For Sink the Pink’s Farewell Ball in April, Glyn Fussell filled one of London’s biggest nightclubs, Printworks, with 6,000 ravers. Jake Shears performed to the sold out crowd, who were replete with harnesses and ball gowns in a range of colours so diverse they made the Dulux mood board look beige. Big TV celebrities who will remain anonymous were slurring their words as they partied on precious downtime, and dozens of drag queens proved drag is not just something performed in basement clubs in east London, but something dozens of dancers can do with ambitious choreography on huge stadium-width stages.
It’s not an understatement to say that for 15 years Sink the Pink reimagined London LGBTQ nightlife. It’s hard to put into words what Sink the Pink created, but it’s fair to say the night was the first of a new era of venues that made queer nightlife truly diverse and welcoming, birthing the messy and playful style of drag that’s now popular across London. It wasn’t about sex, or hook up culture, but fun and creativity. They also helped pull drag and queer culture into the mainstream: Mel C and Lily Allen are two of Fussell’s collaborators on STP and both frequently performed at his nights, which began at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club in 2008.
Sitting down with Fussell shortly after his final Sink the Pink party, there was an obvious first question: why on earth would he turn the lights out on the party when it’s still going so strong? “There comes a point where you go, ‘I’m running this night about being authentic, it’s giving other people joy but it’s no longer facilitating that for myself,’” says Fussell.
“I started it because I felt invisible. I felt so lost in London that I hit rock bottom and decided to start this thing with my best friend [co-founder Amy Zing], which gave me courage and made me feel joy for the first time in years. I look at that legacy and I look at that scene of 6,000 people living their most brash out, proud and unbelievably queer selves and I think I’ve done my work.
“It’s an energy, Sink the Pink, it’s been a tool to reposition people’s minds about what we can achieve as misfits and weirdos. We don’t need to repress that in ourselves, we can go out there and not only win but win on our own terms, whether that’s starting a nightclub or disrupting politics.”
What comes next?
In a Fitzrovia meeting room over “posh” fizzy water, Fussell speaks in quotable soundbites, and in neatly-formed sentences. He’s energetic and impassioned, embodying the spirit of Sink The Pink, even if it’s midday and the fizz in our glasses isn’t the good stuff.
Given its popularity, was there no way he could pass on the baton to a new generation, especially given how many Gen Z kids were rocking up to the Farewell Ball?
“I’m so integral to it that I couldn’t see it working with anybody else. I’ve always loved it when people call time on something at the right moment. There’s several club nights and bands, things that I really admire that just drag things on too long. I think that’s such a shame – call it a day when people still want more.”
The Mighty Hoopla festival, set up in 2017, is the bridging point where Sink the Pink meets a new era. A pop festival rather than an overtly LGBTQ event, it’s stretched over two days this year over the Jubilee bank holiday weekend. Sink the Pink drag queens and DJs will perform, although Fussell is clear that stand-alone STP nights will be no more.
As if starting an entire movement wasn’t enough, Fussell has also written a Manifesto for Misfits, a genuinely sweet guidebook of sorts aimed at children and young teens (and anybody, come to think of it) who might need a reassuring pat on the back if they feel different to the norm.
“I want this book to take someone’s hand, lead them to the dancefloor and then come back an hour later and see them with their top off, flinging themselves around,” says Fussell, who’s in his early forties. “When I was in the midst of Sink the Pink, I never read a book, I was too in the middle of it. Now I realise my biggest gift is that I have this lived experience as a misfit. I’ve always had imposter syndrome – in business, in the gay scene, in my family. I’ve felt like the eternal voyeur, looking in from the outside. But I created this thing that showed people how to be the biggest version of themselves, how to express who they are, and I realised I can continue to do that through books, through writing, through TV shows and plays.”
Fussell expends his energy on a podcast too, called We Can Be Heroes, and does outreach work with trans and queer charities. He sees himself as a leader in a world that needs more queer role models. “We’re not encouraged as LGBTQ people to be leaders, we’re not told we’re allowed to be,” says Fussell. “There was a moment where I realised, ‘Oh wow, I’m a leader.’ It’s just who I am as a person. Otherwise how do you pass on your culture, how do we pass on the lessons we’ve learned? Going to school, we live a version of life that is not geared towards us, so how do we pass on those lessons? A lot of that comes in clubbing, or comes in literature.”
One problem facing LGBTQ leaders is maintaining queer spaces, which are declining, even as London celebrates a new queer museum and community centre. The infamous case of Brighton Pride attendees being pushed past by hordes of Britney fans in 2018 suggests that Fussell needs to carefully consider the crowds at Hoopla to assure the event retains its identity
“I’ve thought about that so much,” he says. “I’ve always worried as the events got bigger, how do we retain its identity and how do we facilitate for people who need it most. The key is to just be totally switched on to what’s happening – I’m not on stage anymore, I’m in the crowd, and I walk around and I get a sense of it. We’ll always keep an eye on it but we’re doing great so far…” With Mighty Hoopla still in its relative infancy, and Fussell himself in his early forties, it feels odd that he refers to himself as a queer ‘elder,’ but perhaps it’s an apt name for someone who has literally written a manifesto on the subject.
“You don’t see it coming, I’ve only been here ten minutes,” he laughs. “But I kind of love it. I feel very secure in my LGBTQ icon status.”
Mighty Hoopla festival returns 3 – 4 June and at Butlin’s Bognor Regis 27 – 30 January 2023. Keep up with Sink The Pink here. Listen to Glyn’s podcast, We Can Be Heroes on Acast, and Glyn’s Manifesto for Misfits is available via White Lion Publishing. Photography is by Vic Lentaigne. Read about more of this summer’s music festivals here