Havana go to Cuba

Havana go to Cuba

As regular readers will know… I love to travel. Seeing new and exciting places, meeting different people and experiencing something fresh for the first time, makes all the effort of getting there so worthwhile. There are two places I’d always wanted to go – North Korea and Cuba, and as the leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic in Asia seem a long way from hanging out the bunting in anticipation of mine (or anyone else’s) arrival at the moment, I was pleased to be able to visit my other much anticipated destination - Cuba.

Before the communist revolution in the late 50s the island was well known as the playground for the elite of America and Europe. Heavily under the influence of the Mafia, who set up hotels, casinos and encouraged an atmosphere of ‘anything goes’, the capital Havana was seen as the centre of greed, licentiousness and corruption, which wasn’t appreciated by many of the local inhabitants. The revolution that brought Castro to power saw a crackdown on many of the pleasures and freedoms that were taken for granted. The government brought in sweeping reforms and barbaric restrictions that saw many people leave the country, while others were persecuted in other ways. Many homosexuals in this period, who couldn’t or didn’t escape to Florida or elsewhere, were forced into labour camps, tortured or sent to prison. Thankfully, the Castro administration has changed its policy these days. Indeed, Sexual relations between same-sex consenting adults 16 and over have been legal in Cuba since 1979, although same-sex relationships are not presently recognised by the state. However, a vacation to this, the heaviest populated island in the Caribbean, is a treat for the traveller who wants something different and a veritable attack on the senses.

To quote the travel site, Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/cuba/havana):“Traditional sights aside, Havana’s greatest attraction is its earthy authenticity. This is no trussed-up tourist resort or cynically concocted amusement park. There are museums here, of course, along with beautifully preserved palaces, top-notch hotels and rather tasty restaurants. But walk a couple of blocks north of leafy Parque Central and you’ll suddenly find yourself in a dusty 1950s time warp.”

It’s not only the famous big old American cars that can be seen around that gives the feeling of stepping onto a 50s film set, the people themselves have nothing. No computers, no Xbox and no trendy labels. Kids play football with rolled-up balls of plastic, young children enjoy the pleasures of a simple whip and top, while their clothing is simple but functional. Mother’s go shopping with hair in curlers, while the shops themselves are empty of most of the basics that I for one take for granted. Indeed, you suddenly realise just how Americanised we Europeans have become when you cannot get a McDonalds, a KFC bargain bucket or even a Coca Cola. As the Lonely Planet article suggests, this isn’t an amusement park because, when you’ve had enough for the day, life as it is just continues. Even though mixing between tourists and the locals isn’t encouraged the people are very friendly and will come up and take pleasure in your company. It all seems so very social… families are out on the street chatting to one and other, going about their business, with what appears to be little or no aggravation or violence – happy but not desperate. In other countries I’ve been to the difference between the rich and poor has often made for a very scary begging class, in Havana and the rest of Cuba, no one has anything, so begging has little point. 

Had we not met up with the fantastic Virgin Airlines trolley dolly James who knew the city, I doubt very much that we would have found the ‘gay’ area. There is a surefire way to meet up with and get suggestions from gay locals. The Yara Theater (Calle 23 and Calle L, Vedado) is a place where gays congregate to socialize and exchange news and gossip. In the area outside and around the theater, groups of men assemble nightly. Foreign visitors are welcomed warmly, and from your new friends, you could learn the location of the beaches with gay friendly areas. It may sound daunting, but it is the way, and visitors are expected and welcomed. The "official" gay beaches in Havana are: El Chivo in East Havana, and Mi Cayito at Playas del Este, where you may also get current pointers from friendly locals. 

Our guide took us to the sea wall El Malecon in Havana… a huge sea defence that seems to be the focal point for many of the city’s inhabitants. In the evening, by purchasing a couple of bottles of local rum and a few paper cups then stationing yourself opposite the National Hotel, you wont be alone for very long, as lads, trannies and guys of all ages will come and, at the offering of a cup of rum, chat and enjoy your company. Of course some lads will be available at a price but that isn’t really the social side to this pleasant pastime. The police are around and watching all the time but once you have your new friends, invitations to’ The Party’ will get you to the local gay bar or club. Now don’t go expecting Fat Boy Slim to be on the decks, indeed it was like walking into a northern working men’s club circa, 1970, with everyone sat around chatting. At one bar the DJ introduced the latest video ‘Top of the Pops’ style, while in another the cabaret was the same as the stars entertaining at the world famous Club Tropicana, a huge outdoor complex that features big production numbers and… gorgeous hunky dancers. It was weird yet, in a way, so damned refreshing. 

Cuba may have very little but I just can’t wait to return… I loved the place.

My pointers to coping with Havana.

Expect the food to be awful… even in tourist areas it was difficult in getting anything enjoyable.

The local money the peso is different from the ‘tourist’ peso so don’t be fooled when you get change.

They make bloody awful mojitos but rather wonderful daiquiris.

If you take someone’s photo don’t forget to give them a few coins in way of thanks.

Taxis are cheap so don’t be afraid to hail one but, if you want to be environmental, try using the boys on the trikes that will transport you around with equal flair.

Montreal and Me

Montreal and me

I flew into Canada as a guest of the Tourisme Montreal and thought I’d landed in Manchester, the weather was overcast and wet. I was a little down-hearted to be in the country’s second-largest city as I’d left the UK in sunshine and was hoping for much the same. However, once I got my feet sorted, realised I was in the host city for Cirque du Soleil (I’m a big fan)and had a bit of a look around, together with the genuinely warm welcome I received from everyone, things took off and I was amazed at what Montreal had to offer… especially for a gay visitor… cum rain or shine… or snow for that matter.

Montreal’s main language is French but there is a huge proportion of the population who speak both English and French so you’ll have very little trouble travelling about, and being understood, anywhere the city. The place is incredibly green – with many parks and areas of floral beauty to sit and enjoy but they are also used – it seems each place had a forthcoming event; a concert, a dance event, show or exhibition and all for free. No need to buy tickets, just turn up and enjoy the party atmosphere. Indeed, I went to one such event Piknic Electronik -www.piknicelectronik.com  which on a fine day intends to bring music-lovers together in a unique and friendly atmosphere where they can take advantage of the warm weather, enjoy a breathtaking view of the city, and listen to quality electronic music. However, I spied an absolutely gorgeous young guy, who I thought represented all that I’d previously thought about when I occasionally let my mind wonder to North American hunks – he was worth the trip alone and an immediate re-booking my return air fare.

On the cultural aspect the city is full of museums, not just the usual ‘boring’ ones but places like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with its tribute to Miles Davis: jazz legend. Theatres abound and you can see ballet, a play or spectacular show. However, there are a number of Queer festivals the organisers are keen for visitors to experience.

Festival International Montréal en Arts (aka FIMA, the Montreal queer arts festival)

1–11 July  www.festivaldesarts.org/frame_accueil_eng.htm

Divers/Cité (a gay cultural festival that used to be our Pride event)

26July-1August www.diverscite.org/2010/anglais/index.htm

Montreal Pride

10-15August  fiertemontrealpride.com/home.htm

Black and Blue (a huge circuit party hosted by BBCM. They also host 3 other big circuit parties throughout the year.  All info can be found on the www.bbcm.org website)

6-12Oct, www.bbcm.org/black-and-blue-program/

Image+Nation (our LGBT film fest)

End of October, 2010- final dates TBA www.image-nation.org/corporatif/index-eng.php

Not unlike Manchester, Montreal has its own Gay Village, but maybe three times larger. It’s located on Ste-Catherine St. East between St-Hubert and Papineau Streets, is one of the largest gay Villages in the world. Needless to say, once the gays moved in and started doing up what was once fairly rundown, it is now a much desired area to live. From late May to early September, the Village is transformed into a pedestrian walkway, closed off to all automobile traffic. For more information on this summer celebration, please visit www.aireslibres.com

Places to eat - There is something for everyone from upmarket to the best little burger bar… but the food is all of a superb high standard

Le Saloon - For a night out or just a brief "5 à 7" cameo after work, Le Saloon is a fashionable place to see and be seen in the Gay Village. Treat your taste buds to an internationally-inspired menu, served against a backdrop of sexy house and lounge music. www.lesaloon.ca

La Paryse - For the best burgers and fries in the city (and yes, they do have a choice of veggie burgers!) look no further than La Paryse.

KoKo Restaurant + Bar - Contemporary Asian-inspired cuisine served sharing style blends Far Eastern flavours with Western culinary techniques. The intimate atmosphere and refined décor of the terrace sets the perfect mood for a friendly gathering under the moonlight. www.kokomontreal.com

Le Cartet - A self proclaimed "boutique alimentaire," Cartet offers a wonderland of lovingly crafted gourmet treats to-go and amazing in-house meals. Designed by architect-designer Joanne Godin, the space is bright, cool and whitewashed.

Bars and Clubs – Montreal has something for everyone’s taste – leather, bear, fetish, drag or cuties on podiums, it’s difficult not to find a place you’ll find comfortable to visit.               

Sky Club - www.complexesky.com  The Sky Complex is one of the city’s oldest gay and lesbian clubs, and remains one of the most popular.  With 3 floors, a rooftop terrace and 4 different dance spaces, Sky is popular from the 5pm. happy hour until closing time at 3am. Mainly gay men, but you will often find lesbians in the urban room, the Latin room and the rooftop terrace. 

Club Unity - www.clubunitymontreal.com   Mixed dance club (more lesbians on Friday, more gay men on Saturdays) that is especially popular with the under-25 crowd.

Parking Nightclub - www.parkingbar.com  Men’s dance bar that is home to one of the city’s best sound systems. Great DJs, great ambiance, Parking is especially popular with the 30+ crowd.

