Leonardo, ladies’ man: why can’t we accept that Da Vinci was gay? … Film on State surveillance and LGBT spaces … Stephen Whittle podcast

The full Poldark … Aidan Turner as Leonardo and Matilda de Angelis as Caterina da Cremona in the new Amazon series. Photograph: Vittoria Fenati Morace / Amazon Prime

The woman in Leonardo da Vinci’s life is finally getting her due. The new drama Leonardo, due to start on Amazon Prime on 16 April, drags Caterina da Cremona out of the shadows. Billed as his “muse” and played by Matilda de Angelis, this forgotten woman of the Renaissance appears in publicity images deep in intimate dialogue with Aidan Turner as Leonardo.

The show’s writer Steve Thompson has explained her role in the show. “Some of his relationships were with men; those were significant relationships,” he told Variety. “But perhaps the most significant relationship in his life was with a friend who was a woman, with whom he was very close, and we unpack that.” Leonardo is framed as a murder mystery, and it claims to use this device to get at the reality of who the great Renaissance man was.

But Caterina is a figment, a fantasy, a complete piece of tosh, invented by a 19th-century Romantic and for some reason given highly unconvincing credence by one modern biographer, Charles Nicholl.

Phallic … Lady With an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci, 1489-90. Photograph: FineArt / Alamy

If the makers of Leonardo wanted a strong woman character, they had plenty of historical options. He clearly got on well with Cecilia Gallerani, mistress of the ruler of Milan, whom he portrayed holding a very phallic pet mink, perhaps to symbolise her power over men. He was also friends with Isabella d’Este, ruler of Mantua and art connoisseur. Most fascinatingly, there was his encounter with one Lisa, wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo. It’s said he got musicians to play and entertained her with jokes when she posed for the painting we know as the Mona Lisa. What was it he found so mysterious about her? But no solid evidence exists that he ever had a romantic relationship with a woman – either sexual or platonic.

His reputation for loving men has never been hidden and the TV series does depict his relationships with men. Giorgio Vasari’s book The Lives of the Artists, first published in 1550, suggests he was besotted with his male assistant Salaì, “who was most comely in grace and beauty, having fine locks, curling in ringlets, in which Leonardo delighted”. Gossip solidified into social history when documents were found at the start of the 1900s that show Leonardo was accused of “sodomy” before Florentine magistrates in 1476.

All the evidence is that men having sex was common in the art workshops of Renaissance Florence. The sodomy accusation against Leonardo was made to the fantastically named Office of the Night, a unique sex crime agency set up in 1432 to counter what was seen as a specifically Florentine vice. The records of the Office of the Night, brilliantly analysed by historian Michael Rocke, reveal that in Leonardo’s day “the majority of local males at least once in their lifetimes were officially incriminated for engaging in homosexual relations”.

As for Leonardo, he lived with his entourage of good-looking assistants and pupils, dressed them and himself in luxurious clothes including pink and purple tights, and drew stupendously sensual male nudes.

The most queer bit of painting in Britain … Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, at the National Gallery. Photograph: Peter Barritt / Alamy

But for some people that leaves something missing from his life. So his affair with a woman from Cremona was invented in the Romantic age. An Italian writer claimed to have seen a mention in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks of his female lover called “La Cremona”. The passage is not in any of Leonardo’s surviving notebooks. And even in the Romantic age, it didn’t catch on.

Why would anyone be desperate to dig up this slender story? Yet one of Leonardo’s modern biographers, Charles Nicholl, tried to resuscitate it. Nicholl noticed a single word, “Cremonese”, in a list of names in Leonardo’s papers in the Royal Collection and claimed it might mean La Cremona. Nicholl then speculates that Leonardo, who would have been 57 at the time, slept with this north Italian sex worker. He can’t have painted female nudes without experiencing heterosexual love, he claims. It’s as if Leonardo’s homosexuality is incompatible with the universality of his art.

Instead of being bedazzled by Turner and De Angelis, why not go to the National Gallery when it reopens and look at Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks. The most hypnotic figure in it is an angel whose long curly hair matches Vasari’s description of Salaì and whose tender pale face is magically androgynous. This angel is the most beautiful and most queer bit of painting in Britain.

The Leonardo I want to see on screen is the man who painted this.

Film on State surveillance and LGBT spaces

We have received a request for participants in a film; the subject of which is state surveillance and queer spaces.

A student currently studying an MA in visual anthropology at the University of Manchester, with his filming partner will be gathering material for the above mentioned project. They are hoping to interview LGBT people who remember police raids in the Manchester Gay Village prior to 1990 and learn about their experiences.

