My friends and I missed Sparkle last year due to working, but this year we looked so forward to the event, planning a 4 day getaway. As usual I drove up from Cornwall collecting friends on the way, starting with Jemma then Ginny and Nicky, we all sat snugly in my landrover, the back pilled roof high with all the bags (oddly Nicky had the largest and heaviest bags but wore the least clothes!!) anticipating our arrival.
Sparkle is probably the biggest TG party event in the world now, and it was celebrating its 10th anniversary. it was originally conceived by Kimberly Angel as a simple festival in Manchester, where members of the TG community could get together and party. The present organiser, Bella-Jay, had continued the momentum and developed the event that has now blossomed into a 3-day event of music, dancing, exhibit stalls and workshops to create a vibrant atmosphere for the 3400 attendees.
The event management will now pass onto a committee. It is now a registered charity and hopes to continue to progress and improve each year. Sparkle is held in the northern city of Manchester, which is home to Canal Street, the best known LGBT area in the UK, with hotels, restaurants, night clubs and a lovely park -- all in the heart of the former industrial revolution city.
Its about a 6 hr drive to Manchester from the south west, and we aimed to get there in time for dinner and dancing that night. The UK had another exceptional summer this year, with high temperatures and clear blue skies making the drive very pleasant. We only needed a few stops for leg stretches and food. Our hotel bookings were handled by Jemma as usual, so on arrival it was a quick shower and change then out on the town in light summer dresses.
Food Glorious food!
We had our first meal on Canal Street and found the every venue decked with the Trans Rainbow flag made for the event. A lot of girls had arrived there already, so we were soon chatting and touring the venues, dancing and enjoying the nightlife.
There are lots of very good venues on Canal street and the surrounding area, providing various standards of food to suit all tastes and depths of pocket. Many have great dance floors. But what makes canal street so much fun is the many tables and chairs along the road where you can sit and sip a drink whist people watching and chatting. So to rest our toes and enjoy the balmy evening we found a nice spot to sit for a while and enjoy the passing crowds. That night we danced till late and then headed back to the hotel for some rest before hitting the city for breakfast and shopping!
Friday is our shopping day. Being from the countryside we miss the big shops of the city. Our first port of call after breakfast was Long Tall Sally, where you can find clothes for taller women, and are very TG friendly. Jemma and I managed to pick up some real bargain’s there and I even managed to buy something for my partner!
Nicky and Ginny then headed for the nail bar to get their nails done for the event, whilst Jemma and I took to the shops to top up on our makeup and a bit of pampering: I had my eyebrows threaded, which produced a fab result – but made me sneeze a lot!! Meanwhile Jemma had a MAC make over in preparation for our night out.
Friday night had a special meet and greet session for all the people who were new to Sparkle. There were welcoming hostesses positioned along the street to give out information and direct them to a special Chinese banquet meal, and the official welcome party for the event. Many of the venues had free entry for Sparkle, so no excuse not to party till very late!
There was also special meals for the Repartee Magazine 25th anniversary. I had an invite, but my traveling companions had arranged for us to have a meal on the Street again in a fabulous Italian Restaurant, followed by more dancing.
The street was getting busier as more sparkle attendees descended on to the city, with a diversity of colours, heels, and styles. Chatting about the impact of Sparkle to the restaurant owners, we found all of them regard it as the main event of the their year, where, unlike other events such as Pride, the majority of the participants spend most of their time (and money) within the area of the event for an extended weekend.
The police were also very quick to praise the management and participants of Sparkle. There was very little concern with the event and the police presence was seen as a supporting role only.
We spent the evening dancing again and chatting to lots of new girls -- as well as catching up with old friends, but by 3am it was time to head for bed and get ready for the main event.
Saturday sees us in our comfortable shoes and off to breakfast. Wandering past the park we see the stage and vendor stalls being erected in the morning warmth, as an army of people prepare the sound systems, the food stalls and the pop-up gazebos for many different products.
Directions for the various workshops and discussions were being posted, banners and fencing located and positioned, as the park becomes the focal point of the event. As the town clock struck 12 the park was decaled open and we all made our way in to see the stage come alive with the start of the Sparkle festivities.
This year had an outstanding selection of stage shows from the transgender community as well as the Miss Sparkle events. We also saw a trans-specific fashion show presented by a wonderful designer (the clothes more memorable then the name!!) and there was even KIT the car from the Knight Rider series!
The numerous talks and workshops covered a whole range of subjects including facial surgery, make up, drag king workshops, aerobics, older trans people, wardrobe and styles, as well as police advice and political support from Press For Change. Truly something there for everyone !
I can only give a short rendition of the numerous fringe events that go on over the 3 days, so its better to have a look on the Sparkle website to see the whole list of everything that was arranged.
The focal point of sparkle is Sackville Garden. The stage has a nonstop music and entertainment all afternoon, with the numerous stalls providing a wonderful array of products and services. Wig setting and trimming, nail bar, make up lessons, underwear and trade unions were amongst the many stalls adding to party atmosphere for the weekend.
We mingled with the crowds, chatting with those we knew -- and meeting new people -- watched the stage shows, had some food and enjoyed the good weather whist soaking up the lovely atmosphere.
By now the street was full of people and the party atmosphere had become infectious. After dinner we headed to the dance floor at New York New York, one of the premier venues, which was full of dancing people and partied the night away.
Sunday started with a somber period of remembrance. Sackville Gardens is the home to the National Trans Memorial where anyone can come and sit and remember those of our community who are victims of Transphobic hate crime, have ended their lives though suicide, or have been lost though other causes. Everyone should participate, privately or publicly, in a moment of Transgender Remembrance - it's good for the soul.
We had lost one of our good friends recently and we were able to take some time with others to remember all the good times we had together.
The park stage continued to provide some wonder shows all afternoon, including the LGBT Chorus, a tribute to Hinge and Bracket by Kettle and Black, as well as some great tunes from other performers.
The street was still full of people enjoying the festival atmosphere and we were sad to make our way back to the car for our long journey home.
We’ve just booked the hotels for next year …. Who’s coming to join us?
May thanks to Bella-Jay and all the team for making Sparkle happen.