Le Drugstore - www.ledrugstore.com  Montreal’s main lesbian club, with four floors and a beautiful rooftop terrace. Friday happy-hour, weekend evenings and Sunday afternoons are especially busy.

Hôtel St-Paul - is located at the gateway of Old Montréal and just steps away from all tourist attractions. A heritage building, beautifully restored, features a surprisingly modern and serene interior. Turn-down service and deluxe continental breakfast  included. Fabulous in-house restaurant, Vauvert, and room service. 

Sincere thanks to:    www.tourisme-montreal.org 

Current special offers available in Montreal i.e. hotel and flight deals etc can also be viewed at www.montrealsweetdeals.com

X Marks the Spot

X marks the spot

Recently, I did something I have never done before. It’s not that I was scared of doing it... it was just that I had my doubts about it. In the past it had a bit of a reputation of not quite being above board, even creating a bit of a scandal a few years back. Anyway, so impressed was I with one of the acts on the X-Factor that I decided to bite the bullet and phone in my vote... twice. Having heard Matt sing I just thought he was the best and tapped the vote line number into my I-phone and pressed. Yes, even with the warning “...from some mobile phones it could cost considerably more.” I threw caution to the wind and hoped that my expensive vote would help keep him in the competition… if not I’m not too sure who to go to for a refund. Anyway, I think that Matt, whether he wins or not, should have a superb career in front of him and I’m backing him to go all the way.

Having said that, Simon has those cute lads One Direction who I also think will do very well. Alas for them he is their mentor and so far, compared to the lovely Cheryl, he hasn’t had much success with his acts. Does he care? I’m not too sure if a man who owns the company, owns the record label and seems to sign all the acts need worry that much about who wins as he’s got a piece of them already. I quite admire the man and not just because he’s managed to make a few quid (I suppose I could ask him for a refund on my vote if Matt doesn’t work out) but that he saw an opportunity and has taken it to a worldwide audience. Who would have thought that, with all their clever TV execs and brash Hollywood agents, that it would be a British guy who is now basically running television and the music business in the USA? So I say - Good for him.

I remember just a few years ago I was on a train to London chatting to a nice lady who used to work at Yorkshire Television and knew me from my constant attempts at getting in front of the camera. She was telling me that she had left her job and was now taking a chance on this new project for an independent company. The project was the X-Factor and her new business partner was Simon Cowell... I often wonder how it all went for her.

Still on the theme of the X-Factor I want to congratulate my good friend Sisco for being appointed the choreographer for the show. I’ve known Sisco Gomez for a number of years and you may well have seen him on the judging panel of the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance. He’s worked with loads of gaydom’s top divas and danced with the likes of Kylie, Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Alexander Burke to name but a few. His routines for video shoots have become legendary and I’m happy that such a large audience as the X Factor gets, will see the calibre of his brilliant work.

Royal Variety Performance 2009

The Royal Variety Performance is the event of the year I most look forward to, and being lucky enough to be there over the last few years this time I decided to share it with 20 of my closest friends and family, but I wish I’d bought more tickets in the end as so many other people wanted to go.

This year’s show was filmed in Blackpool, for the first time since 1955 and that also made it much easier for me to cross the Pennines rather than travelling to London.

Myself and my guests were all dressed up in black tie and party frocks, and we found ourselves seated right next to the Queen at the front of the circle – she sneezed and it splashed me we were that close! I was surprised that my nephew who is 17 was really in awe of her and I wouldn’t have expected that of someone his age. The oldest member of our party was 52 and my nephew at 17, the youngest - they all enjoyed the variety of acts who appeared and that’s the great thing about the show.

The Royal Family alternate their attendances at the annual event these days so I was pleased it was Her Majesty’s turn this year so those who hadn’t been before were in awe of her more than they would have been if Charles and Camilla had been there.

The star studded lineup included Michael Buble, Bette Midler, Peter Kay, Britain’s Got Talent winners Diversity, Katherine Jenkins, Lady GaGa; Paddy McGuinness, Faryl Smith, The Soldiers - Trooper Ryan Idzi, Sergeant Richie Maddocks and Sergeant Major Gary Chilton - a singing trio who served in Iraq and Afghanistan., 2008 X Factor winner Alexandra Burke, Bob Golding as Eric Morecambe; Whoopi Goldberg, Miley Cyrus; Faryl Smith, and the cast of Here Come the Girls; Anastacia, Lulu and Chaka Khan- wow!

I’m tipping Hal Cruttenden to be the next big thing – he’s a stand up comedian with a camp sense of humour – a cross between Alan Carr and Michael McIntyre – he’s married with children although he said he forgives people who think he’s gay.

The ventriloquist, Paul Zerdin was the only act the Queen laughed at, it appeared she was not amused at most of the performances and never cracked a smile. She may have struggled to understand Peter Kay and Paddy McGuinness though as they have such strong Lancashire accents – it may be a good thing really as Paddy’s jokes weren’t fit for a Queen or a family audience.

Peter Kay was presenting the show; he was extremely funny when ad-libbing but I don’t think he’s the right man for reading cue cards. I’ll be interested to see how he comes across once the programme is edited as he did make a few mistakes. For some reason he came on stage at one point wearing a fluffy bunny costume but the relevance of that was lost on me.

I was looking forward to Lady GaGa’s performance, however it was a little tame as she’d been asked to tone down her outfit and her act for her Majesty but it was still off the wall with a piano strung really high up. Apparently she’d gone through a crash course in etiquette before being allowed to meet the Queen, and had even been practising curtseying.

Alexandra Burke was also, fantastic quite Americanised though and all the set up behind her was too. The stage set is amazing at Blackpool especially given the number of acts who appear back to back.
The night wasn’t over once the curtain had come down however. I had tickets for the after show party, which this year included a meal, and was put on the same table as Faryl Smith and her father who had earlier led the National Anthem at the show. She has to be the most interesting 14 year old I’ve ever met. She’s got a huge career ahead of her and her social diary is unbelievable, charity do’s etc. Watch this space for her.

I feel ashamed I don’t know all the words to the national anthem but if I go next year I’ll definitely learn them.

At the after show party I met Michael Buble, Whoopi Goldberg (always wanted to meet her), Miley Cyrus and a few other comedians. I can’t dish any dirt as they were all very nice to us, probably because they didn’t have their ‘people’ with them except Miley Cyrus who’s Manager tried to stop us having a photo with her but Miley just side stepped him and had her picture taken.

It seemed a most unlikely place for it to be in Blackpool but the seaside town handled it just as well as London does with hotels and transport etc. None of the celebs went to use the Pleasure Beach though as the weather was freezing so at least Whoopi Goldberg didn’t ruin her hair do on the Big One!

Overall I felt Bette Midler and Michael Buble stole the show. Bette said she’d spent her life performing in front of Queens but never the real one until now. It was a truly memorable night once again and I can’t wait to see it again on TV.


Celebrities Want The Strangest Things

Mariah Carey is perhaps one of the most famous celebrities who is supposed to make diva-ish demands in her contracts. These little ‘demands` for instance; 200 white kittens and a host of white doves, makes great copy but are they true? 

Over the years I’ve been running clubs and dealing with celebrities and DJs, quite a lot of the artist riders have demanded some really obscure items. Like specific mixing desks, when perhaps there is only one in existence and it is unavailable at that particular time or precise fluffy towels that they simply must have if they are required to perform. Mostly the riders are for equipment, which is OK although food can sometimes get silly. I remember a DJ who demanded a Sushi platter, which we dutifully supplied at great expense but he came off stage, took one look and said he really wanted a McDonalds. Booze is the main obsession that gets artists all riled up. They can ask for gallons of beer, lager and some exclusive foreign brand vodka, and can get quite snippy when it runs out. Of course they have been supplying it to all their road crew and hangers on and wonder why there’s none left by the time they have finished their set.
Many years ago I put on a show with M People, who were at the height of their fame and one of the things they demanded was a case of bananas and fruit. We gave them all they asked for and at the end of the night, when they were on their way home, not one piece of fruit had been eaten. I had to live as a chimp for the rest of the month… eating bananas at every meal.
Some DJs have written into their contracts that they need specific items of clothing. Often these guys are dashing around the country and travelling light so need certain things after a long sweaty set on the decks. We’ve supplied M&S underwear, shirts and jumpers but by far the most demanded item is socks. Yes socks. We’ve sorted that out by taking a trip to Primark and getting a bunch of these essential items ready to meet the next request. I once asked a DJ why he wanted socks. He said that at the hotel they can cost as much as £8 to get them dry cleaned… it hadn’t occurred to him to do what I do… wash them in the sink and use the trouser press to dry them out. 
One of my favourite DJs Carl Cox had asked for a bowl of exotic fruit for his dressing room. Unfortunately, I misread it and thought he’d asked for erotic fruit… so he didn’t quite get what he wanted. I often wondered what he thought about his bowl containing bananas, cucumbers, carrots, aubergines, courgettes… and fruit flavoured lube!

On a completely different subject - news is circulating that Boy George will be entering the Celebrity Big Brother House next year. The tabloids will be full of the fact that the poor boy is being locked up yet again, after his most famous recent incarceration for imprisoning a rent boy. But, I just want to point out that I was the first to lock in the Boy. I had him imprisoned in my house way back in the early 90s. He did a DJ set at one of my club nights, I had no money to offer him a hotel so I put him up at my back-to-back terrace house where I was living at the time. As I only had one set of keys, I locked him in then went to kip at my mum's. In the morning when he realised he couldn't get out, he was furious and really let rip when I finally arrived to meet him. We’ve made it up since but it still brings a smile to my face at the memory. Meanwhile, I’m sure if he can put up with the cramped conditions of prison and my back-to-back, he’ll have no trouble with the splendour of the BB house. Hell, I even believe they have heating in there.