They appreciate that this is an extremely sensitive topic and want to assure you that your emotional and physical wellbeing is their foremost concern and any filming work will take place in accordance with the appropriate COVID guidelines as well as the ethical guidelines set out by the university department. Likewise, anonymity might be an issue and they are keen to work around this in any way possible.

If you are interested, please contact us and we will put you in touch.

Stephen Whittle (OBE) at Buckingham Palace

Author and journalist Shon Faye talks with LGBT+ trailblazers who have something important, interesting or enlightening to say about what it means to be LGBT+ in the world today.

The conversation is with Stephen Thomas Whittle, OBE (born 29 May 1955) – a British legal scholar and activist with the transgender activist group Press for Change

Since 2007, he has been professor of Equalities Law in the School of Law at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Having been assigned female at birth, he is described as “a radical lesbian before his sex change and now a leading commentator on gender issues”, who after the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force in April 2005, achieved legal recognition as a man and so was able to marry his female partner.

Follow this link

Lord Fowler backs calls for National Aids memorial … Manchester Pride conference


Speaker Lord Fowler backs calls for National Aids memorial

Lord Fowler, the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, has backed calls for the UK’s first ever National Aids memorial.

Earlier this month, he announced he was stepping down to sit as an independent member of the House in order to campaign on LGBT+ issues, in particular HIV and Aids.

In his first broadcast interview since the announcement, he said a memorial would help fight stigma and discrimination.

BBC Breakfast brought him together with two people with their own memories of the Aids crisis, to discuss why the Aids Memory UK campaign for a memorial is so important.

Manchester Pride conference goes virtual with Beyond the Rainbow theme

Tuesday, 20 April 2021 (10.00am – 5.00pm)

Free or £15 with swag bag

Mark Fletcher, Chief Executive Manchester Pride

Manchester Pride sees the return of its annual conference which will be held virtually, for the second year running, due to existing COVID restrictions. 

The free conference is the charity’s day long event for companies, professionals, community groups and individuals to hear about important LGBTQ+ topics from some of the UK’s most successful LGBTQ+ figures in culture, business and activism. 

2020’s conference provided a platform for, and drew focus to, those whose voices often go unheard.

The event saw the LGBTQ+ charity shine a spotlight on a number of important topics and issues that do not receive the coverage and attention they deserve, both within and outside of LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ communities and spaces, in mainstream media and beyond.  

The theme for 2021 is ‘Beyond the Rainbow: Driving Inclusion and Equality All Year Round.’

The day will be broken down to invite virtual delegates to be part of many important conversations, panels, workshops, speeches and discussions aiming to educate and inspire change.

Leading the conference will be host, BBC weatherman, Owain Wyn Evans with spotlight presentations from theatre-maker, writer, performer, producer and HIV activist, most recently notable for his role in It’s A Sin, Nathaniel J Hall and 2021 Drag Race UK star, Ginny Lemon. 

In depth conversation sessions will include the topics of Living With A Disability, Creating Inclusive Culture, Being Your Authentic Self, and The Power of Being an Ally LGBTQ+ and Mental Health.

Owain Wyn Evans

Workshops during the event will focus on Labels and Language and How To Set Up Your Own LGBTQ+ Network with Amy Stanning. 

The day will end with a round up from CEO for Manchester Pride, Mark Fletcher and an interview with the special guest fashion designer and Queer Eye star, Tan France. 

Delegates can also pick up a limited edition Manchester Pride Conference ‘swag bag’ featuring branded tote bags, notebooks, pens and post-its for £15.00 (inc postage) with proceeds going to the charity’s vital work.

Mark Fletcher

“For a second year we will be bringing the conference to our communities in Manchester virtually,” said Manchester Pride CEO Mark Fletcher.

“It’s important to continue with the conference whether it’s in person or virtually, as it is an opportunity for us to connect with the various communities of Manchester and talk to them about the issues facing LGTBQ+ people in Greater Manchester. 

The theme for the Conference 2021 is Beyond the Rainbow: Driving Inclusion and Equality All Year Round. 

2020 saw a huge number of conversations about equality and inclusion across society and as an organisation it’s vital that we empower the LGBTQ+ communities all year round. 

With that in mind we are committed to achieving this, even in light of the current unpredictable situation we are experiencing. 

Our virtual conference promises to cover a range of important topics that impact LGBTQ+ people every day through an impressive line-up of highly respected speakers and panels to create an engaging and informative event.”

