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When Miners And Gay Activists United:
The Real Story Of The Film Pride

Kate Kellaway - The Observer, Sunday 31 August 2014

The real thing: LGSM members march in support of the miners, 1985. Photograph: Colin Clews
Mike Jackson: Co-Founder Of LGSM

I have to admit that before meeting any of the real people involved, I had assumed they would be more ordinary than their on-screen incarnations. I am told by Pride's writer Stephen Beresford that Mike Jackson, co-founder of the LGSM, is the key to unlocking the story and has been his right-hand man. In the film, he is busy, radical, wears a beanie hat and is in love with the young, handsome Mark Ashton who, at one point, comes to his house calling from the street for "the Accrington sodomite" through a megaphone.

The last thing I expect is that on the evidence of the film and amateur documentary – 30 years old – I will recognise Mike immediately as he walks into our King's Cross rendezvous but, even minus the beanie, I do. Mike Jackson? "Yes," he says with a quick smile. I tell him Beresford has been raving to me about his beautiful garden – Mike teaches gardening to beginners, trained at Kew, has been doing it all his life, even during the miners' strike.

He comes from a working-class industrial family, is its greenest shoot – not many gardeners on his family tree. And quick as flash, he asks: would I like to visit as it is close by? And pretty soon, we are inspecting an incredible purple patch outside his front door with a rampant morning glory and, at the back, shared gardens by the canal in keeping with the community spirit that has defined his life.

Mike has a darting intelligence, a keen sense of humour. He remembers everything about the 80s. Does actor Joseph Gilgun have him right? "Have you any real perception of how people see you? I have no idea," he says. But his friends have told him: "He has got you to a tee." He talks about the megaphone scene where his character responds by telling Mark to come upstairs and sort flags. This is spot-on, evidently. "I'm a doer, not a talker," he says.

Yet he talks so well. You feel his indignation as he remembers how Thatcher's government "sequestered the funds of the NUM so miners couldn't get at their strike pay. It was unspeakable." Choosing to support the Welsh, of all possible British coalfields, he admits, was like "pinning the tail on a donkey" and, in real life, he did not ring to offer the Welsh miners LGSM's support as he does in the film – he wrote them a letter. But he remembers thinking: "God, I'd love to be a fly on the wall when they open it." He adds: "We weren't naive. Times were tougher for lesbians and gay men then. But you just go with it, don't you? A tougher climate means you have to be tougher. We were well used to homophobia."

Paddy Considine - Bill Nighy
Paddy Considine as Dai Donovan alongside Bill Nighy in the film Pride. Photograph: Nicola Dove

It makes it all the more remarkable they were welcomed in Wales, although: "It would be dishonest to say there was no dissent. Years later, we found out there had been a meeting following my letter explaining a bunch of queers wanted to support them. It had led to a very heated discussion. But the consensus was: we have been demonised by the press, maybe we should meet the gay people because they've also been demonised. Those who had a problem with it were told to stay away. So we never encountered any hostility." It was not long before Welsh miners warmed to their cause: "They started wearing gay badges on their lapels. They wanted money because they were on strike; we wanted recognition and acceptance – not that we went with any preconditions, we did not expect anything back."

Then we talk about Mark Ashton. One day, during the writing of the film, Stephen Beresford turned up at Mike's flat: "He was extraordinarily cagey. And I said, 'Good God, what's the matter, Stephen? Spit it out.' And he said, 'Well, you and Mark… were you just friends?' I exploded with laughter. I said the man was beyond-belief lovable. He was beautiful, had a fantastic personality, was such a good friend, such a comrade. He was a whirlwind of a person, bright, mercurial, great fun. He could be argumentative but had this ability not to take himself too seriously."

Mike marvels at how times have changed for homosexuals in the metropolitan first world: "It is unbelievable, we have made such progress. Until I was 13, homosexuality was a crime – like making being black a crime. Nowadays, it is uncool for straight men to be disparaging about gay men."

Dai Donovan: Miner, Now Trade Unionist

I meet Dai Donovan on a summer afternoon in Cardiff at Bectu (the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) headquarters – no surprise he is still a trade unionist. What strikes me about Dai is his courtesy, desire to be fair and melodious Welsh accent, like a boat on an up-and-down sea. In the film, Paddy Considine, who plays him, dresses conventionally in what looks like an M&S checked shirt. Straight as a Dai. And when he has to make a speech in a gay bar with a clientele whose look is more S&M than M&S, you fear for him – how is it all going to pan out? He hunches intently over the mike, honestly addressing his audience. On and off screen, Dai is genuine. He says: "Going to a gay club in London was definitely something I'd never envisaged doing." It must have taken courage? "Frankly, it didn't because one was mindful of being among friends and colleagues by extension."