My Teddy Bear Collection

I’ve been collecting Giorgio Beverley Hills teddy bears for the past thirteen years, since the perfume was one of the most sought after ladies fragrances on the market. Back then you could buy it in all major outlets including Boots, Debenhams and House of Fraser.

Of course I didn’t keep or wear the perfume that came with it – some of the older stuff wouldn’t smell so good 13 years on. I passed it on to my Mum who loved it.

It’s getting a lot more difficult to find now though as it’s become less popular. My friend Ruth has a new business venture where she’s set up a personal shopping service www.presentperfectuk.co.uk. I’ll have to put her to the test and challenge her to find me some.

The most difficult bear to find was the Millennium bear, which is a silver one. – I’ve eventually ended up with 2 but in October 1999 when they were released nobody seemed to be stocking them.. I wrote to Giorgio but got no joy from them so I thought it was going to be really rare. I finally tracked it down and had to pay £30 for it. Ten years on there’s one for sale on Ebay with bids at starting at £4.99 and it hasn’t even attracted one offer.

It’s disappointing that I spent so much time and effort collecting them. I feel precious about them, but they are getting bulky to store and gathering dust in bags at home. I could shrink wrap them I suppose.

Eventually I think I’m going to have to sell the collection as a whole – I’d be distraught if I could only sell one or 2 individually then be stuck with the others and not have a full set. They look so much better when they’re all together as a group.

Too many to take off my bed every night too!!


Winter Fun in Florida

I flew over to Florida last week for some much needed winter sunshine.

It’s been 10 years since I was last over there and arriving into Orlando not much seemed to have changed. I was eager to get to Universal Studios my favourite theme park mainly because of the Spider Man ride – you jump in a car and it takes you round a track and gently spins you around, not aggressively at all. Throughout the ride you’re given 3d glasses to wear and Spider Man jumps on your car, and you get splashed as the ice man points at you.

It shows how long it was since I was over there as last time the big attraction was the virtual ride based on the movie Back To The Future. Young people don’t know what that film is about so they’ve changed the ride now to The Simpsons. It works in the same way but all about The Simpsons. The friends I was with had never heard of Back to The Future – I’m definitely getting old! 

Having said that though some rides do stand the test of time - the Jaws water ride is still going strong since opening in 1990.

Universal Studios also has a brand new roller coaster called Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit which is amazing which begins with an adrenaling pumping vertical lift. It’s probably the best one I’ve been on. It uses ground breaking technology – riders use a personal touch pad to select your own individual music which plays in your ears, you choose your favourite music genre, classical ,rock, pop disco and country. Each seat has it’s own speakers capable of generating up to 90 decibels so you have a personal soundtrack to your ride. You can even buy a video showing your own ride on the roller coaster. Not something I wanted to show everyone back home to be honest. I loved the ride though as it doesn’t throw you about too much, but does some very weird movements. 

Overall Universal Studios wasn’t busy at all. We nearly bought q jump tickets when we arrived but glad we didn’t because there weren’t really any queues even for the new rides..

Another highlight of Orlando was visiting Shamu the killer whale at Sea World. It’s fab but extremely cheesy. They didn’t choose me as a volunteer to go and stroke Shamu during his brief appearance but they did show a heart wrenching story on the giant screen about a boy paddling out on a canoe to befriend a killer whale. They then introduced him on stage 30 years on as an adult and he was still wearing the necklace of whale fins he had carved as a child. Never to miss a marketing opportunity they were selling the fins as we left the show!

My hotel in Orlando was the Marriott Sea World, but my friends were staying at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. I thought the Marriott was better but it did feel very vast. When I checked in they gave me a balcony view which I thought sounded lovely but soon realised the balcony was facing inwards to the hotel atrium which was really dark. They did change my room for a view of Sea World when I complained.

The location was handy as you could walk across to Sea World and it had shuttles to Disney. In comparison to the Disney hotel it was good value . My friends didn’t even get free passes to the park for staying in the hotel.

I decided not to swim with the dolphins at Discovery Cove as I was short on time but opted instead for one of the huge water parks, Blizzard Beach. It’s themed around a ski resort and there are even chair lifts to take you up to the top of the rides. Of course I did the big one , the Summit Plummet, which was good fun.

One of my friends had Disney tickets which he bought 11 years ago and were supposedly lifetime tickets. We were all really surprised though when they did actually work after so long.

As the weather wasn’t great in Orlando, we decided to fly down to Miami, hoping for some more sunshine. . A word of advice however - don’t book your internal flight at the last minute as ours cost us £300 each for a 45 minute flight. It’s the most expensive flight I’ve ever bought mile for mile.

I was glad we didn’t drive down from Orlando though as it would have taken 4 hours. We jumped in a taxi from Miami airport to South Beach and it cost $32. Airport shuttle buses were $22 each so it’s cheaper to get a taxi between 2 as it’s a fixed price.

I’ve seen Miami on all the glamorous videos and was imagining Ocean Drive and South Beach to be the coolest place in the world but I was extremely disappointed with lots of things about it. When I was there last I couldn’t afford to stay in South Beach so I’d stayed in a cheap place quite far out but I had a picture taken on Miami beach underneath the famous stone landmark where all art deco buildings are. 

It tells you temperature and the date but this time we went on 5th November and the date was 2 days out and never changed throughout our stay,plus the year 2009 had been scribbled in pen altered from 2007 – such an embarrassment for the tourist board.

The Art Deco buildings have food out on display like lobster platters which felt like Benidorm, with 2 for 1 drinks offers and staff trying to drag people in ,really tacky. It looks glam from across the street but in close up it’s nothing more than a tacky holiday destination.

There are many derelict buildings away from the 3 main blocks, unoccupied and boarded up. Cars were driving along the street too and personally I think it should be pedestrianised to capitalise on the surroundings..

A couple of vintage cars from the 30’s were parked outside the Park Central Hotel and Avalon which felt like it should be.

One morning for breakfast we went to the Pelican café which is one of the art deco buildings – it was the biggest breakfast I’d ever been presented with and I couldn’t finish it which is saying something for me. It was such good value too. It wasn’t one of the places where they tried to drag you in off the street either and was buzzing.

I was fascinated by the different coloured life guard huts on the beach as it felt like I was on the set of Bay Watch. Disappointing that I didn’t have my red hot bloods on then I really would have looked the part.

Even the nightlife in Miami wasn’t as glamorous as I’d imagined – I found one decent club called Mansion and managed to get on the guest list which got us VIP entrance on the red carpet and back stage passes . This gave us access to the stage behind the DJ which also had seating round the edge – Sander Kleinenberg a Dutch DJ and producer was playing. Like me he started dj’ing at 15 locally. He was updating his Twitter while he was doing his set. It was quite funny as I was replying back to him stood behind him. He had a MacBook Pro but was having problems and his CD kept getting stuck inside.

His music style is progressive tech house, (you know the type of songs without lyrics), not really my type of thing.

The drinks were massively expensive – one bottle of champagne cost $6000 – needless to say I didn’t buy one but the people on the next table did.

To say there was only one good day of brilliant sunshine, many people have commented on my tan. This is quite funny because 2 of the people I went with were using tanning salons while we were out there!!

My hotel in Miami was Marriott South Beach, perfectly situated on Ocean Drive which was an art deco building very un-typical of a Marriot and they’d kept it sympathetic without over modernising it. I loved the infinity pool too and that you were straight out onto the beach.

Overall the trip was enjoyable despite the weather not being brilliant. I will visit Miami again but in peak season. I’ll probably try somewhere like Cuba or Puerto Rico next.

Michael McIntyre at Hallam FM Arena Sheffield

I went to The Hallam FM Arena in Sheffield on Sunday night to see comedian Michael McIntyre.

The first time I saw him, I also met him at the Royal Variety Performance in 2008 at The London Palladium. It was at the after show party and Michael was stood by himself in a corner.

My friend and I went over to speak to him to tell him he was very funny. He was delighted and replied “Do you think they got it? I often wonder what people think”
We told him how entertaining he was and enjoyed a laugh and a picture with him.

I’ve seen him on TV several times since in his programmes recorded at the Manchester Apollo. As soon as I found out he was coming to Sheffield I bought my tickets, which was months in advance – very organised for me.

I haven’t been to see a comedian at such a large arena, there was a 10,000 capacity crowd. Usually when I’ve watched Alan Carr, Ken Dodd or Jimmy Carr it’s been in theatres. When we took our seats my first comment was these seats are rubbish and when he appeared on stage he was no bigger than my thumb.

It was almost as if he’d heard what I’d said as his opening line was “ I bet you thought your seats were terrible when you sat down and said I could have watched you on DVD and not had to come here and pay for parking!”

What was great though about the stage set were 3 huge screens behind him, with 3 cameras at different angles which really worked well, so you did actually feel much closer to him in the end.

His routine was totally new and different material to anything I’d heard before, and very relevant reality type humour which I love anyway. He did come across camper than ever though – I think he’s cottoned on that his audience love it but he does make it clear that he’s straight and married with 2 kids.

I’d definitely recommend anyone to go and see the show, but don’t be put off by the size of the venue.


At 50 Michael Jackson is still the King of Pop

I can’t believe my old friend Michael Jackson is celebrating his half century. 

Even though he’s only 7 years older than me, I can’t think of him as being 50 as it sounds too old. It’s 20 years since we last met and I think in my mind he will always be that age, until we meet up again, which may happen quite soon. 

