This is the spectacularly glitter-covered tale of the UK’s first-ever Rainbow Boogie at Skydive Tilstock and, perhaps more crucially, why it happened too

I was in the Army for 22 years and, at the risk of offending those readers who are ex/serving service personnel, the environment I worked in for most of those 22 years was, to varying degrees, racist, misogynistic and homophobic. Unfortunately, this is also a view shared by many non-military people.

Some years ago, while I was fortunate enough to be posted to RAPA as an Instructor, I received a call from my sister who wanted to speak to me about my eldest nephew. The tone in her voice led me to believe something serious had happened to him, so I was relieved to hear that all she wanted to tell me was that he had come out. I was more concerned that she was scared to tell me as she was worried what my reaction would be and that she would ever think that I would judge someone on their sexuality – especially my nephew.

Fast forward a few years to when I had become a Chief Instructor, and I was saddened when a student approached me to say that they felt their sexuality was an issue with one of my Instructors.

Fast forward once again to 2018, when the BPA’s decision to support the LGBTQ+ community by applying a rainbow filter to the logo on Facebook was met with a disappointing and offensive response from a number of members.

The Rainbow Boogie has been an annual event in the USA since 2006. I had been thinking of running a Rainbow Boogie in the UK for a few years and the  debacle around the BPA logo finally spurred me on to make it happen.

Skydive Tilstock (Tilly) is a small dropzone nestled on the Welsh border between Wrexham and Crewe. It has a long and interesting history, being the oldest skydiving operation in the UK. Parachuting has taken place at the airfield continuously since 1964, initially with the Manchester Skydivers and then through several incarnations to the present with Skydive Tilstock Freefall Club. It is also reputed to have hosted the two biggest boogies ever held in the UK.

I have never organised a boogie and, being a small DZ with a planning permission arrangement that doesn’t allow aircraft movements on Sundays, I decided to keep it small and do limited promotion. I also decided to charge a registration fee, in part to encourage participation (jumpers are more likely to attend an event they have paid for it even if the forecast is iffy) but also to help provide entertainment for the Saturday night. I was concerned that the registration fee would put people off, but I needn’t have been. The response to the boogie was great and we had more than 70 people pre-register with more turning up each day during the boogie.

We were super-impressed that Jack, Cara and Hayley from XDream and Symbi Suits wanted to come on board and support the boogie – and not only with load organising and coaching, but also providing the awesome boogie T-shirts. We had Al and Pixie come along with their Cookie/UPT goodies, Ali Woodhouse representing Cypres, and many more manufacturers providing prizes for the raffle too.

The Caravan was booked from UK Para (thanks for all your help, Grant) and a helicopter scheduled in for the Sunday, emplaning off-site to circumvent the restriction of aircraft movements. Once the other niff-naff and trivia – showers, food, booze, entertainment etc – was sorted, the only thing we needed that couldn’t be booked was the weather.

Sunshine Funshine
The first day of the boogie came along and we had great weather. It was a slow but smooth start to the event but, considering that it was a Thursday, it was great to see so many people arrive at the DZ on what was essentially a working day in the real world.

Friday saw more glorious weather and more glorious jumpers arriving, with more of the same on Saturday. It wasn’t until 5pm when God realised what we were  doing and sent the clouds along, and we finished jumping for what turned out to be the rest of the weekend.

Over the three days, there was a steady turnaround and groups were available for most interests and ability levels. Load Organising and coaching was available for FS, FF, and TR. FS was provided by Jack and Cara from XDream, Rich Cotton, Ali Woodhouse, Chris Mayhew and Al Hodgson, with great progress being seen across the disciplines.

On more than one occasion, I heard jumpers say how surprised they were to be able to turn up at a DZ jump on an 8- or 10-way and turn multiple points. Everyone had turned up with no preconceived ideas of what to expect and that lack of expectation and pressure resulted in people achieving some great skydives.

Saturday saw us running two planes, with our resident Airvan taking care of the tandems and static line students and the Caravan being used by the fun jumpers. Considering this was the first time we had ever run multiple aircraft, my staff did an outstanding job of keeping the whole operation running super smoothly.

Rainbows, Rainbows, Rainbows
The whole point of the event was for LGBTQ+ skydivers to be able to jump with other LGBTQ+ jumpers and celebrate the diversity and inclusivity that we pride ourselves on in the sport, which had been thrown into sharp relief during the logo saga.

For three glorious days, Tilly was a fabulous and amazing place to jump – it was (and, yes, I am biased) the coolest DZ in the world. Many boogie attendees wore colourful, patterned and just simply fabulous leggings and there was more glitter than I have ever seen in one place (we’re still finding it at the DZ two months later). Another sight to behold, and be eaten, was the fantastic rainbow cake baked by Owen Burbidge and enjoyed by all (that’s the way to get in the CI’s good books!). It was also great to see so many people bringing along their fines for the beer fridge, contributing to what seemed like an endless supply of free beer.

A boogie isn’t a boogie without a party and Saturday’s was huge. It wasn’t just to celebrate the boogie, but also to celebrate Kat’s (DZO and my awesome wife) birthday. Kicking off with free food and booze, live music, then a disco until the small hours, the night was danced away and, making the most of the poor unday forecast, many played and won Met Roulette!

Sunday saw many sore heads and all the hallmarks of a great night were on display. Many left the DZ once they were fit to drive, others disappeared to see the sights of north Shropshire and have Sunday lunch, with a few people stopping over and leaving on Monday.

We really didn’t expect too much from the Rainbow Boogie. We knew it would be a special event, but we were surprised at just how well it was attended and supported. It was a fantastic event, with a great atmosphere that was in no small part due to my staff and the wonderful jumpers that came along to celebrate and support the LGBTQ+ skydiving community.

Onwards and upwards!
We wanted the first Rainbow Boogie to be a small event and to grow year on year. Even though we had a great time and everyone enjoyed themselves, we do realise there are a number of areas where we can improve. That said, such was the success of this year’s event that the second UK Rainbow Boogie is already in the diary and will be held on May 21-25 2020. See you there.

Find out more about Tilstock: skydivetilstock

by Alex ‘Busby’ Hicks

Photo by Rob Lloyd