This article first appeared in Attitude's Summer issue 311.
Words: Dan Mackey
Adam, James and I have known one another for more than 10 years, after meeting at uni, and Adam and I have been dating for five years.
Brighton has always been a connecting factor: we love our city and are always trying to do things that celebrate how amazing it is.
In January 2017, about six months before Brighton Pride, the three of us talked about how we’d never marched in the parade.
We had always enjoyed watching it and felt proud of our city for hosting our favourite Pride, where everyone comes out to celebrate in such a genuine way.
However, we thought that you had to be a part of a big company or pay lots of money to be able to march.
After realising that wasn’t necessarily the case, we decided to make being in the parade a reality, to tick it off the bucket list.
But we wanted to do it as a group of friends rather than on a company-based float. We didn’t know what we were doing or how we were going to do it but we like to think big and believed we might just be able to a pull it off.
We looked on the Pride website to check what criteria we had to meet and found that we could apply as a community group for just £99, so we filled out the forms.
We knew we didn’t want any branding or company logos so we would have to pay for it all ourselves, and £99 may sound small but it felt like a lot.
James is incredible at the techie side of things, so we had spreadsheets for costs, deadlines and requirements which made the process less daunting.
Adam is amazing at decorating, so straightaway we had mood boards and inspiration for how our float could stand out.
And I’m a designer, so I helped brand bits and pieces. Adam had always dreamt of having a yacht towed through the parade by muscle men, with people onboard celebrating and others being pulled along behind on roller-skates — like the end of the Eighties film Romancing The Stone but more fabulous!
We knew that was a bit of a stretch so came up with more realistic ideas. After emailing lots of bus companies explaining what we wanted to do, we found a firm that had a variety of vehicles parked by an old cement works in nearby Steyning.
We went to see them: there were old milk floats and army vehicles, an American school bus and a dozen regular buses.
The owners let us try them all, acting out an imaginary Pride on board each vehicle. We chose an open-top bus because it had the largest capacity on the top deck and it felt right.
It was also only £500 for the day, including the driver, so we booked it then and there, before we’d even been accepted in the parade.
Luckily, our place was confirmed soon after, so we now had everything we needed to make the Love Bus happen, including lots of friends who wanted to be a part of it.
The top deck had a capacity of 42 but we wanted a speaker and a bit of extra room for dancing, so we capped it at 39.
There was also room downstairs in case it rained, or, as was the case, for extra glitter applications! We settled on a cost of £39 per head, to cover the entry fee, bus hire, decorations, bottles of water and an entry ticket for everyone into Preston Park for the party after the parade.
Although the weather on the day turned out to be brilliant, one of our concerns in the run up was that it would rain and everyone would have a horrible day.
The theme for the whole parade was “summer of love”, so we got crafty and made flower-shaped umbrellas, in case of a downpour, flower garlands and bright curtains.
The umbrellas were the biggest part of the decor on the bus and were later joined by a pair of giant Pride flags made from plastic tablecloths.
Flowers became our Love Bus theme and we asked everyone to cover themselves in all things floral. Then we started collecting all the fake flowers we could find at car boot sales and charity shops, knowing that they would look great on the bus railings.
When the morning of the parade arrived, we had 14 bags full of decorations and the bus was set to arrive in its position at 9am.
The spot was only allocated the night before but it ended up being right beside a lovely Victorian shelter on the promenade, which became our HQ.
After a tense start, where the bus got caught in traffic and arrived 20 minutes late, we set to work jazzing it up.
Adam had organised all the decorations into categories, and everything had a paper tag attached saying where it needed to go.
Different coloured bags were full of matching decorations. It was like a giant flatpack party! It took us about 30 minutes to decorate the bus.
I think all the other floats had been decorated and prepared in advance, but we didn’t have that luxury as we’d only hired our vehicle for the day to keep the costs down.
People stopped to watch, some offered help and many asked what company we represented. They were amazed to hear that we were just friends doing it for ourselves and everyone was supportive.
From our perspective, it was great that we were demonstrating that anyone could join in with the parade and maybe we planted the seed for other people to follow our lead. After having such an amazing time in 2017, we decided to make the Love Bus ride again last year, and went even further this time.
We chose a simple theme of colour, asking everyone to dress in a single colour of their choice. Once everyone was on board, and we’d given them extra costume bits we’d crafted — crowns, flags, glitter, hats — we asked them to stand in colour order, turning us into a giant Pride flag.
It was magical and the bus was swarmed by people taking photos. We only had a budget of about £200 for decorations, so had to be thrifty.
But doing it on a shoestring has also given us a greater sense of pride in what we managed to achieve.
The Love Bus was never meant to be lavish and expensive, we wanted to be a group that came together to be a part of something bigger and to be in the parade without having to be associated with a big-money corporation.
We had so much fun both years, but this summer the Love Bus is taking a break because we want to keep it special. But now we know that it is possible, we will definitely do it again soon. Brighton hasn’t seen the last of the Love Bus!
Images by Markus Bidaux