Michael continues to hit the headlines, even though he’s tried to live a more normal life, but he’s proven bulletproof over the years after surviving all the allegations and rumours of financial difficulties. Many people wouldn’t have coped with all that. 

His album Thriller is still the best selling album of all time and I think the record companies put pressure on him to release more albums as everyone makes so much money out of them. 

His new album King of Pop is sure to fly off the shelves (that sounds old fashioned, I know but I can’t think of a comparable phrase relating to downloads!) 

It will be popular with all generations, and that’s what always amazes me. Even when I watched Big Brother last week their task was to rehearse and perform the Thriller video in full make up and costume, which looked great, but given that most of the contestants are in their early 20’s , you wouldn’t expect them all to love it so much. 

1958 must have been a good year for those who age well as he shares his birthday with Hollywood stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Sharon Stone and comedian Lenny Henry. I wouldn’t want to speculate who has the best surgeon though! 

I may not be jealous of Michael’s looks, but I am forever in awe of his fabulous voice. To be so distinctive that even your scream is identifiable by billions of people is amazing. 

Personally, I don’t think I’ve got a bad voice, but I’ll never make a career out of it. Last Friday night after the Mr Gay UK final I arrived back at my hotel in Manchester to find Boyzone stars Ronan Keating and Stephen Gately enjoying a nightcap in the bar. 

I was buzzing after a wonderful evening and couldn’t resist serenading them with my rendition of their hit ‘ No Matter What.’ 

Most people in the bar found it amusing but I don’t think Ronan and Stephen were auditioning for new band members that night - they got up and headed straight for the lift! 

K9 Party in The Park 

Next Sunday the 7th September, my partner Michael and I have been invited by the RSPCA to judge 4 classes in their annual dog show. 

The event takes place at Manor Heath Park in Halifax between midday and 5pm , and they are expecting a very high standard of entry from Yorkshire and the surrounding area. 

The classes we have been asked to judge are ‘Best dog on the Elderly Animal Rehoming Scheme’ which is for elderly dogs who the RSPCA have re-homed. ‘My Best Friend ‘ - a class looking for a good relationship between the dog and the family and RSPCA Rescue Dog of the Year. 

But the category I am most excited about is Celebrity Dog stars - I’ll be there with my camera and autograph book to see who turns up! 

There are lots of other categories and I’ll be entering my dogs George and Mildred into the Perfect Pup contest so we will be undergoing a strict training regime this week. (That’s Michael and I, not the dogs!) 

I think we’ll enter our other dog Ruby into the hot dog sausage run or the dogstacle course so she doesn’t feel left out. 

I just hope we can choose winners between all the dogs entering. We are both big dog lovers so will probably want to give them all a prize - I better stock up on chew sticks as consolation prizes just in case.


Fondue... it's the future!

Fondue... it's the future! 

Last Friday, I played host to a TV crew from the BBC who came to my house to film for the One Show, which is broadcast every weekday night after the news on BBC1. 

Their Scottish presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli, also came along to front the programme. 

The production company approached me after I appeared on the Sunday Life programme a couple of months ago, as I’d enjoyed it so much and offered to get involved in any future productions the were doing in the area. 

This time, it was for a feature on retro foods, and they wanted me to host a fondue party for my friends. 

I have to admit never having been to such a party or had fondue myself before. I know it’s still popular in European skiing resorts but I haven’t ventured onto the slopes yet so I’m a fondue virgin. 

I agreed to be the host as long as I wasn’t being relied upon to do the cooking too. I’m much more comfortable telling jokes in the dining room to keep guests entertained than donning my pinny in the kitchen. 

I invited 4 friends around including Sylvia from Leeds City Council and Sarah from Lightmedia who’s company provide those giant tv screens used at outdoor events, plus my Mum, Sister and Michael’s Mum Val. They were all really nervous about being filmed - it’s one thing to be on TV but another to be filmed with hot cheese dribbling down your chin! 

Hardeep was lovely, putting everyone at ease and he’s got a great sense of humour. My Mum was on top form too as she loves to tell stories, and recounted how years ago when she worked on the cheese counter at Schofields in Leeds she put on 3 stone in 2 years from nibbling cheese all day! 

It was a lovely intimate gathering, everyone had great fun. They let me keep the fondue set too so I’m trying to get a fondue revival going and bring it back in vogue. 

Anything the Europeans can do….. 

Rain stops play……twice! 

I’m definitely joining in with the moaning about the weather at the moment. It has spoilt my plans for the last 2 weekends, and not only that worthy causes have lost out on thousands of pounds of fundraising as a result. 

Firstly, Michael and I were attending Blackshaw Head village fete near Hebden Bridge and had organised various events including a tug of war contest where we each had a team. 

We also spent most of last week baking buns and cakes for Michael’s cake stall at the fete Our friends Gillian and Shirley were doing most of the baking to be honest but we were doing lots of sampling for them! 

Two days before, the organisers took the reluctant decision to cancel the event as the field was waterlogged so we had to do a quick rethink. 

We couldn’t possibly eat all the lovely cakes and buns between us, especially as we are both still on healthy eating campaigns. We phoned the Piece Hall market in Halifax who very kindly agreed to let us have a stall for the day. 

I went into the loft and got together boxes of nic nacs that I don’t use any more and took them along to sell too. 

The cakes went down a treat and the money we raised will go towards Stainland Community Centre’s roof fund - they’ll need the money more urgently now with this rain! 

My second disappointment was the cancellation of the RSPCA’s K9 Dog show which Michael and I were due to judge yesterday. 

We were also entering our own dogs into the competition, and were taking lots of family and friends with us to the event so it was a real shame. 

The organisers had worked so hard to put everything together, it must be soul destroying to see that going to waste, and also the missed opportunity to raise around £5,000. 

They were so worried about people slipping, and the cost of repairing damage to the park due to the mud etc. that they were forced to cancel. 

I’m lucky that I spent a few days in Morocco last week which was incredibly hot but I’m tempted to get back on a plane to escape this misery. 

At least we don’t have hurricanes in Britain…..yet.


I'll never sell my celebrity memories

It’s really dawned on me recently how much people dislike change, and do everything they can to resist it. 

Take Facebook for example, the social networking site which now has 100 million users worldwide. Over the last few weeks it has re-designed it’s site and is now forcing it’s members to use the new version. 

But it’s created a public outcry and petitions and protests sprang up all over the place because many users were resisting the changes. 

I know how it feels first hand, as I re-launched my free memorial website GoneTooSoon a couple of weeks ago. 

The site has grown phenomenally since it’s launch 3 years ago and now has millions of visitors every month, so it was definitely in need of updating, not only to cope with the growth but to provide new features and improve security. 

I’ve had people crying on the phone, emails from users who’ve had sleepless nights and a number of letters, all asking to go back to the original version. 

There was even an online forum created to bring back the old site! 

I had anticipated it would take people a couple of days to get used to the site but nothing on that scale. But a couple of weeks on, everyone seems to love it and has forgotten about the original one. 

The only thing I’m disappointed about is my group of friends will be capped to 5000 now on Facebook, but I won’t be launching a protest. 

Celebrity autograph hunters 

Being an avid autograph hunter from the age of 12, I’ve noticed that celebrities are getting fussy about what they’ll sign these days. 

Leeds United Football club have just warned their players to be vigilant when signing autographs as so many of them are ending up on auction sites like ebay. 

I know of one sportsman, whose girlfriend made £30,000 in a year from selling signed shirts, and even jock straps. 

So it’s big business and celebrities management companies are onto it. I’ve witnessed stars like Shayne Ward, Gareth Gates and Ricky Hatton at book signings where fans have brought along items for them to autograph but their management refuse to let them sign anything other than the book or record they are currently promoting. They also ensure that all the messages are personalised to reduce the opportunities for selling them. 

One guy has even ended up in prison through selling fake autographs, and it’s been said that you can make thousands of pounds every week if you’re good at collecting real ones. 

Perhaps I’ve missed the boat then as I’ve never sold any of the thousand or so autographs I collected when I was younger. My favourite one is a signed record cover from Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson which I will always treasure and never sell. To me the whole excitement is meeting the stars and getting them to sign it for you, not buying it on the internet. 

I also moved on to taking pictures of celebrities instead, especially if they were happy to pose with me. 

Fortunately I’ve only been embarrassed a few times by people asking for my own autograph so I don’t expect they’ll ever end up in an auction! 

Dream Girls 2008 

I’m looking forward to Saturday 4th October when the Dream Girls will be taking to the stage at Halifax Victoria Theatre once again for a one night spectacular soul and motown revue. 

The event is in aid of 3 charities - The Samaritans, RSPCA and Endometriosis UK and there are sure to be some stars there on the night. 

It was great fun last year so I’d definitely recommend it. Check out their website www.yorkshirecharityconcert.co.uk for more details. 

I’m hibernating for winter 

This will be my last column of the year, as I’ve decided to take a winter break. 

I’ll still be out and about, and am looking forward to updating you on all my gossip in the New Year. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed keeping up to date with my antics as much as I’ve delighted in sharing them. 

See you in 2009!

A Welsh Rarebit

I’m in first position for London 2012

Since I got hooked on rugby league after following the Leeds Rhinos for the photographic book I did last year, my interest in sport has grown.

My partner Michael has long been a season ticket holder at Manchester United but I very rarely go with him. I can’t sit still for long enough, and unless I’m running around the pitch taking photos then I’m not interested.

The success of team GB at the Beijing Olympics seems to have gripped the nation and we’ve been screaming at the TV in the office quite a lot in the last couple of weeks.

London 2012 seems so far away but I certainly want to be in the heart of the action so I’ve put my name down for 10 pairs of tickets for the opening ceremony.

