You only have to step off the train in Blackpool to know it's gay-friendly. Across the road is the Flying Handbag bar, a glittering introduction to the scene, decked out with neon pink and blue flashing lights. There are 53 gay hotels in Blackpool with names like Trades, Peaches and Cream and Fantasy, and seven gay bars. Four are owned by Blackpool's curators of campery, In The Pink leisure services, whose most celebrated gay establishment is Funny Girls, a grandiose trannie bar with cabaret acts and dancing divas in the appropriately named Queen Street. The town's most famous landmark, Blackpool Tower, is a particular favourite. There was a petition to paint it pink a few years ago but the council felt the erection was camp enough already.
A thriving gay community has transformed the notion of seaside kitsch into something that the Victorians certainly never envisaged. Donkey rides and fish'n'chips have been usurped by any number of gay and gay-friendly clubs, shops, hotels, saunas, restaurants and bars, attracting a clientele from across the world. One particular delight is Wild Fruit at the Paradox Club that hosts an eclectic set of theme nights. Recent successes include militaria, water-sports and panto. The Zap Club - a popular venue for gay and straight clubbers - plays host to big-name DJs. Brighton also offers support groups for every conceivable section of the gay community including lesbians, trannies, parents, drug-users and those living with HIV.
Edinburgh has had a flourishing gay culture since the first gay and lesbian centre opened in the 1970s. The newly dubbed "Broughton triangle" on Calton Hill is at the fluffy heart of things, with a multitude of cafes and clubs to choose from as well as one of four gay hotels. Still in relative infancy is the Over the Moon Brassiere, the place to have a pre-club tipple among a flouncy, friendly crowd. Open every night is CC Bloom's, the beer-soaked old chestnut of Edinburgh's gay club scene, with regular features, including ABBA, Katrina and the Waves and men in dodgy vests. A top monthly knees- up is JOY at Wilky House, a glam night for both gays and straights. Other monthlys are 100% Bent at The Gallery, which is as it suggests, and Design Divas at The Venue, a gals only affair. Stage shows in the past have included comediennes enticing the audience to do inventive things with cream cakes.
More of a gay street than a gay village, the heart of Cardiff's modest but strong gay scene is based around Charles Street. They really do flee the hills and valleys for this kitsch culture-fest. A great venue is The Exit Bar with a loud and lascivious crowd and even louder music. Opposite is Club X, an industrial looking club where the tough girls hang out. If you fancy something a little more sultry, try The Locker Room, a sweltering and saucy gay sauna and health club. Cardiff's long-established gay pub, King's Cross, is lacking in glam but makes up for it in friendly atmosphere. As they say endearingly in Wales, "You're chopsy fra cabbage" roughly translating as "Look at you, you big Queen".
The Metropolis boasts the most eclectic gay scene in the country - it really is a case of too much but never enough. Oh Soho mio, heralded as the gay village of Britain with Old Compton Street as its throbbing main- artery. After a de rigeur visit to The Freedom Bar for a quick voddie lime and soda, your shopping can be done under one roof with the recent arrival of the tres chi-chi Prowler Soho in Rupert Street which claims to be "Europe's first gay superstore." London's gay scene is not solely confined behind the designer walls of Soho as clubland indicates. A newish darling is Popstarz at the Leisure Lounge, playing Britpop and trashy Eighties music to a lager-fuelled crowd. Duckie and Viva Apathy challenge the established commercialism of Soho while the old boys of the club network, The Love Muscle and Heaven, are still popular as ever.
Sarah Barrell and Fiona Sturges