Cutbacks can't strip London Pride of its fun

Thousands defy organisational glitches and weather to join a scaled-down parade

London's Pride appeared somewhat diminished yesterday. But even the scaling down of the capital's annual gay celebration to a walking procession, with no cars, buses or floats – due to financial and organisational problems – couldn't dampen the spirits of thousands who joined the parade.

The number of spectators was also noticeably down and the march was restricted to one side of the road. Chris Bryant MP said the event was an "embarrassment" to London, and London's Mayor, Boris Johnson, was criticised for not stepping in to bolster the event.

Marking the 40th anniversary of the first gay pride march in the city, what Pride London lacked in floats and special effects it made up for in personality. A slim tanned angel wearing only silver underwear twirled on high heels, fluttered his eyelids and spread his wings. The crowd whistled its appreciation. Elsewhere, a man in a top hat danced with a stuffed pink flamingo while the London Symphonic Band played Lady Gaga. Six women wearing exotic fluorescent wigs walked arm in arm, and campaign groups such as Calm Words and Christians Together At Pride marched alongside men and women dressed as judges and royalty, complete with wigs and robes.

The streets around Trafalgar Square filled with men and women singing: "If you are queer and you know it, clap your hands" and the gay anthem "YMCA".

A group of men in speedos mimed a swimming race, complete with inflatable sharks. Passers-by were entertained by a group of cheerleaders doing a choreographed dance routine directed by a six-foot tall brunette transvestite in a long slinky dress.

Not that every outfit was outrageous. A blonde twentysomething man wore a simple white T-shirt with the words "I like boys".

The man with the flamingo, Chris Philpott, 27, from Tasmania, celebrating his first Pride Day, said: "I feel like I can be happy here. I can be out. You walk down the street and no one even looks sideways, regardless of what you are wearing or whose hand you are holding."

Peta Evans, 34, from Brighton, said: "As long as I can remember, all the kids treated me as not being one gender or another. There were boys, there were girls, and then there was me. My parents are coming around to it slowly. They struggle but they are lovely people, they want to be supportive, and they are doing their best."

After two and a half hours the parade petered out as people got ready to party in Soho. Simon Stratford, a 48-year-old granddad, sat on the kerb smoking a cigarette. Wearing a blonde wig that would put Dolly Parton to shame, he sported a sheer negligee with pink bra and a white thong. His pink high-heel boots were to one side, his bored fiancé on the other.

"I feel accepted," he said. "Everything's changed. It's just great. Males are very anti-gay because it's a macho thing, but when you get them one-to-one they accept you."