Manchester's Carl Austin has won the title of Mr Gay UK 2001. For the first time this year's competition was decided by the public rather than a panel of celebrities. 29 year old Carl was crowned by outgoing Mr Gay UK Harry French on stage at Manchester's GayFest as a highlight of the Bank Holiday Weekend Parade and Festival. The Runner-up was Plymouth's Shaun Manchip with David Cody from Newcastle coming third.
OutUK's been talking with organiser Terry George and with Mr Gay UK Carl Austin who's proud to have won the competition in his home town, in front of his friends.
Carl: "I was overjoyed at the moment I won, I was shaking 'cos all my family were there. It was great because of it being in Manchester. That was the thing that made me nervous as it was my home town and I knew a lot of the people who were outside watching, and most of the them were supporting me. It was phenomenal.
I want to be more than just a face and let people know that I have a voice too. A lot of people look at who is Mr Gay UK and you get talked about quite a lot so it is quite important to have someone there who you can really talk to. On Sunday night I went up on stage at The Pink Works and introduced myself, and they asked me to stay on as a co-compare for the night so that was really good. I'd like to do more of that."
OutUK: So do you think you'll get used to the fame?
Carl: "Oh yes, I'll get used to all the fame - I have had a lot of support whilst all the voting was going on, because this year the winner was chosen by ordinary people rather than a celebrity panel, so I've had a lot of people helping me. There were a lot of people taking my photo around and putting the telephone number out, and it's been great having all that support."
OutUK: So what's your background?
Carl: "Well I'm 29 years old and live in Manchester, in fact I've lived here all my life. I was in the RAF for just over six years until I was kicked out for being gay. I'd served all over the UK and in Belize and Ascension Island. I received the British Humane Society Bronze Award for Bravery and several other commendations and awards. One day someone reported to the authorities that I was gay and within 12 hours I was marched off the camp, and out of the Air Force."
OutUK: So do you think it a good thing that there seems to have been a bit of a change of attitude towards gay men in the military?
Carl: "I agree with what's happened as far as the change in the law and the changes in attitudes. In the last 12 months or more that I was in the Air Force all of the people I worked with every day knew that I was gay and didn't have a problem. I shared a dorm with a number of guys, straight guys, and they were all OK with it. The people who are against gays in the military put forward the impression that gay guys are going to try it on with everyone, but none of those I served with thought that. Most of the guys I served with were great and really supportive."
OutUK: So why do you think you won?
Carl: "Maybe it's because I put out so many pictures, or maybe people really do like the look of me, and I know that a lot of people voted for me because they know me, as I'm often out and about in the bars and clubs here in Manchester. It's better like that than people just voting for you because they like the look of your face."
OutUK: What do you hope to achieve in next year?
Carl: "I would really like to build on being Mr Gay UK, and do some hosting and PA work on stage. I'm doing a tour of the UK for the next week or two, visiting loads of bars and clubs, so it will be great experience for me."
OutUK: So Terry, how well did the new system of voting work?
Terry George: "We do like the telephone vote idea, it worked very well, but next year we hope to reduce the cost to something like 25p, around the price of a postage stamp. This new system gets more people involved and makes the whole thing more interactive. The way technology is moving on we hope to also be able to let people vote on the internet next year, and we'll let people vote by post as well. Keeping it with the people rather than judges is a great idea, although we may have a few celebrity judges at a later stage of the competition next year as well."
OutUK: Mr Gay UK has really grown since it started a decade ago ...
Terry George: "This is my 9th year of doing Mr Gay UK, next year will be my 10th. I might pack it in then and hand it over to somebody else so if there's somebody out there who wants to take it over, by all means give me a shout. But at this moment it's something I really enjoy especially if we have a winner like Carl, and now just after the final when we have some really good comments from people and you realise that it is appreciated, and people have enjoyed themselves. I'm really proud of the way the competition has grown, and there seems to be much more interest in it."
OutUK: You've had lots of good looking guys as Mr Gay UK - How does Carl rate?
Terry George: "Well obviously I have personal favourites each year, certain guys I fancy, but they never seem to win. Carl is a good looking guy and the difference with him is that he's not shy and has the bottle to go out on stage and talk. At The Pink Works the day after the Mr Gay UK Finals Carl got up on stage and said a few words and they were so impressed with him that they asked him to co-compare the rest of the night."
"Carl will give Mr Gay UK a different dimension in as much as people will want to use him and have him involved in events they put on. He will be able to open a few doors now being Mr Gay UK and he has got a great career in front of him - the fact that he can present, and he is very competent at it.
I think that the fact that the recent Big Brother winner was gay as well is breaking down a lot of barriers, and it's good to have more of this kind of gay event and these kind of gay ambassadors. It's very important to help change people's attitudes towards gay people, and I've seen quite a change in the last 12 months or so. It's all very exciting and good news for the future."