The conference on Tuesday 20 April 2021 will stream virtually on Hopin, with those who would like to attend being able to sign up here  

International Transgender Day of Visibility … Rachel Levine … New film about Mary Anning


International Transgender Day of Visibility 

International Transgender Day of Visibility is an annual event occurring on 31 March dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide, as well as a celebration of their contributions to society.

The day was founded by US-based transgender activist Rachel Crandall in 2009 as a reaction to the lack of LGBT recognition of transgender people, citing the frustration that the only well-known transgender day was the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which mourned the murders of transgender people, but did not acknowledge and celebrate living members of the transgender community. 

Rachel Levine becomes the first openly transgender official to win Senate confirmation

Rachel Levine is the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation. Photograph: Caroline Brehman/AFP/Getty Images

The US Senate on 24 March confirmed the former Pennsylvania health secretary, Rachel Levine, to be the nation’s assistant secretary of health. She is the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation.

The final vote was 52-48. Republican senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joined all Democrats in supporting Levine.

Levine had been serving as Pennsylvania’s top health official since 2017, and emerged as the public face of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She is expected to oversee Health and Human Services offices and programmes across the US.

President Joe Biden cited Levine’s experience when he nominated her in January.

Levine “will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic – no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability,” Biden said.

Transgender-rights activists have hailed Levine’s appointment as a historic breakthrough. Few trans people have ever held high-level offices at the federal or state level.

Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, confronted Levine about medical treatments for transgender young people – including hormone treatment and puberty blockers – during her confirmation hearing.

Paul asked: “Do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?”

Levine replied that transgender medicine “is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care” and said she would welcome discussing the issues with him.

In the past, Levine has asserted that hormone therapy and puberty-blocking drugs can be valuable medical tools in sparing some transgender youth from mental distress and possible suicide risk. A graduate of Harvard and of Tulane Medical School, Levine is president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. She’s written in the past on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders and LGBTQ medicine.

New film about remarkable fossil hunter Mary Anning is sensationalised

Kate Winslet plays pioneering palaeontologist Mary Anning whose life’s work was stolen by men. Her story is now being told in film Ammonite, also starring actress Saoirse Ronan.

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan kiss in film Ammonite

A new film about famous fossil hunter Mary Anning has been sensationalised – by depicting her as a lesbian.

In the film Ammonite, actress Kate Winslet stars as the pioneering palaeontologist with Saoirse Ronan playing geologist Charlotte Murchison.

But what is the truth about the 19th century palaeontologist?

Thanks to her ground-breaking scientific discoveries, Mary has been dubbed “the greatest fossil hunter”.

Yet she had a humble background, born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, in 1799, as the daughter of a poor cabinet maker and one of ten children.

Mary Anning has been dubbed “the greatest fossil hunter” (Image: Alamy Stock Photo)

Named after a sister who had died in a fire aged four, Mary was one of only two to survive into adulthood.

As a baby she was struck by lightning, along with three women who were sheltering under an elm tree. Yet while the adults all died, onlookers managed to revive little Mary. Formerly a sickly infant, she was said to have developed a healthy glow and locals would later link her intelligence and energy to the incident.

Mary’s father Richard supplemented his income by collecting fossils from the rich deposits in nearby cliffs, along what is now known as the Jurassic Coast, selling them on to tourists.

From the age of five she was helping him source and clean up the fossils.

The actresses play lovers Anning and Murchison in the film

Despite little formal education, she learned to read and write and started taking an interest in the new science of geology.

When her dad died aged 44, partly from injuries sustained in a cliff fall, Mary and the rest of the family continued to fund themselves from fossil collecting, selling two of the most common types – ammonites and belemnites – for a few shillings each.

Then, when Mary was aged 12, she and her brother Joseph discovered the huge skull of a strange beast among the rocks.

She painstakingly began digging out the rest of its skeleton to reveal a 17ft monster. Bought by a collector, the specimen was originally thought to be of a huge crocodile.

It was sold on to the British Museum and given the name ichthyosaurus or “fish lizard” – and later identified as the first complete fossil of a 200 million-year-old marine reptile.

The Museum at Lyme Regis, Dorset, with the plaque for Anning (Image: Alamy Stock Photo)

As time went on, Mary would dig up more amazing fossils that would spark fierce scientific debate about the possibility of extinct creatures, in a world before Charles Darwin had yet published his theories about evolution or the word “dinosaur” had been coined.