American Express Centurion my credit card company offer a concierge service where they can obtain tickets for almost any event so I’m on their list already, and apparently I’m at the top. There’s sure to be some jostling for the tickets amongst my family and friends.

One thing that does surprise me greatly about Olympic competitors is that there are over 10,000 of them competing, however only 10 of them are openly gay " that’s 0.1% of the total. Worse than that, only one of those 10 is a male, Matthew Mitcham the Australian diver.

Of course there are probably a lot more who have not yet come out. The percentage of gay people in sport generally mirrors the entire population of between 2 and 10% which means around 1000 athletes are for some reason not comfortable to come out of the closet.

Their reasons range from fears about effects on performance, attitudes of their team mates, fans and even lack of sponsorship for gay athletes. Also. the majority of competitors are under the age of 30, and that can be a key time for someone who is wrestling with their sexuality.

The athletes are also solely focused on their sport and put off dealing with their sexuality until their careers have peaked.

I’m hoping that over the next four years attitudes will continue to change and by the time I’m cheering on the Brits in London, there’ll be a lot more pink union jacks flying.

M15 are after Me

For decades the gay community has been shunned by the security services, along with women and other minorities.

But now in a big recruitment drive, M15 wants to broaden the range of UK society it serves, and they have finally realised that to access this diverse society it needs members of that society working for it.

I knew that all that hard work in the gym would eventually pay off, and I could one day parade my Daniel Craig style six pack and Prada sunglasses in exotic locations around the world, whilst getting paid a decent salary for it " not!

If it’s anything like Spooks on TV though I don’t think I could handle it personally.

Seriously though, I’m pleased to hear that M15 is working with Stonewall, the organisation which campaigns for equality for gay people, to create a workplace environment which is supportive of gay people, and I feel it’s long overdue.

A Welsh Rarebit

It’s been a weekend of celebrations and partying in Manchester which began with a fantastic day on Friday to mark the 15th anniversary of the Mr Gay UK contest.

The excitement started at 11am when all the contestants arrived at the venue, the Ritz Ballroom, Manchester and came face to face with their competition for the first time.

I’m always surprised how great they look, and how different from when you first meet them months earlier at their regional heat. Their bodies are toned and muscular from all the hours they’ve put it at the gym, their tans perfected and not a hair out of place.

Manchester was buzzing already, as thousands of people flocked to the city for the Pride weekend which is one of the most popular events on the gay calendar.

The cameras were following me and my partner Michael all day and all night as part of the documentary being filmed about us, so there was more pressure than usual to ensure the event was a huge success. I’ve never had my make up touched up so often!

After a couple of hours, I forgot the cameras were even around, but I’m a bit worried about the scenes they filmed of me with all the contestants in the gym in the afternoon " I tried to keep up with them anyway.

There was no time for a break even when rehearsals were over as we’d organised a parade through the city with all the boys. Then I dashed back to the venue to meet up with the celebrity guests for their rehearsals.

Co-hosting the show with me was the fabulous Jane McDonald, the Loose Woman who has been back on our TV screens over the last couple of weeks in ‘Return to the cruise’ which re-visited the programme which shot her to fame back in the 90’s.

Her new album was released last week too, and she admitted to me that she’s overwhelmed it’s reached number 7 in the charts already.

I love Jane to bits, she’s a down to earth northern girl who is proud of her roots but she is extremely talented at what she does.
She’s no stranger to hosting Mr Gay UK as she did it 9 years ago and was fabulous which is why I invited her back for this special anniversary.

We only managed to run through our script together once before we went on stage, and I can’t believe how fantastic and natural she is , so spontaneous and witty, perfect for the crowds, many of whom had come along just to see her.

One guy was in tears at the front, as he sang along with her. She performed 2 songs halfway through the show, and didn’t even have a break to touch up her lipstick!

A true professional, and the contestants and audience loved her. I was delighted that she’d brought along her boyfriend, Eddie Rothe, who was the drummer in The Searchers and Liquid Gold who we all ‘danced ourselves dizzy’ to decades ago.

He’s a lovely guy too and they make a great couple " I’m hoping when they tie the knot I’ll get an invite…

Our celebrity judging panel this year included loved up couple Luke and Rebecca from this year’s big brother. He is very camp, and told me that most people think he’s gay, but looking at the body language between him and Rebecca that’s definitely not the case. They are very loved up, and went down a storm with the audience.

They were joined by Aled Haydn Jones, the gay Producer of Chris Moyles’ breakfast show on Radio 1. He was driving home early the next day to attend the wedding of Chris’s sidekick Comedy Dave, but said he wouldn’t miss our contest for the world.

80’s pop and fashion icon Steve Strange, Corrie mechanic turned stripper Scott Wright and Bent Magazine Features Editor Adam Lowe also had the difficult job of picking a winner.

2 of my friends from Hollyoaks the actors Kieran Richardson and Dominque Jackson also came along but Hollyoaks wouldn’t allow Kieran to be a judge as even though he’s gay he plays a straight character.

The 19 contestants first appeared on stage dressed in fantasy wear, which ranged from a welsh rugby player to soldiers,sailors and even James Bond.

Their second round was swimwear, and the crowd went wild as the guys strutted their stuff in hotblood trunks " I had to wipe Jane’s forehead to calm her down after she’d interviewed them all!

The tension was building backstage as the contestants waited for the judges scores to be counted then they were called back on for the big announcement. I had a few favourites including Will Bate from Birmingham but of course I have to remain impartial.

3rd Place was announced " Davie Henderson the cute sailor from Glasgow, followed by the runner up, John Dewey from Chelmsford " both great looking guys.

Then my partner Michael appeared on stage with Luke and Bex and the gold envelope containing the name everyone wanted to know " the winner is….

Dino Gamecho from Cardiff " our first ever Welsh winner. He couldn’t believe it and was genuinely shocked as he turned to me to ask ‘ is it really me?’

I think it was his welsh rugby players outfit and the perfect backflip he’d done on stage which had helped him to the title but he is definitely a popular winner.

I’m delighted too as I have to work closely with the winner. Along with the cash he won, he’ll have a photo shoot in Morocco, a holiday to the Canaries courtesy of Jet2 and be the face of Red Army aftershave.

It was the most amazing night and it’s going to be a memorable year for Dino, congratulations Mr Gay UK 2008.


Steaks are high on a weekend in London

After complaining last week that I wouldn’t get the opportunity to put my feet up until September, a friend invited me to London for the weekend and I couldn’t resist.

Every time I’ve visited London in the past it has been business related and I never usually take a trip to the capital just for pleasure.

I took the train from Leeds with National Express but the journey didn’t start well due to problems on the line after cabling had been stolen. I’d arrived uncharacteristically early for my train (if you know me , you’ll realise what a shock that is as I’m always fashionably late!) but that didn’t bother me too much as I thought I’d take my seat and enjoy a nice meal to pass the time.

My hopes were dashed again though when an announcement was made that unfortunately there were no staff on board. Had I only paid for a cheap ticket it wouldn’t have mattered so much but since I was travelling first class I did expect at least a cup of tea and a biscuit to keep me quiet on the journey.

So you probably feel a letter of complaint coming along here but I have to say that I have written in to National Express customer services, but to heap praise on the service I received.

Vicky from their Accounts department happened to be travelling on that train, along with Marianne who is a guard and realising the problem they made themselves known and went off to arrange sandwiches and drinks for us all.

I got chatting to them on the way down and it made me feel really good to know that despite all the negative publicity train companies receive, there are people in those organisations who do care about their passengers, and not only were they happy to admit they were employees when they could have hidden behind their newspapers, but they used their initiative to turn the experience into a positive one for us all.

You would definitely not have got that with the old British Rail.

So by the time I arrived in London and met up with my friend everything in the world was wonderful.

I’d always wanted to eat at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants so had booked a table for lunch at Maze which overlooks Grovesnor Square Gardens in Mayfair.

It’s very contemporary in design, and the menu is asian influenced. My freebie sandwich on the train had been a few hours earlier so by now I was keen to tuck into something more substantial.

I chose slow roasted quail for starters as it’s not something Michael and I would normally cook at home, then the waitress brought round a slab displaying 6 cuts of steak, for us to choose from.

My friend chose a piece of fillet priced at £28 but I was intrigued by a marble effect steak which we were told was fed on mice and deer.

I’d never heard of anything like it and almost fell off my David Rockwell designed chair, when I saw the price at £110. I just had to try it as it sounded really special.

When the steak arrived, I asked the waitress why mice and deer are so beneficial to a cow but she looked at me bemused. I’d misheard her accent and she was saying ‘rice and beer.’ How daft did I feel!

It was served with roasted garlic, and was very nice but perhaps would have tasted better and deserved it’s price tag if had it been fed on mice and deer. I actually preferred the delicious £28 fillet that my friend ordered.

When the bill arrived I felt like uttering Gordon’s trade mark f word - £220 for lunch without drinks. He wasn’t even at Maze that day to hear my feedback, and there was a distinct lack of other celebrities too, but nevertheless it was a memorable experience.

My London visit was rounded off by a trip to the theatre. I’m a huge fan of the west end so I took the opportunity to see The Lion King, a show I’ve never seen before even though it’s been running for years.

Being a softie I cried at the film so I had my hankie at the ready this time. The costumes are amazing and I love the music, much of which is written by Elton John and Tim Rice.

Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful day.

15 Years of Mr Gay UK

This Friday, the 22nd sees the grand final of Mr Gay UK, and I can hardly believe it’s our 15th anniversary of the contest.

I’m delighted that the event will kick off the Manchester Pride weekend, and 25 contestants from around the UK who battled through their heats will strut their stuff on stage to impress the judges.

