I’d like to tell you a bit more about the story behind the Pride roundel that I designed for TfL in 2021.
- I live in the centre of London. I moved here 15 years ago because I loved its buzz; it gives me energy. But in 2020, my London – our London – went quiet on me. Silence fell. I have missed everyone terribly and I have wanted you all back here in our city.
- So, while my city – for a year – has been just buildings, now it is the time for TfL to bring people back; just as it always has done. TfL’s transport arteries quite literally bring life into London.
- Pride 2021 was to have been the event that brought the greatest richness of colour back into London, and TfL is what would have enabled that to happen. Without TfL there is no life, colour or joy to London.
- After I had designed the artwork, the physical Pride 2021 celebrations were cancelled. But I was adamant that my artwork should still go up. Why? Because with the celebrations gone, we need those Pride flags up more than ever.
- I like continuity: nods to the past. I’ve tried to do this, since that’s what TfL does all over, too. There are historic precedents that inform my design; the silhouettes of buildings were inspired by Hans Unger’s 1960 London Transport poster “Brave New London”, and Edward Bawden’s 1963 London Transport poster too. The pattern is reminiscent of moquette, the fabric that TfL uses on its seats and which as a rail historian I adore (particularly the 1970s District line moquette by textile designer Jacqueline Groag; born in Austria as Hilde Blumberger, and commissioned by Misha Black). The flipping of colours above and below the blue bar is rooted in a 1933 design: the earliest of London Transport’s country bus roundels.
- I chose to use LGBT+ rainbow flag colours in my design. They’re the colours (I have checked them against the hex references on Wikipedia – if they’re off a little, apologies, I did my best!) that were used on three pride flags by TfL in 2018: the “Progress”, “Bi” and “Trans” flags.
- Why those three flags’ colours? Well, it was that year when I stepped off an Underground train and I saw the Pride rainbow on a roundel for the first time; and I’m not ashamed to say that I burst into tears. Just there, on the platform. I felt they were there for me: I was represented. It had my back: I was finally safe in a world that always has just the slightest hint of a threat to it. That the system, the network, the thing that I study and use every damned day was now there for me, and there for us. And it is; because like London, TfL is yours and it is mine. It is ours.
Let’s talk about those landmarks…
Every building holds many stories. But those stories – those histories – are often hidden. So here are some of the stories behind some of my most chosen London landmarks: some you might recognise, others you might not. All however are important to me, my friends, or many LGBT+ people. They are laid out as best as I can, correctly, West to East as if we are viewing London from the South and the blue bar is also, perhaps, the Thames.
- Wembley Stadium
That’s where I first saw someone wearing “Rainbow Laces”. Rainbow Laces is a Stonewall initiative that shows that LGBT+ people are a a part of the sporting world – even though many sportspeople feel unable to be open about who they really are. Rainbow Laces celebrate the impact that sport has on LGBT+ people, the impact that LGBT+ people have on sport, and share stories and consider how we can all play our part in making sport everyone’s game.
- Royal Vauxhall Tavern
A Grade-II-listed LGBT+ entertainment venue, also known as the RVT. It’s South London’s oldest surviving gay venue, and my word, I’ve had some messy nights dancing in there. Entertainment and culture venues have had a rough few years, and I cannot begin to explain the importance of these safe spaces for LGBT+ people. This building means many things to very many people: I hope it plays a part in bringing joy to many more folk in the future.
- The Post Office Tower
As a kid, this WAS the London icon. We could see it on a clear day, from high up on the hill near Gerrards Cross. And then there it was, right up close, when we visited Auntie Hilary and Uncle Harry in Marylebone. That rotating room fascinated me; I’ll never forget the day I managed to zip up in the express lift and do a full rotation for a charity fundraiser. I have a print of it on my wall… I adore this building.
- Big Ben & the Elizabeth Tower
It is here for good reason: that big bell inside is sounding a warning to us all. For it is within the Houses of Parliament below that legislation affecting us all can be implemented and indeed it was in there that Section 28, that legislation that has harmed millions of us, was created and passed. Remember that we might live in better times now, but the world can change, and the world might not always go forwards. The black hands of the clock are stopped: they are stopped at 6:37pm, the time of the Admiral Duncan nailbombing on 30th April 1999. No matter our privilege, LGBT+ people can never be complacent: we must always be alert, we must always be ready to fight and we will always have work to do.
- Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square
It’s where the Pride parade ends up, and it’s where more campaigning begins.
- The London Eye
I had my 21st birthday on this with my mum, dad and brother. It was the best day out in London that I’d ever had: it was on that day that I knew I had to be here, living right in the middle of it. And now I do.
- Royal Festival Hall and the Skylon
Right in the middle of it all, that South Bank site with its long-demolished Skylon from 1951 has been inspiration ever since I came to London. Skylon, the optimistic pointer to better times and a better future might be gone but there is a marker for it on the ground – do look for it over near the London Eye. I like to imagine that Skylon is still there, sometimes, because it really should be. And the RFH, my beloved RFH where friends and I would often sit right in the middle of the 5th Floor balcony with discounted cheap wine in plastic cups from the bar upstairs on a Friday night… we’ll be back. I can’t wait.
- St Paul’s Cathedral
A true icon and beacon of hope for so many Londoners – it survived the Blitz intact and I wanted it in as continuity marker, for it survived the Covid crisis too.
- Southwark Cathedral
Despite living nearby for years, it is only recently that I’ve learned that Southwark Cathedral’s St Andrew’s Chapel has, since 1991, commemorated “those who live and die under the shadow of HIV and AIDS”. A communion service is held every Saturday at 9.15 am. St. Andrew’s Chapel was chosen because St. Andrew was “charged by Jesus to be a ‘fisher of all men’” and the Cathedral has an inclusive policy of being welcoming to all. If we think back to 1991 (I was just ten), it was designated at a time when those in South London diagnosed with AIDS or HIV positive were often regarded as third class citizens. I have visited this church – I am not a “church person” – but I can tell you that there are good people here.
- Tower of London
This historic royal palace has some right royal LGBT+ historic stories to tell. I specialise in transport history rather than kings and queens – so the best people to tell you about Edward II, James VI and I, Queen Anne and Lord Hervey are those troopers at Historic Royal Palaces themselves.
- The Shard
A reminder that in London, no matter where the money has come from (in this case, Qatar) when you’re in London, it’s our rules and our laws. Male homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, with a punishment of up to three years in prison and a fine. Remember that, when you look at the Shard.
- Tower Bridge
I live not far from it, so I walked over it on my exercise almost every single day. Some days, I was the only person walking over it, and strangely, with so few people in London, in some of those lonely Covid-times, it almost felt like an old friend, but one that had become stuck down, and wasn’t allowed to move. Then came the day when I went down to do my shopping and I watched Tower Bridge’s first official lift, post-Covid, for some little boats passing through. I cried my eyes out: it meant that life was coming back.
They might be flats, they might be social housing, they might be luxury refurbed houses. Who knows? It doesn’t matter here, because in London we are mixed and we are jumbled and we are together. This is here to represent those of us who live in this city, and for whom TfL exists to serve and to enable.
- The Millennium Dome
The O-what? Nah. It’s the Dome. Over in the East it’s one of those buildings that got me excited about modern architecture. From that in 1999 I began to learn more about the Festival of Britain and the Great Exhibition, about the Jubilee line extension and all that went with it. That Dome inspired me far more than the exhibits inside ever did: but that is part of why I love it.
All this… is ours.
Thanks for reading! I hope this brought you some joy.