Her other startling finds included the first complete skeleton of a plesiosaur – another massive marine creature. Mary also unearthed the first British pterosaur, a flying reptile also known as a pterodactyl, as well as a string of other important species.

Having become something of a celebrity, she opened up a fossil shop that was frequented by the rich and famous.

Fossil finding was dangerous work because the best prehistoric treasure was to be found in the perilous debris of the crumbly Blue Lias cliffs left behind after stormy weather, which could collapse suddenly.

Once Mary nearly drowned while seeking out a find and she defied death again in 1833 when a landslide that consumed her black-and-white terrier came within inches of burying her alive too.

In a letter to her friend Charlotte, also a keen scientist, she recalled: “The death of my old faithful dog has quite upset me, the cliff that fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet … It was but a moment between me and the same fate.”

She and Charlotte did meet, but there’s no evidence that they became lovers, despite the sex scenes depicted in the new film. Its director, Francis Lee, justified the storyline saying: “I wanted to give her a relationship that felt worthy of her, that felt equal.”

Winslet, who lived on her own in a cold cottage lit by candles to get into the role of Anning for the movie, adds: “She never married – so we had a bit of freedom in terms of inventing our version. I love that Francis chose to pair her with a woman.”

But her relative Barbara Anning has said: “Do the film-makers have to resort to using unconfirmed aspects to make an already remarkable story sensational?”

The film does highlight that Mary received little credit for her discoveries during her lifetime, having sold on most of her famous finds.

Yet as well as unearthing them, she studied the science involved and even pioneered the study of fossilised poo.

But she is barely mentioned in the papers of professors, who often took credit for her work and wasn’t allowed into debates analysing her finds.

The Geological Society of London also refused to admit Mary as a member.

She wrote angrily: “The world has used me ill … These men of learning have sucked my brains and made a great deal of publishing works, of which I furnished the contents, while I derived none of the advantages.”

Mary died at the age of 47, from breast cancer – still relatively poor – but today many of her finds are displayed in London’s Natural History Museum.

Along with the new film the Royal Mint is releasing commemorative coins celebrating her life and a new statue is set to be erected too.

David Attenborough has described Mary as “truly remarkable” and her work is finally getting the recognition she deserves.

● Ammonite was released on 26 March and is available to rent

UK’s first purpose-built LGBT+ Extra Care housing facility … David Hockney


UK’s first purpose-built LGBT+ Extra Care housing facility in Manchester moves forward  

  • Anchor Hanover Group have been chosen as the preferred development partner to deliver and manage the Extra Care homes.  
  • The site on Russell Road in Whalley Range, South Manchester is also the first LGBT+ older person’s housing project that has been co-produced with LGBT Foundation and the local community.  
  • LGBT Foundation has also received Homes England funding to produce an online Learning Journal about the history of the Manchester scheme, to help other Councils and cities develop LGBT+ Extra Care schemes across the country.  

Proposals to deliver the UK’s first purpose built and co-produced LGBT+ older person’s housing scheme have taken a significant leap forward this week as Anchor Hanover – England’s largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for people in later life – has been chosen as preferred partner to deliver the scheme. 

The innovative project will deliver more than 100 apartments for people aged 55 or over, with a mix of affordable rent and shared ownership tenures, to ensure the homes are as accessible as possible to Manchester people. 

Anchor Hanover’s Extra Care housing schemes provide residents with high-quality housing and the reassurance and flexibility of having essential on-site services, such as care and catering, which may be more appropriate to their needs in later life.  

Extra Care locations create safe, vibrant communities which enable residents to live independently as their needs and lifestyle change. 


The specific offer at the Russell Road LGBT+ Extra Care will be developed in collaboration with a local Community Steering Group – which is made up of members of the Council, Councillors, local residents and importantly members of the LGBT communities.  

Anchor Hanover has been chosen to develop the scheme following a competitive process. They were selected after demonstrating their experience in delivering similar projects across England, including New Larchwood, an LGBT+ inclusive retirement housing scheme in Brighton, and showed an ambition to create a facility that meets the needs of the city’s LGBT+ community. 

Subject to Anchor Hanover Board approval, the organisation will invest approximately £20m to develop the LGBT+ Extra Care facility. 

Anchor Hanover is committed to the local area and currently has 110 housing locations in Greater Manchester as well as a large programme of retirement developments across England. 


 The Learning Journal summarises the need for the LGBT Extra Care Scheme and how we have reached this point in its development. It is based on interviews with those involved in the project thus far and groups the lessons learned under a range of themes such as evidence of need, roles of partners and community engagement. The journal is an honest appraisal of the challenges and successes of the past, and it gives people the opportunity to share their views as the journal grows. 