The Ritz on Whitworth Street, Manchester is the venue for what will be a fantastic evening, and I’m really excited that Jane McDonald will be our host for the evening.

She will be joined by a celebrity judging panel which includes lovebirds Luke Marsden and Rebecca Shiner from this year’s Big Brother TV show.

The outspoken pair have just returned from their ‘wedding’ in Las Vegas, but unlike Peaches Geldof theirs was only a trial. I just hope we can prise them apart for long enough to concentrate on our contestants.

80’s new romantic and Visage front man Steve Strange is also on the panel, together with Aled Jones from Chris Moyles’ Radio 1 show, Lucio from Hits channel chart 40 uk show and hunky Scott Wright formerly of Corrie. Two stars from Hollyoaks complete the line up.

Previous hosts and judges have included Sir Ian McKellen, Graham Norton, Lily Savage, Jason Donovan, Jean Paul Gaultier and dozens more so it’s always popular with the stars.

Thousands of people will be flooding into Manchester for the whole Pride weekend so Mr Gay UK is a great event to kick start the fun.

The finalists are really getting nervous though and trying to come up with the most dazzling fantasy outfit to make them stand out on stage. My phone is ringing non-stop with questions from the guys, desperate to be their best on the night.

As well as the coveted title, the winner takes home thousands of pounds in prizes including cash, a holiday, a photo shoot in Morocco and they will also be the face of Bent magazine and an exclusive aftershave.

Since Huddersfield Policeman Mark Carter was crowned Mr Gay UK in 2006, we’ve seen a huge revival in popularity for the competition. Mark was a great ambassador, going on to take second place in Mr Gay Europe.

Last year’s winner Daniel Broughton from Blackpool has had a great year too. It’s going to be a battle just wrenching the trophy out of his hands but I can’t wait to see who will walk away with it on Friday.

The first 10 people to email me at terry@terrygeorge.co.uk with the correct answer to the following question will win a free pair of tickets.

Which loose woman is hosting this year’s Mr Gay UK Final?

If you aren’t a lucky winner you can still buy tickets on the door from 10pm onwards.


Never a drag to be so busy...

This summer seems to be made up of one hectic weekend after another, and looking at my diary I don’t think I’ll get chance to put my feet up until at least mid September.

Last weekend was taken up with preparations for the 3rd annual Leeds Pride event which as usual I was heavily involved in.

But this year someone had volunteered me to decorate a float for the parade, however they should know better, as I’m no Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen when it comes to dressing a set.

Saturday evening saw me organising a pre-party parade through Leeds for my club night Federation at Victoria Works, and trying to keep a gaggle of stilt walkers, dancers and other entertainers under control is no easy task. My head gratefully hit the pillow at 5am and 3 hours later I could hardly believe I had to get up and prepare the float.

My idea was to decorate it as vibrantly and colourful as possible to fit in with the rainbow flag of gay pride so I had plenty of fabrics and armed with a staple gun set to work. My friend the Interior Designer Ben Huckerby and Charlie one of my Managers also helped me out.

In the cellar at my bar I had lots of props which had been used for theme nights in the past so I decided to use anything I could find including gigantic tropical fish. My friend Deborah from Hairy Lemon had kindly loaned me the same huge stilettos that Michael and I had used at our Moulin Rouge themed wedding a few years ago �" not to wear I might add as they are over 6 feet tall!

I was hoping that nobody would want to interview me about my float as I had no idea what theme to tell them I was working around.

In addition to the parade, one of the other highlights of the day was a world record attempt taking place on the stage in Millennium Square, where over 75 drag queens were needed to form a chorus line, the longest one ever.

I must admit that I’ve never been one for drag queens myself, years ago I always thought that they gave gay people a bad name as TV coverage always focuses on them whenever they feature Pride events and it’s not a stereotype I’m happy with.

As well as the screaming drag queens, there were so many professional people enjoying themselves including doctors, nurses, firemen ,police and footballers.

My partner Michael got into the spirit though and dressed up in drag �" I walked straight past him at first as I didn’t recognise him in his blonde wig and newly trimmed down waistline.

Despite the auditions we’d hosted for drag queens only 45 braved the chorus line so the record attempt will have to wait for another year. I would have dressed up if they were only 1 or 2 short but instead I pinched one of the other Queen’s wigs and wore that. It didn’t go down well though and she had a hissy fit about her hair underneath so being the joker I am I did it to a few others too.

Thousands had turned out on the day, and after the parade around the City Centre finished Lower Briggate was turned into a street party and my club, Mission became a market place full of stalls. Everyone had a great time and it was much more popular than last year, even my Mum was enjoying herself in her wheelchair.

I like the smaller pride events like Pink Picnic in Huddersfield, Hull ,Doncaster and Leeds as they have a better feel than the more commercial ones in London and Manchester. The emphasis isn’t as much about money, lots of local business make the effort by putting on bars and stalls rather than shelling out lots of cash on sponsorship fees.

I’ve already been invited to a planning meeting for 2009 but I definitely won’t be getting any recommendations for float design.

One hitch after after another

I’ve been listening to BBC journalist Evan Davis on the radio telling stories of his recent hitchhiking experiences, and it brought back some amusing tales of my own.

Evan was investigating how easy it was to hitchhike in Britain in 2008, and why not many people seem to be taking this option nowadays.

You hardly ever see people standing at the side of the road with a scrappy piece of cardboard now, and it would seem like an obvious thing to do with astronomical petrol prices.

About 6 of us commute from Huddersfield and Halifax into my offices in Leeds every day, and we’re all trying to reduce our carbon footprints by car sharing, but it’s not easy. We all keep different hours and everyone seems to prefer their own space, it makes us a less sociable lot but if more people did it then motorways and city centres wouldn’t be gridlocked so much.

In my younger days when I was a DJ in Leeds, I used to live in Morley and drive to my job late at night. One night I spotted an old lady at the bus stop and felt sorry for her so I stopped to give her a lift.

We got chatting away and when we reached the city centre I asked her where she wanted to be dropped off. ‘I have an appointment at the hospital at 4’ she told me, and as it was late at night I replied ‘what 4 in the morning?’ ‘No the afternoon she told me.’ ‘So why were you waiting for the bus so late at night?’ I asked. It then became apparent that the poor lady wasn’t quite with it . She thought it was daytime! So I was faced with the dilemma of being late for work or leaving her stranded. I felt so guilty that I had to take her all the way back to Morley �" so much for being a good Samaritan.

My other amusing hitchhiker experience is way back when my brother and I were driving home from South Wales. Anyone who has been on a car journey with me will know that I’m not the chattiest of passengers and usually have a nap most of the way.

On this particular journey I was lying on the back seat (years before seatbelts were compulsory I might add) fast asleep when my brother stopped at a service station. I woke up after he’d gone inside and fancied an ice lolly as it was a hot day so off I went to the shop.

In the meantime my brother came back to the car and as he drove out of the services he spotted a hitchhiker and picked him up. They had been travelling for quite some time when he spotted another hitchhiker. He told the first hitchhiker that ordinarily he would have gladly picked up the other one but he didn’t have room due to me being asleep in the back.

The guy gave him a really odd look as there was nobody in the back….

Meanwhile having re-appeared with my ice lolly to find that my brother had disappeared, I had no mobile phone in those days so after waiting for ages decided to hitch a lift myself.

I managed to get a lift as far as Burnley where I used a phonebox to ring my parents who were so relieved to hear from me. My brother didn’t know whether I’d fallen out of the car or when he’d lost me so he’d had some explaining to do.

Carnival in Edinburgh

This month I’m really thrilled to be exhibiting my large scale photos from the Rio Carnival during the world famous international festival in Edinburgh.

Being of Scottish descent I’m proud to be going back to my roots, and having never made it to this event which is the biggest arts festival in the world it’s about time I experienced it for myself.

If you’re planning a trip across the border this week, you’re welcome to come along to my launch party on Friday 15th at 7pm in White Cube Studio 1, GRV Project , 37 Guthrie St EH1 1JG.

The exhibition runs throughout August if you can’t make the party and I’ll tell you how it went next week.

Access all areas...with McFly

On a sweltering Sunday last weekend, I was invited by Sylvia McCann from Leeds City Council to photograph the 15th annual Party in The Park concert at Temple Newsam in Leeds.

The weather had certainly brought out the crowds and over 70,000 fans , young and old packed the park to be entertained by a string of popstars. Sylvia had very kindly given me the only ‘access all areas’ pass to photograph the event. We’ve worked together before and she knows how I like to get in on all the action at these events so she was confident in me taking the pictures she wanted.

I don’t think the party was that successful last year, mainly due to the rain and the one in Bradford has died a death too so the organisers were working hard to ensure 2008’s event was a hit. The backstage area was amazing �" like a tv set and very professional with a green room and video footage being played constantly. It was a brilliant area for interviewing and photographing the artists too, so that was a great start.

I was on cloud nine being able to wander wherever I wanted and one of the first acts I hunted for was the band Scouting For Girls. But I had no idea how many of them there were or what on earth they looked like and neither did anyone else I asked. The band was formed 3 years ago by Roy Stride and have had huge success, even playing at Glastonbury this year. I’d heard they played to an audience of just 20 people at the Cockpit in Leeds in 2007 so I was hoping they’d go down ok with such a huge crowd.

Someone eventually pointed out 3 ordinary lads to me, who weren’t surrounded by the usual entourage and I went to chat to them. They were really friendly and down to earth and told me that it’s actually a real benefit that no-one recognises them as they don’t keep getting pestered. I also think their popularity has grown through social networking sites like MySpace and Bebo, with most of their single sales through downloads and of course you don’t get to see them on Top of The Pops now (how old do I sound?) so no wonder their faces aren’t familiar.

