Gay tourists fall for the queen of seaside towns lure of the Golden Mile
Some of Blackpool's traditional guest houses are taking full advantage of an unlikely new market, as Jonathan Foster found out
This Easter Blackpool, traditional blue-collar playground, will confirm its position as the most popular destination for gay holidaymakers, with "No Vacancies" signs outside more than 50 hotels and guest houses accommodating a boom in "pink" tourism.
The Lancashire resort has drawn an increasing number of gay and lesbian visitors for the same reasons which keep working-class families coming from across northern England and Scotland. Cheap and cheerful bed and breakfast accommodation is available in unrivalled volume close to glitzy entertainment for uninhibited hedonists.
Barry Morris, Blackpool's director of tourism, said gay and lesbian visitors had given the town one of its busiest winter seasons. "The pink pound is spent all year round," Mr Morris said.
"The business has been growing for years because of a number of very good clubs, but it's really down to one man who hit on a successful formula - Basil Newby."
As a young man in Blackpool, Mr Newby had to travel reluctantly to Liverpool or Manchester for a gay social life. He decided to give his home town its own nightlife and, 15 years ago, opened a club that made his fortune and the resort's reputation.
"The Flamingo is the jewel in my crown, the biggest gay club in Europe outside London. For a club to last so long is unusual," Mr Newby said. "My parents ran a country club, so I knew something about the business. When I started going out, there were no gay clubs, and homophobia was quite bad."
Mr Newby believes the club scene has been a force for greater tolerance. "It's pink and peaceful - the police have been called to the Flamingo only seven times in 15 years.
"I opened a bar last year, Funny Girls, which is a straight bar but all the bar staff are transvestites, most of them gay. And we are talking gorgeous, class transvestites, like in the Levi adverts.
"It has brought barriers down. People have a fabulous night out there and realise gays are not people who go to tacky clubs. You've got to be gay yourself to know how to run a successful club. The Flamingo has four floors, and people can move around all the time. Straight couples like to sit down, but gays want to troll about all the time."
Mr Newby has achieved local celebrity status, endowing the Grand Theatre and contributing to many charitable causes. Gay hoteliers have also prospered. The Edward Hotel's turnover has doubled in the two years since it ceased to be straight. Nothing about the hotel's appearance or decor advertises its popularity with gay and lesbian guests, so Ian Brown, the proprietor, "outs" the place as soon as potential guests walk in.
"We get people at the door asking if we have vacancies, and I have to make an instant decision. We don't let straight people stay unless they know and accept they could see two men kissing," Mr Brown said.
The Edward, like all Blackpool's predominantly pink accommodation, relies on returning guests first drawn by advertisements in the English and Scottish gay press.
It has a typical guest house bar, typical guest house fish tank, new carpets and newly-refurbished "en suite facilities". Bed and full English breakfast costs £10-12, but the bacon, sausage and egg is not served until 10 am. "Gay and lesbian people probably don't get to bed until two or three o'clock in the morning," Mr Brown said.
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