Manchester’s LGBT Extra Care scheme was first announced and agreed by the Council’s executive in 2017. 

Since then, the Council has been working closely with the LGBT Foundation to develop the core principles of the scheme, how it should operate and what care should be available onsite to support LGBT+ people as they get older.  

Once the right site was acquired in Whalley Range, South Manchester (the site was formerly a Spire Hospital) the Council and LGBT Foundation have worked to develop strong relationships with the local community to help guide the scheme.  


The Community Steering Group was set up in 2020 with the aim of co-producing the principles of the scheme and agree design concepts that will complement the local area.  

In collaboration with the Community Steering Group, Anchor Hanover will develop the plans for the Russell Road site, with a view to submitting its first planning application by Winter 2021/2022. 

Manchester’s older LGBT population is growing. There are more than 7,000 people in Manchester over the age of 50 that identify as LGBT+ – and this figure is expected to rise over next two decades.    

Thanks to funding from Homes England, LGBT Foundation was able to carry out further survey of the communities’ needs and hopes for the scheme as well as creating an online Learning Journal, to track the journey of the development of the Manchester’s LGBT+ Extra Care scheme from the early discussions over five years ago. 

An LGBT Foundation report, commissioned by Manchester City Council, indicated higher levels of loneliness and isolation amongst LGBT older people, experience and fear of discrimination in existing accommodation and a desire for affordable, accessible LGBT specific accommodation where they can be open about their identity in later life. 

The Learning Journal will exist on LGBT Foundation’s website, where it will be updated by the range of stakeholders involved as the development of the scheme progresses. It is hoped that, through the journal, other regions can see what has worked and what can be done differently as they plan their own housing solutions for older LGBT people. 

Cllr Bev Craig, Manchester City Council’s lead member for adult health and well-being, said: 

“Manchester was proud to be the first place in the country to announce such a scheme so it’s great to see this scheme come to fruition. Our ambition came on the back of years of research and engagement with older LGBT people. 

We’ve been working closely with the LGBT Foundation and local people for some time to ensure the site, location, the principles of the scheme, and eventual design principles work – both for the LGBT+ community, but also for the local people in Whalley Range. 

We already know LGBT+ people are more likely to be lonely later in life, and as this community is growing, it shows that this Extra Care is not only welcome but absolutely needed.” 

Cllr Suzanne Richards, Manchester City Council’s executive member for housing and regeneration, said:  

“Extra Care housing has proven hugely popular and the LGBT+ scheme on Russell Road will add to more than 330 apartments that will be completed for older people through to September this year. Crucial for us is that these schemes are accessible for Manchester people and we will ensure these homes will be affordable to Manchester people.” 

Anchor Hanover’s Head of New Business, Charles Taylor, said:  

“We are delighted to be working on this innovative new Extra Care retirement housing project in Manchester, to deliver accessible homes in a place where there is a thriving LGBT+ community. We look forward to collaborating with Manchester City Council and the LGBT Foundation to develop a place where people can continue to love living in later life.” 

Paul Martin OBE, CEO LGBT Foundation: 

“It’s fantastic to see the LGBT Extra Care Scheme move forward into the next stages of development. Everyone deserves to have access to safe, affordable housing where they can be sure they feel secure and welcome.  Many older LGBT people have grown up in a world hostile to their identities, and are worried about their future, particularly if they are likely to require care in later life. This scheme is a vital and exciting step forward for our communities and the Learning Journal will track our journey and share recommendations for other schemes that will follow.” 

Spring Cannot Be Cancelled by David Hockney and Martin Gayford – review

Lockdown blossom … a lavishly illustrated record of the exchanges between the artist, in Normandy, and the critic, in Cambridge, during the past year.

No. 599, 1 November 2020, iPad painting by David Hockney. Photograph: © David Hockney

In the autumn of 2018 David Hockney made a brief trip to France. He wanted to look at art – paintings from Picasso’s blue and rose periods and the great tapestries of Paris, Angers and Bayeux – and to enjoy “all that delicious butter and cream and cheese”. (As well as a country “more smoker friendly than mean-spirited England”.) While in Normandy Hockney declared a desire to capture the northern French spring as he had done a decade or so before in east Yorkshire, producing work that became the focal point of his blockbuster 2012 Royal Academy show. “There are more blossoms there,” he wrote to the art critic Martin Gayford. “You get apple, pear, and cherry blossom, plus the blackthorn and the hawthorn, so I am really looking forward to it.”