I’m also a huge fan of boyband McFly who were headlining the event and of course it was almost impossible for anyone to get near them now they are such a huge band. I’ve met them quite a few times before and get on well with their Manager Tommy so I avoided the scrum of the normal press call and was able to get an exclusive photo shoot with the guys.

What I hadn’t expected that day was to be invited on stage by Griffo, the DJ from Radio Aire, and my legs were wobbling as he introduced me as Terry George from Secret Millionaire and Britain’s Best Home. I was really surprised when the crowd cheered as if they knew me, particularly among all these big names. I gave a short interview then was asked to introduce Eurovision contestant and former X Factor finalist Andy Abrahams, however they changed the lineup whilst I was on stage and at the last minute Maria Lawson from X Factor 2005 appeared in the wings.

But stage fright hit me and I couldn’t remember her name at all, so thinking on my feet I asked the crowd to shout her on to stage and joined in with the last part of her surname ‘Awson’ to try and cover up my faux pas.Phew I think I got away with it in front of 70,000 people!

Upcoming star David Jordan was next on my list �" he’s a cross between Prince and Michael Jackson. I met him last year at the Royal Variety Performance and he recognised me so we had a good chat. He’s zany and off the wall but great fun. Even my Mum loves his ‘Sun Goes Down’ hit and she never really listens to pop music.

The funniest people I met though were brother and sister duo Same Difference aka Sean and Sarah Smith who made it to 3rd place in last years X Factor final. They were always smiley smiley on the programme and this is obviously how they are in reality as they kept grinning throughout our chat and didn’t say no to anyone all day. I asked Sarah who her favourite band is and she told me she loves McFly.

I couldn’t resist asking her if she would go on a date with any of them but she was being very coy until her brother piped up ‘Go on, you would’. So being cheeky I asked him which one he would go on a date with and his smile definitely disappeared. They were a huge hit with the crowd as they performed their cheesy numbers and had them singing along to hits from High School Musical. I’ve heard that they are to be the new face of Haribo sweets �" that definitely fits their image!

Moroccan Marquee Mayhem

My partner Michael celebrated his 40th birthday last week, and he thought reaching this milestone would be a nice low key affair as I’d treated him to a luxury pamper day at Titanic Spa in Linthwaite.

What he hadn’t realised was, that his treat was planned to get him out of the way for a day whilst I set the wheels in motion for his surprise party. I’d invited 200 family and friends to our house for an Arabian Nights themed bash, and managed to keep it all hush hush.

On the front lawn I’d arranged for a large Moroccan tent decked out with rugs, cushions, lanterns and draped with loads of plush fabrics and even a dancefloor in one corner. We’ve also recently bought our own inflatable marquee to use for other events but when it arrived in a bag resembling a pile of laundry I wasn’t sure if we’d done the right thing. So we decided to have a go and put that up on the back lawn.

I’d definitely under estimated quite how gigantic it was and as soon as it started to inflate it became clear that the back lawn was in no way big enough so I enlisted the help of 8 guys to help move it. Once it was up it resembled an enormous square ice cube and looked fabulously funky so we set up the bars in there.

On the other side of the lawn I’d hired a Moroccan band and a bucking camel - just like a bucking bronco but a camel to keep with the Arabian theme.

All the guests looked amazing in their Arabian costumes and I’d brought over loads of kaftans, slippers and fez’s from Morocco so everyone was dressed for the occasion.

When Michael drove up the drive we all hid in the Moroccan tent and the band played Happy Birthday Moroccan style. He couldn’t believe his eyes as when he’d set off from home that morning I was still in bed and he hadn’t even had a sniff of suspicion.

I quickly dragged him onto the lawn for a belly dancing lesson with Sophie Mei who reached the semi-finals of Britain’s got talent and the party was in full swing.

Of all the parties we’ve thrown this has to be one of the best �" everyone was having a fantastic time and it was the hottest day of the year, Michael was thrilled.
But he always wants revenge when I pull a surprise on him so when we were all tucking into Moroccan lamb at the barbeque area he asked me to pose for a photo with him next to the pond. The next thing I knew I was pushed in backwards and went completely under �" re-surfacing with my white kaftan covered in mud and reeds!

After getting showered and changed, I got even with him again when he was made to sit on a throne outside the Moroccan tent with a 12 foot python round his neck �" he has a phobia of snakes too so you can imagine that went down well.

We danced the rest of the night away in the Moroccan tent as Michael’s favourite DJ, Karl Lucas entertained us all �" he can always get everyone up on the dancefloor whatever the mood, he’s the best party DJ I’ve ever seen and has given his services for free at our charity bonfire parties over the last few years.

We’ll never forget Michael’s 40th party �" particularly as we took 2000 photos for the family album. After such an exhausting weekend we needed some recovery time so we donned our kaftans again and flew off to Morocco for some authentic Arabian culture.

Ola...soaking up the sun with Richy Hatton

I WAS sunning myself in Puerto Banus near Marbella last week, but have to admit it has never really been my type of place before – full of luxury yachts and flash expensive cars.

Cars don’t really excite, though I’m always fascinated watching people who do love them and stand next to them to have their photo taken.

The yachts do impress me but I believe they swallow up so much money I don’t think I’d ever buy one.

I was once invited on to a beautiful luxury one in Ibiza and we sailed around the harbour and coast, but after we returned I couldn’t believe how much work was involved in washing the whole boat down and drying it.

Unless you splash out more cash and hire a deck hand it certainly seems like too much hard work and a very expensive hobby to me.

In Puerto Banus, I was showing a friend round and we stood outside Sinatra’s bar. I can’t get my head round what makes the place so famous. It’s a tiny bar only about the size of my lounge. All kinds of celebrities are drawn to the place and are forever talking about it.

Just at that point I heard a familiar voice and turned round to see boxer Ricky Hatton looking extremely inebriated (or abbreviated as I always mistakenly call it!).

He was drinking with a rowdy group of friends and I couldn’t resist going over to have a chat and shaking his hand, as I hadn’t seen him since his last fight in Manchester.

I also spent time with him in Las Vegas last summer, when he introduced me to Wayne Rooney and Coleen McLouglin (as you know I don’t like name dropping!) in his dressing room after the fight.

I asked Ricky if he was enjoying himself at Sinatra’s, however, I don’t think I was making much sense to him. I wanted to have my photograph with him but his friends started to kick up a fuss saying, ‘No photographs, we’re on holiday,’ but Ricky was really polite as he always is and was happy to pose for a snap.

Meeting lots of celebrities has made me realise that the entourage that often surrounds them can be the people who are the most difficult and not the celebrity themselves. Sometimes I think it must go to their heads and they think they are the famous ones.

Not many other people had noticed Ricky as he was wearing a huge pair of Prada sunglasses. But I did chuckle to myself as he’d left the Prada sticky label on the front of them.

Hopefully Ricky will be off the alcohol soon, as he begins training for his next fight in November which will probably be in Las Vegas again.

After being lucky enough to get ringside and into his dressing room last time, I’m definitely keeping an eye out for tickets as they get snapped up in minutes!

Catching up with Friends...

Last Sunday I was very kindly invited to Jane McDonald’s concert at Leeds Grand Theatre by some friends I made when filming Secret Millionaire in Cornwall last summer.

Maureen who worked at the care home where I spent time during the programme, arranged the tickets for us and brought along Sarah and Tony the care home owners who I’ve kept in touch with since filming.

Maureen and I got on really well last summer and she’s led an interesting life as the former nanny to Bruce Forsythe’s family, and Jane McDonald’s cook.

Since they were travelling all the way from Cornwall I invited them to stay over at my house after the show. It took them all day to get here though, and I presume one of the care home residents must have lent them a map printed before motorways were built as they drove on A roads for the entire journey!. We dashed to Leeds and by the time we arrived Jane was already on stage.

I’ve known Jane for almost 10 years since she co-presented the final of Mr Gay UK with me in 1999 which was broadcast on Channel Five. She is an amazing singer, and so proud of her Yorkshire roots. This tour is promoting her new album ‘Jane’ which is scheduled for release on August 11th . It culminates on 12th December in St Georges Hall, Bradford which is sure to be a sellout too.

Jane shot to fame in the 90’s in the docu-soap ‘The Cruise’ and her high profile wedding in 1998 was watched by 600 million viewers worldwide. Unfortunately the pressures of fame took their toll on her marriage and she went through a turbulent few years but with true Yorkshire grit she has bounced back and found happiness in her private life and maintained a very successful career.

She appears regularly on ITV’s Loose Women which won best daytime tv show, my friend the comedian Alan Carr is often filming in the same building and he told me he always drops in on her and has a cheeky laugh with her. I can’t wait for 8th August too when ‘Return to The Cruise’ the follow up documentary will be broadcast on BBC2.

Jane’s success is not solely down to her fabulous voice but her witty, slapstick sense of humour which she brings to the stage and has her audience in stitches. She knew loads of people in the audience last Sunday and when I met her at the interval she told me how proud she was to perform to a full house back in Yorkshire and what a buzz it gave her.

She did a great job hosting Mr Gay UK, and I was really impressed how naturally she chatted with the contestants on stage and made them feel at ease. I believe Yorkshire needs another chat show host since Michael Parkinson retired, maybe Jane could be just the person?

Who’s the celebrity?

On Saturday I was very honoured to be asked as a guest to Holywell Green School’s annual summer fete.

I’m keen to get involved in our local community so of course I jumped at this opportunity. I’m not sure the school realised what they were in for though as I’m being followed by a camera crew at the moment for a new documentary.

