This year marks ten years since friends Glyn Fussell and Amy Redmond launched Sink The Pink – a colourful, inclusive and gloriously raucous alternative to the gay scene’s more stale and male-dominated club nights. Since then, it’s grown from a cult party night held at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club to a day-glo totem of London nightlife that helps stage the hugely successful Mighty Hoopla pop festival. Anyone who’s been to a Sink The Pink event will know it’s an absolute ton of fun where just about anything goes.
This Saturday, on the eve of Pride in London, Sink The Pink is taking over O2 Academy Brixton for a massive kaleidoscopic party called The Colour Ball. In recent years, pop stars including Little Mix and Lily Allen have graced its stage, but they never upstage Sink The Pink’s unique troupe of flamboyant and forward-thinking performers. Here, six members of the gang tell us about Pride, and their idea of a great night out.
Were you doing drag before Sink The Pink?
‘Here’s the thing: I don’t really do drag. Even when I’m dressed up like this, I identify as a boy – an androgynous boy. My whole thing is playing with gender norms and challenging the perception of what it means to be a man. If people call me a drag queen, I say: “No, I’m just a queen!” ’
How long does it take you to get ready?
‘It doesn’t take me long to do my face, but my hair is a different story! If I’m doing a full-on Croydon facelift, it takes a while and my arms start going numb from all the blood draining out!’
What’s the best thing you’ve seen on a night out?
‘My fave drag-punk star is Christeene. Every time she comes on stage, she brings a bunch of balloons that she hands over to an unsuspecting audience member. Little do they know the balloons are tied to a buttplug that she just pulled out of her bottom!’
Is Pride important to you?
‘Yes. When I was growing up in Yorkshire, there wasn’t much visibility of LGBTQ people being out. There wasn’t a Pride parade where you could stand up and be accepted. There are so many countries that aren’t accepting of LGBTQ people, how can we not celebrate the rights we have here?’
When did you discover Sink The Pink?
‘Back in 2009 when it was at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. It was absolute madness – it felt like you were in a John Waters movie. A lot of gay clubs at the time felt exclusive. There was just a feeling that it was all about men – and only conventionally good-looking men. But Sink The Pink was about silliness, ugliness, all shapes and sizes, any gender, drag or not drag. You didn’t have to be sexy.’
How long does it take you to get ready for a Sink The Pink performance?
‘About 45 minutes. I don’t want to look perfect, because I have a rock ’n’ roll energy. I know I’m going to sweat and I want my wig to move around like I’m moshing at a rock concert.’
What drew you to drag?
‘I just looked at the clothes in the men’s department – the clothing I was being told to wear – and thought: I can’t do that. I don’t believe that a wafty, floral item of clothing is only for someone who was naturally given boobs and a vagina. So I started to have fun with that and turn it into drag. For me, drag is about expression. It’s fun and life-giving and exhilarating and doesn’t do anyone any harm.’
What does the drag scene in London mean to you?
‘I grew up in Stoke-on-Trent and I never felt super-connected to it. I loved music, magazines, films and culture – and London is one of the best places in the world for that. Living here for the last 18 years has allowed me to have a career that matches my creativity.’
How long have you been performing with Sink The Pink?
‘Seven years. I moved to London from Northern Ireland and didn’t have that many close friends. Then I met Glyn and became part of Sink The Pink. I’ve seen it progress from 70 to 80 people coming on a night to 5,000 people.’
Where do you party if you’re not at Sink The Pink?
‘I love The Glory. It’s like a gay “Cheers” – whenever you walk in, you’re always going to know someone. It’s a real safe space and the shows they create on a tight budget are just incredible.’
Which songs define Sink the Pink for you?
‘It’s got to be a Spice Girls song. Or “Y.M.C.A.”.
Do you have any special memories of Pride?
‘Two years ago, when we opened the parade with the Mayor and Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders from “Absolutely Fabulous”. It’s such an iconic show for so many gay kids, so seeing them turn out for Pride was pretty special.’
Sum up Pride for us.
‘It’s like our World Cup. It’s an opportunity for everyone to come together and celebrate. But for us, Pride is something that should be celebrated every weekend.’
How did you become part of Sink The Pink?
‘I was performing at a Cher tribute night and they asked me to enter Miss Sink The Pink. I didn’t think I’d win – I just went out there and had fun. But I had a very definite vision of what I wanted to do on stage, and, yeah, I won. Four months down the line, I still can’t believe it.’
What does drag mean to you?
‘Drag is here to rebel against norms and help us experiment. I don’t know if I’d even be here if it wasn’t for doing drag. It’s taught me so much about my body. When I was younger, I couldn’t go on the beach with my top off. Now I’ve been naked on stage in front of 1,500 people. I’ve embraced the fact I’m very femininely shaped. I’m non-binary, and as soon as I acknowledged that within myself, I acknowledged that my body is perfect for who I am, because I’m both masculine and feminine. For me, that’s been the purpose of drag.’
What do you think Pride should be about?
‘It shouldn’t be about a man in a thong on a float full of white people. It should be a huge spectrum of colour, sexuality and genders, because as a community we’ve still got a long way to go. Recently I was approached to do a TV project but I didn’t get the booking once they found out I was non-binary. They thought it would be too much for the viewers to take. It made me realise how much work we still have to do.’
How would you describe Sink The Pink to someone who’s never been?
‘It’s a bit of everything – a pick ’n’ mix bag of fab. It’s somewhere you can go, chill the fuck out for a few hours and watch a bunch of queer people absolutely living their lives.’
What are the key ingredients to a great night out?
‘Flamboyant characters who aren’t afraid of being themselves and being different. Fucking amazing music that gets people going. A good venue helps.’
What’s been the funniest Sink The Pink moment?
‘One time John Sizzle did a “Xanadu” performance in roller skates. But she hadn’t done up one skate very tight, so when she did a high kick, it flew off! I remember our faces were all like, “Oh my God, nooo, the skate!”, and it was almost slow motion flying through the air, hurling towards people’s faces, and then Lucy Fizz caught it! It was bloody hilarious.’
Which outfits really stick in your mind?
‘The sea-themed ball was the best. I loved George Hunt’s “sea buoy” look which was just a giant compost bin with “buoys will be buoys” sprayed on it. So good!’
What are your best memories of Pride?
‘Sitting in Soho Square with a couple of cans of cider. There’s never a spare centimetre of space and the atmosphere is really amazing. And it never seems to rain!’
What makes a great night out?
‘When I put on my night, Sissy Scum, I try to create a specific feeling. It’s about angry, stupid, rebellious fun. It’s also important to have a diverse line-up of performers and make a space that’s accessible for everyone. I want to give everyone a space to exorcise their angst through cheesy pop music and noisy industrial rock.’
How long does it take you to get ready?
‘It used to take me about three hours. I was so finickity about my eyebrow shape – everything had to be angular. Now I’m trying to move away from looking so “Drag Race”-y, and it’s cut things down to about 90 minutes.’
Why did you write ‘shame’ on your face today?
‘It’s Pride, so I thought I’d write “shame” on my face. I’m kind of the apathetic troll of Sink The Pink so this is me staying on-brand.’
Is Pride important for you, though?
‘Oh, absolutely. But for me, Pride is less about celebration and more to do with honouring our queer ancestors. I think sometimes that’s lacking in the way Pride is advertised in London. But the fact people have problems with Pride in London means they create their own events to counteract it, like the Queer Picnic that happens every year. It’s a kind of alternative to Pride, especially for queer people of colour.’