In impressively short order a large half-timbered farmhouse 40 minutes from Bayeux was acquired. It was a bit like “where the seven dwarfs live in the Disney film”, Hockney explained. “There are no straight lines; even the corners don’t have straight lines.” Set in four acres and surrounded by meadows, orchards and streams, it was quickly renovated and within just a few months Hockney was emailing out drawings from, and of, his new home to friends all over the world.

For someone so closely associated with his locations – the blue Californian skies and swimming pools early in his career, more recently the muddy lanes and hedgerows of the Yorkshire Wolds – Hockney rarely stays in one place for long. He has made work in China, Japan, Lebanon, Egypt, Norway and, of course, France. He lived in Paris for a couple of years in the mid-70s and, as Gayford points out, while the new house was bought, apparently, on the spur of the moment, “It was surely not entirely chance that an artist long admiring of French painting and the Gallic way of living, eating and smoking, with a French assistant, happened to find an ideal resting point just where and when he did.” It was time for a new venture.

No. 584, 31 October 2020, iPad painting by David Hockney. Photograph: © David Hockney

Gayford has been a friend and sort of Boswell to Hockney for a quarter of a century and has written two previous books that were both with and on the artist. He visited Hockney in France during the summer of 2019 and it was assumed he would return the following year. Of course that was not to be. But what had begun as one type of project soon turned into a different and larger one as Covid-19 exerted its grip. Perversely, the new restrictions on movement had presented an opportunity for Hockney. One of the selling points of the house was that he wouldn’t have to drive anywhere to find his subjects, as it was all there in the trees, streams and skies on his grounds. Now his patch of land became his sole focus, and his excitement at the arrival of the 2020 spring, one of the most abundant for decades, was palpable. “It’s spectacular,” he wrote to Gayford. “And I’m getting it down.” Instantly, in those early days of the pandemic, the work became a source of hope and solace to a fearful public with his vivid iPad paintings of landscapes and still-lifes from his garden, made as the world locked down around him, appearing on the front pages of newspapers and on the BBC news.

By now Hockney and Gayford’s conversations had moved to FaceTime, Gayford with a glass of wine in Cambridge, Hockney with a beer in Normandy, happily intrigued by the weirdly distorting light effects a dodgy wifi signal could render on the screen. This book is Gayford’s record of their exchanges placed within the context of a wider appreciation of Hockney and his work, of art history in general and of some pleasingly digressive musings on the “new things said and done by an old friend, and the thoughts and feelings they prompted in me”. Gayford artfully deploys the notion of perspective, a longstanding artistic preoccupation for Hockney, as a recurring motif when examining the men’s relationship as it evolves over time with their vantage points equally recalibrated by major events – the pandemic, Gayford having a minor heart attack in January 2020 which required a stent, as Hockney had 30 years earlier – and by small observations about gardens or sunsets or rain.

Gayford convincingly conveys Hockney’s growing enthusiasm and energy for his task. When he alluded to Noël Coward’s dictum that “work is more fun than fun”, Hockney’s rejoinder was to quote Alfred Hitchcock’s variation on the old saying “All work made Jack”. Hockney’s burst of productivity manifested itself in a constant stream of new images arriving in Gayford’s inbox ready for distanced scrutiny. Some of this work will feature in a new Royal Academy show due to open this May. Examinations of Hockney’s lines made with crayons, charcoal, pencils and the ultra-thin marks available via an iPad led Gayford to ruminations on drawings by Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Paintings of the garden expanded into thoughts on Monet. Mention of the work of Hockney’s support team – Hockney often says “we” rather than “I” – spilled into assistants as a sub-genre of art taking in Velázquez, Tintoretto, Rubens, Warhol and Lucian Freud.

Hockney, with Ruby, in his studio in Normandy, 25 May 2020. Photograph: Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima/© David Hockney

Gayford is a thoughtfully attentive critic with a capacious frame of reference and his brief excursions into houses in art, Hockney’s reading (Flaubert, Proust, Julian Barnes), his musical tastes (Wagner), and that almost definitive Hockney subject, the depiction of water – described by Hockney as always a “nice problem“ for an artist – consistently illuminate both Hockney’s work and the other artists his work brings to mind. (It should be added that the reader can see in the comprehensive illustrations almost everything Gayford mentions.)