When making any tv programme you have to get permission from everyone being featured to ensure they’re ok with it so of course I wanted the school to be comfortable having cameras around. The Head Teacher was absolutely wonderful about it and very accommodating. We were all well looked after and it will be lovely for the school to see themselves on TV when the programme is broadcast.

I’m sworn to secrecy at the moment though but promise to tell you more when I can!

I was asked to judge the cake competition (and try not to eat them) which was well supported, but when I spotted the pink castle cake with ice cream cones for turrets and labelled ‘ Britain’s Best Home’ there was only ever going to be one winner. I then auctioned off the cakes to raise funds for the school which was hilarious �" one cake looked gorgeous but it was really heavy so I advised any potential bidders not to feed it to any ducks, at which point there were tears rolling down my face. Everyone watching burst into fits of giggles and it felt like sharing a joke with friends, everyone was so friendly.

One boy was bidding on the winning castle cake but I outbid him by £1. He looked really upset though so I decided to give it to him anyway.

My Sister brought my Mum along in her wheelchair and as she tried to go inside and find me a lady excitably told her that there wasn’t much room inside as everyone was crowded in to see the celebrity.

Great thought Rosemarie, Terry must have brought along one of his celebrity friends, she wondered in anticipation who it could be? She couldn’t see anyone though, only me standing at the front.

So she asked the lady, who the celebrity was, to which she replied, “Can you believe it, the local Millionaire from the Castle is here?” Rosemarie was so disappointed, she’d got all excited about the prospect of meeting someone like Shayne Ward again and all she got was me!

After the cake contest , my next task was to judge the fancy dress competition. So many of the children had made an effort and there were some wonderful costumes, however I was most impressed with those who'd been creative and made their own rather than hiring or buying one so I chose a female vampire for the infants and a cricketer for the juniors - he had a sticker on his back saying ‘rain stopped play.’

I really enjoyed the day, so much so that I’ve decided to help organise another summer fete for Stainland Community Centre in August so watch this space for more details.

Pack your hamper, Pink Picnic is back


I had a meeting this week with Charlotte, the Marketing Manager at the Galpharm Stadium. The Galpharm are very keen to get the word out that sporting events at the Stadium (and in fact any event at the Galpharm) are gay friendly. What a refreshing (and often rare) attitude this is!

Charlotte asked for my help in spreading the gay friendly word as recently a gay couple had been to look at the Galpharm to consider it as a possible venue for their upcoming civil partnership but in the end chose an alternate location. The sad reality is that there is still lots of homophobia surrounding sport, and sporting arenas, which can be very off putting. In fact I personally know of a few gay premier league footballers who have had to keep their sexuality a secret because of the discrimination they fear they would face in their careers and their lives! It’s a sad fact that in the 21st Century gay people can still be made to feel uncomfortable in certain areas of life. We need to start breaking those homophobic barriers down �" so boys and girls give the Galpharm a Go!


Speaking of homophobic attitudes �" this week I was asked by a local radio station to give an interview about homophobic bullying in schools. This is something that I personally feel very strongly about as many of my friends have come across this at certain times in their lives and have felt threatened and scared. Tragically it even pushed one young local boy to the point of suicide. The TUC (which stands for The Trades Union Congress) is trying to enforce the notion of teaching ‘anti bullying’ for homophobia in to the national curriculum, in the same way it does to protect students against bullying of race, sexism or class.

The TUC have also been involved in all the campaigns to end legal discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is exactly what is needed for gay people today to help bring equality. If we are to change attitudes, we need to educate children young and bring in school education to help change their opinions, helping make pupils feel more comfortable and confident to be themselves.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber will be calling on the Government to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) equality education in the school curriculum, as the only way to address homophobic bullying in schools. A recent survey by Stonewall laid bare the huge scale of the problem. Almost all LGBT pupils reported hearing homophobic abuse. No less than two thirds reported being the victims of bullying. And perhaps most alarming of all, one in six said they had been subjected to death threats.

Schools and colleges are simply not doing enough. Fewer than a quarter have categorically said that homophobic bullying is wrong. And while 99 per cent of schools told the Stonewall survey they had general anti-bullying policies, just six per cent had anti-bullying policies that dealt with LGBT issues. Statistics and stories like this fill me with horror �" we need to make changes and we need to make them NOW.


I can’t believe the PINK PICNIC is almost upon us again. Pat and her team are again working their magic to produce another unforgettable day. This year will be the 22nd Anniversary of this unique event which takes place on Sunday 27th July 2008 at Castle Hill between 12 noon and 7 pm. It’s always been one of my favourite events of the year since it began back in 1986 (of course, I was much better looking then!) when a group of friends decided to have a picnic on the moors overlooking the scenic reservoir “Binn Wood”. It was fun and high-spirited so they did it again later the same year on a Bank Holiday Sunday. Fast forward and 21 years later the PINK PICNIC is now a major fundraising event. Over the years various special ribbons or badges have been sold raising monies for good causes. However, whilst the scale of the whole event has increased, I love the fact that the PINK PICNIC manages to maintain its true sense of community spirit which is often lost in bigger PRIDE events.

Be prepared to be dazzled by the spectacular picnics and items of campery which have made the Pink Picnic legendary. Dress includes anything from drag queens to hunks in military camouflage. As ever there will be competitions and prizes galore. This year’s include Best Dressed Pet, Best Outfit and Best Picnic (it has always been my ambition to be a judge in this category!). Live entertainment will feature the Pride Sisters, Hazel Dean, our very own Mr Gay UK - Daniel Broughton, plus Claire Chanel and Friends �" watch this space for further news!

Feel free to pop over and say hello �" I’ll be appearing on a picnic rug near you soon!


I have been busy filming this week as Michael and I are making a new TV series. I’ll be filling you in on some of the exciting events we’ve got up our sleeves over the coming months. Stay tuned.


The joy of giving your money away!

Last Sunday I was asked to appear on a BBC1 TV show Sunday Life, to review the papers.

The studio was located in an old converted mill in Keighley, so I assumed it was a local programme, and as I’m not normally awake so early on Sundays, I hadn’t seen the show before. So I showed up at 8am, having flicked through the papers and digested a few fun facts that I hoped to say should the occasion arise.

Being so early on a Sunday, I definitely needed the make-up artist they kindly provided, and just before being whisked into the studio I asked what time the Yorkshire section would be shown so I could let my family and friends know what time I’d be on.

The Producer looked bemused and explained the programme is national, which sent me into panic. Thank goodness I’d taken the Sunday’s to the loo with me earlier!

I was introduced to the Presenters Louise Minchin the BBC news reader and journalist and broadcaster John Sargeant. They wanted to chat to me about my attitudes to money, and had also invited Adrian Mann along to join the discussion.

Adrian is the man everyone wants to have knocking on their door. The man from the National Lottery who presents all the jackpot winners with their huge cheques. It is his job to provide emotional, financial and legal support to anyone who has won over £50,000. He appears at the door, having made sure nobody has followed him to discover the winner’s identity.

He’s experienced in helping people overcome the shock and he can talk about the dangers of winning the lottery, the emotions of guilt and fear that they go through, the scare of public fame and possible family fall outs. He had so many stories to tell me, I’m sure he’d make a great dinner party guest.

Whether he had any influence on one couple featured on the programme, I’m not sure but they certainly brought a tear to my eye. Ray and Barbara Wragg from Sheffield 8 years ago scooped over £7 million on the lottery. They live in a lovely house and have a nice car but so far they’ve given over £5 million of their winnings away to worthy causes and charities.

But what came across loud and clear from the interview they gave was the pleasure they get from giving that money away. They don’t just send off a cheque and pat themselves on the back afterwards; they take time to get involved with the projects they sponsor like a small farm for inner city kids to visit, and scanners for their local hospital. They could have bought a luxury yacht to use once or twice a year but instead they have brought so much happiness to so many more people through their generosity.

I can certainly identify with exactly what they mean about getting pleasure from giving money away. When Michael and I won ‘Britain’s Best Home’ recently, the £25,000 prize money was very much appreciated but it wasn’t the main reason we entered the contest. So we decided that we’d much rather donate the winnings to worthy causes who would be able to put the money to far more effective use than we could.

So I telephoned Cancer Research, who very kindly sent 10 volunteers to help out at my charity bonfire party last year, as unfortunately like most people, I’ve lost family and friends through this terrible disease, and they are always first in my thoughts where donations are concerned.

When I told them that £12,500 was coming their way, it was like they had won the lottery too! They must get used to receiving large donations, however I’ve never met a more genuinely grateful bunch of people. They came round to my house the next day for a cuppa and to receive the cheque.

The other half of the winnings was given to GoneTooSoon the memorial website which is also a non-profit making organisation. The money will ensure the site can continue to remain free for everyone to use, and to support the 3 million users who visit the memorial pages every month.

Hands Off She’s Mine

Last week I told you about how my Housekeeper, Sharon was really keen to save us money around the house, and always keeps a tight reign on our housekeeping budget. She often looks after the celebrities that come round, and when people stay over she’ll iron their outfits and look after them like kings (or Queens!).

So many of the celebs have tried to poach her, and since reading last week’s article I’ve had more calls enquiring whether she’ll sub-contract for them!

She works incredibly hard and is always on the move around the house, multi-multi tasking and I’d never let her go. She’s not only a housekeeper but a friend to Michael and I, which is important to us. She’s also the one who has to put up with us first thing in a morning which is not always a pretty sight. Every night when she leaves the house is immaculate, then when she arrives the next morning her heart must sink, how she puts up with us I’m not sure.

So Michelle Collins, and everyone else, keep your hands off, Sharon is staying with me.