On Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural Pride Flight, Andrew Doherty partied with drag queens and LGBT+ activists before exploring New York’s gay history and World Pride celebrations.
"You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen,” shrieks Good Morning Britain entertainment editor Richard Arnold, eyes closed, arms in the air. The Abba hit has gone down a storm and celebrity DJ Jodie Harsh knows it. Meanwhile, Strictly Come Dancing heartthrob AJ Pritchard has managed to find enough space for a boogie and, beside him, Gogglebox star and TV presenter Scarlett Moffatt has joined in the fun.
No, this isn’t the VIP section of Ibiza’s Pacha nightclub. I’m more than 30,000 feet in the air, squeezed into an Airbus A330’s bar area onboard Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural Pride Flight from Heathrow to New York.
As Spice Up Your Life begins to play, I take a moment to survey the madness around me – passengers adorned with glitter forming conga lines in the aisles, rainbow flags draped over chairs and out of overhead lockers, and the glamorous crew taking everything in their stride.
Virgin’s inaugural Pride Flight marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, when New York’s LGBT+ community fought back against sustained police brutality and a political system denying them their rights. Virgin Atlantic boss Richard Branson has pledged that the Pride Flight will become an annual event, potentially visiting a new location each year.
Also onboard was Stonewall Inn bartender Tree Sequoia, who joined the Stonewall fight on 28 June 1969, angered by the mistreatment of the gay community by New York’s authorities.
“I was 30 years old on the day of the rebellion and I’ve just turned 80 years young,” he tells me with a grin. “It’s amazing that Virgin Atlantic has done this. America can be seen as being backwards with certain things, but we’ve come a long way. In 1969 I had no rights, now I have all the rights in the world that I want. But it’s up to the next generation to continue [the fight]. They are the future.”