The Daily Mail loves “gender bender” stories. If there’s any hint of anyone crossing ‘traditional’ boundaries of male and female, you can depend on The Mail to be on the doorstep within minutes, with mouth open and eyes popping.
So, the story of fifteen-year old David Birch seemed a natural for the paper. According to The Mail (and its demonic sister, The Sun,) David was elected “Carnival Queen” at the annual fete in Axbridge, Somerset, beating several village girls for the title. He subsequently took up his title, they said, and paraded through town in a tiara, lilac dress and high heels. The Mail reported grannies up in arms at this break with tradition. “How can you have a boy carnival queen?” asked one unnamed oldie, “It has to be a girl, just like it’s been for years. It’s political correctness gone mad.”
No, actually, it’s The Daily Mail telling lies.
The Axbridge carnival queen was a girl, and her name was Kaylee. In fact, David was simply invited to “have a bit of fun” by the carnival organisers and put himself up as the “alternative carnival queen”, which he did with enthusiasm.
Maggie Stanley, one of the carnival’s organising committee, said: “David came forward at the local church fete when the carnival queens were chosen and we agreed to let him line up with the girls who had entered. We admired his pluck for putting himself forward, so after Kaylee had been chosen we asked David if he would like to have a bit of fun and enter the carnival as an alternative carnival queen. This role was never intended as a replacement for Kaylee – and she and her ‘royal party’ headed the parade as is the tradition”.
Maggie says that the organisers arranged a yellow sports car to ferry David in the carnival procession – he was about halfway along, flanked by two gladiators (the theme being Up Pompeii)
“When we asked David to take part we had no idea he was gay as it was not relevant, we admired his charisma and personality,” said Maggie Stanley. “At every stage we asked David if he was still OK with what was happening. He could have pulled out at any time he wanted to. We also contacted local agencies to ensure there was help and support if he needed it at any time. At all times we did everything we could to support David and on the day the crowd cheered the royal party – and David.”
Even though the tabloids embroidered the story beyond recognition, David’s part in it illustrated how dazed and confused the British are about what “men” should be. A Mr Pope wrote to The Mail saying that he was “sickened”! He invoked “our brave troops storming the beaches of Normandy” and asked what they would think, 60 years later, of the “tawdry” Britain they had given their lives for.
But Belinda Thomson thought David’s appearance had been “refreshing”. “Most of the 2,000 townsfolk who saw him smiling and waving supported him,” she wrote, “good on them. David is surely a role model for all of us who fear the worst for standing up for our beliefs. I’m sure he had a ball on the day, and long may he reign.”
Vanessa Feltz, in The Daily Express took the whole thing at face value and wrote: “Just because David, who carries a handbag and wears make-up even off the float, fancies being a carnival queen, it does not give him the right to assume the title. Why didn’t the committee have the guts to say ‘no!’ If we lack the cojones to stick to common sense and instead give in to the most vocal minority, we’ll find all we hold most dear bastardised and wrecked.” I trust Vanessa will next week be writing to chastise The Mail for misleading her? And apologising for subsequently misleading her own readers? Don’t hold your breath.