. Either way, he lacked the charm, and vigour which he seemed to radiate prior to the election.
Dave and The Gays
David Cameron on the other hand seemed to be working the garden with delighted merriment. He was having a ball and was proving very amenable. This was surprising, but quite undeniable, just like Clegg’s evident uptight sadness.
Would Cameron have swayed me with a dry aside and an ironic quip? Perhaps, and maybe that’s why it was best avoided. Feeling quite bold and mildly inebriated, accompanied by some friends, we dashed around as much of the house as was possible.
I opened cupboards, sat in chairs, admired paintings and peeped behind doors that looked private. Nothing to see. No skeletons. No Sam Cam.
At the end of the night, I may have said something which upset Ivan Massow, he certainly fled from the conversation in a hurry. He endured much worse flack the following day for his column in the Evening Standard, but yes, I may have overstepped the mark.
Much like my younger self, I was there to the bitter end, fighting over half a bottle of red wine with Amanda Barrie and Stephen Gilbert, the Lib Dem MP for St. Austell and Newquay.
Ms Barrie was hilariously entertaining and were we not ushered towards the famous front door, I could have stayed chatting to her all night.
Intrigue and oddness
The evening was a horrific hoot. There wasn’t a dull second in that couple of hours. It was rich with intrigue and possibility from beginning to end.
I haven’t fallen in love with Cameron, but at least I can understand why people like him, even if I’m not one of them.
My encounter with Clegg was uncomfortably underwhelming, but I now believe we have something in common. We’re both clinging onto what’s left of our souls. Sometimes that’s a full-time, thankless and exhausting job.