While Picasso is the artist Hockney most often talks about, Gayford cites more often another favourite, Van Gogh, who liked to attach little sketches to his letters much like Hockney does with his emails. Living in the scruffy outskirts of Arles, and somewhat isolated as no one much liked him, Van Gogh just got on with making memorable and beautiful art with what was around him. The unprepossessing flat farmland of Hockney’s Yorkshire and now Normandy would similarly be seen as not obviously ripe locations for such close inspection, but as Gayford says, the moral is that “it is not the place that is intrinsically interesting; it is the person looking at it”. Following the spring Hockney continued to capture his four acres on through the summer and the harvest and the glimpses of autumn moons in anticipation of this year’s spring, for which he was intending to ban visitors to his home from March to May, lockdown or not.

• Spring Cannot Be Cancelled is published by Thames & Hudson.

AIDS Then and Now … Meet the fearless lesbian couple … Mayoral hustings … Podcasts


AIDS Then and Now: Bereavement, Hope, Support, Love and Societal Change

1981 was the year that gave us Kim Wilde, Donkey Kong, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and the birth of MTV.

It was a golden age of popular culture – dance floors were full and hairspray was on the top of the shopping list.

But a dark cloud was looming.

In June 1981, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published the first official document on the disease that later became known as AIDS. The report had just made a connection, for the first time, between a ‘serious disorder of the immune system’ and homosexuals. The study was with five ‘previously healthy’ gay men, two of whom had died.

It is at that moment a dangerous perception formed of it being a ‘gay disease’ and is still a discrimination that is being fought against today.

Since the airing of the popular TV drama It’s A Sin, more people have been talking about what we can only imagine was a horrific time to be living as a gay man.

Here Tony shares his experiences:

It’s 1982. I’ve just got out of the shower. While I was there I checked under the soles of my feet, my armpits, and my groin for any purple bruises. There’s this new disease affecting young gay men. I’m a young gay man!

The purple bruises are lesions called Kaposi’s Sarcoma, which normally only affect very old people. I’ve read about it in The Pink Paper, but there’s no clear information. Nobody knows why or how, so you don’t know what being careful is about.

They were calling it “H” as it appeared to affect heroin users, homosexuals and (strangely) people from Haiti. Then it became known as “GRIDS” (Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome).

In the mid-80s one of my close friends died. He was in his early 20s. I didn’t know he was ill. He was ashamed and didn’t tell anyone he had AIDS. I only found out when it was too late. I heard about more people who became ill, more people who died.

Manchester ACT UP boycott action against Texaco’s discriminatory HIV policies, 1991

I joined ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) – the organisation that originated in the United States. We were a non-violent direct action group: we dropped 40-foot banners from the Town Hall (Action = Life, Silence = Death); threw condoms over the walls at Strangeways Prison; and campaigned against the inaction of the government.

In the 90s I worked at George House Trust (HIV organisation for the northwest) for three years. During that time I knew about 75 people who died.

After that, I worked with asylum seekers. I visited people on the HIV wards in North Manchester General Hospital to assess their immigration status and refer them to solicitors where appropriate. On one occasion I wasn’t allowed in unless I wore full protective clothing. I argued it wasn’t necessary, but I had to comply. On another occasion, I visited a woman. She died 20 minutes after I had left. Her 8-year-old son was taken into the care of Social Services.

I have many memories of bereavement, hope, support, and love.

I wrote this poem at a HIV writing workshop: 

Olufe me

My darling, I love you with my heart,

My mind, my body, my soul.

Our bodies touching

Our legs entangling

Our lips pressing

Our tongues darting

Our arms caressing

Our hands holding

Our fingers entwining

But now I am HIV positive

Will I ever find those loving feelings again?

My legs tiring

My body sweating

My head aching

My heart hurting

My eyes crying

My mind slowing

My memories fading

Will my sweet feelings

Keep me going?

I will always love you,

My dearest darling.

Olufe me.

Machester ACT UP action against the high prices charged by Burroughs Wellcome for anti-retrorviral therapies, 1992

Much has changed over the last 40 years. Effective HIV medication means that a person can reach a point where the amount of the virus in their blood is so low as to be undetectable, after which they are not infectious and cannot pass it on. In the UK in 2019, the virus was undetectable in the blood of 89% of all those living with HIV, and they could not pass it on.

There are parallels between HIV and Covid-19: the government was slow to respond; there was a marked impact on minority communities, and victims are blamed by the government. I live in hope that the government will learn from the mistakes of the past – but I won’t hold my breath.

Manchester ACT UP action against GMP police Commissioner James Anderton CBE, who commented that ‘gays, drug addicts and prostitutes’ living with HIV were ‘swirling in a human cesspit of their own making,’ 1990


Meet the fearless lesbian couple

Francesca Curtis and Phyllis Papps pose with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 Australian LGBTI Awards at The Star on 1 March 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images for Australian LGBTI Awards)

Phyllis Papps and Francesca Curtis came out live on national TV 50 years ago, and their actions changed Australia forever.

The couple, who are still together, appeared together on ABC current affairs programme This Day Tonight in October 1970, becoming the first lesbian couple to come out on Australia TV.

The fearless women are now “coming out for the last time” in a new documentary titled Why Did She Have To Tell The World?

The documentary, screened on ABC’s Compass programme, details Curtis and Papps’ 50-year relationship and the wave of political change that came after the couple appeared on TV.

Papps said in the documentary that Australia in the 1970s was “very, very conservative” and that “gay women were invisible” because “people didn’t think lesbians existed”.

The pair struggled with their sexuality in this climate, and Curtis admitted in the documentary that she didn’t know “anything about homosexuality or lesbianism”.

She said: “Nobody talked about it in those days.”

Papps shared how she came from a traditional Greek family and was even briefly engaged to a man. She said that she opened up to a colleague about her sexuality, and the individual “gave me the names of three psychiatrists”.

Papps said she visited one of the psychiatrists and was given the drug “sodium pentothal, injected with it and then had to talk”.

The couple met through activist circles and became prominent members of the Daughters of Bilitis, Australia’s first homosexual political rights group. The organisation was later renamed the Australasian Lesbian Movement.

In July 1970, Papps and Curtis exchanged wedding rings, even though Australia did not legally recognise same-sex marriage until December 2017.

Just a few months later they appeared on ABC’s This Day Tonight to take part in a segment about lesbianism and to push for wider acceptance of the LGBT+ community in Australia.

“No one wanted to go on [the show], they were all in the closet, so Phyllis and I volunteered,” Curtis shared.

While on the show, she told the host that she “had three months approximately of guilt” about her sexuality, but then she got to a stage where she wanted to “tell the world” and “wanted the world to accept it”.

In the aftermath, Papps said her mother “took legal action” to prevent them “from making a claim on her inheritance”.

Beyond their personal lives, the interview signalled the beginning of Australia working towards LGBT+ equality. Papps said she believed the interview was “major in creating a force” towards LGBT+ progress.

“It has been a life of struggle … Not because we couldn’t cope with being ourselves [but because] we couldn’t get people to accept us,” she said.

Throughout the ups and downs, Papps and Curtis have always had each other, and now they live on Phillip Island in Victoria.

Papps visited her mother in her nursing home while same-sex marriage was still being debated in Australia. She said her mother had “voted yes” on the marriage equality postal survey in 2017.

“It’s taken a whole lifetime to get to that,” she said.


LGBT Mayoral Hustings

The LGBT Mayoral Hustings are coming up in mid-April, and ahead of this the LGBT Foundation is asking you to submit your questions to the mayoral candidates.

You can share your question directly via this google form:

Please see the form for tips on asking your question.

It would be fantastic to have the voices of over 50s represented as part of this event.



Podcasts – “Call Me Mother” & “Meet David Sedaris”

Trust me – these podcasts are amazing. Please do listen if you get the chance.

Call Me Mother is a podcast about older LGBT people. Shon Faye’s new podcast rails against the patronising image that reaching your 60s and 70s involves sitting under a blanket and knitting, by talking to older LGBT trailblazers.

First up is 73 year old Kate Bornstein, who talks about growing up wanting to be a girl, her relationship with Scientology, and finding her identity after she transitioned.

In the second edition Faye speaks with Brad Becker, a 60 year-old gay man whose life’s work has mirrored the tumultuous highs and lows that have rocked the LGBT community over the years.

There are further episodes with Marc Thompson and Caroline Paige.

Faye encourages her listeners to soak up all there is to be learned from the people who grew up in a pre-Stonewall era, as they share their warmth and wisdom.

Follow this link

Meet David Sedaris

What with the whole world grinding to a viral halt and everything, this special series of essays and diary entries is recorded at the Sussex home of the world-renowned storyteller.

In this series of Meet David Sedaris, he continues to entertain with sardonic wit and incisive social critiques. David Sedaris has become one of America’s pre-eminent humour writers and, in 2019, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The great skill with which he slices through cultural euphemisms and political correctness proves that he’s a master of satire and one of the most observant writers addressing the human condition today.

Follow this link