When he gave a speech at the Pits and Perverts benefit, his exact words were: "You have worn our badge, Coal Not Dole, and you know what harassment means, as we do. Now we will pin your badge on us, we will support you. It won't change overnight, but now 140,000 miners know that there are other causes and other problems. We know about blacks and gays and nuclear disarmament and we will never be the same."

He reminisces about LGSM's first visit to Wales, telling how the minibuses got lost in the valleys and did not turn up until one in the morning. Twenty-seven gay people (in the film it is a dozen) slept on his floor – in the morning, his six-year-old daughter "couldn't put her foot down". Dai has met Considine only briefly and marvels at how he has "managed to convey the sentiments and instinctive personality I believe I have, the caring exterior. I am particularly grateful to him for capturing some characteristics of sincerity and gentleness my family suggests I have." Then he says: "Forgive me, that sounds…" He couldn't be less of a braggart.

Jessica Gunning
Jessica Gunning, left, as Si?n James, with Imelda Staunton in the film Pride. Photograph: Nicola Dove

Dai believes the film will go down well in the valleys and that people will view it with nostalgia "because those events did happen and they were part of them". He says: "It manages to reflect much of the politics of that time. Any industrial action is made of highs and lows, moments of intense sadness and intense laughter. But one of the characteristics of the south Wales mining community is a vivid sense of humour." He talks about how Welsh community is still strong, but he is under no illusions that pit closures did lasting damage. "A number of miners have never worked since. Many spent subsequent years trying to find meaningful employment."

His path has been different and remarkable. His search for an alternative after the strike led him to Ruskin College, Oxford, to read history. That must have been a culture shock? "It was terrible," he says, and adds that, on his first essay, an "eminent Oxford historian had written, 'This is a dog's dinner.' There were two ways to go after that, either give up or… " He went on to do a second history degree at Swansea before securing the Bectu job. It was the strike, he says, which gave him the confidence. Besides, giving up is not Dai's style.

Siân James: miner's wife, now Labour MP

The coffee lounge of the Grand hotel, Swansea, is deserted until Siân arrives. Warm, lively, boundlessly intelligent, she talks for Wales – in every sense. She is Labour MP for Swansea East, the first woman to win the seat. She wears a regatta-style blazer, has a boyish haircut and natural presence. She is one ofPride's most powerful stories: a miner's wife who speaks out.

"I'd married at 16. At 20, I had two children and was happy as a housewife and young mother. As long as my lace curtains were the cleanest, my children immaculately dressed, their hand-knitted clothes made with love, I was happy. Then along came the strike and all the things I'd thought about before getting married – such as getting A-levels – returned." She had found her voice in the miners' strike and now people were telling her: you can't stop. "What you have to say is as valid as what other people have to say. Why should my take on the strike be inferior to Ian MacGregor's, Arthur Scargill's or Margaret Thatcher's?"

During the strike, Siân helped feed 1,000 families a week, in nine centres across three Welsh valleys. She remembers the lively arguments about bare necessities: "The women all said sugar was a luxury, all the men said it was a necessity." But it was not until Thatcher's description of mining families as the "enemy within" that something changed inside her. She took it personally. "I was very offended. I couldn't see I was an enemy within. I was just someone trying desperately to save their community. Couldn't anyone else see that?"

She is the daughter of a trade union family; her mother was a shop steward, her father an active member of the NUM. And it was not long before she and feisty Hefina in a tour de force performance became spokeswomen for their community. The real Hefina died during the making of the film. "I adored her," Siân says. "This was a person who had community at the heart of everything she did."

Siân is honest about the community's initial uncertainty about LGSM. They were used to visiting supporters – Belgian journalists, Swiss trade unionists, Americans – but they had no clue what to expect. "I never saw any antagonism. What we thought was that this was a new group of people. We knew gay people existed – my dad worked with a miner who was gay – but nobody openly talked about it; it was considered very personal. There was an uncertainty about how these people would be different and whether we would have to modify our behaviour. Would they expect us to talk about things, ask them questions? And they were bloody vegetarians! This fazed us far more."

After the strike, "for the first time, people were interested in what women had to say". And so Siân took A-levels, did a Welsh degree at Swansea, worked for the students' union, was a fundraiser for Save the Children, became a director of Welsh Women's Aid and was selected as an MP. She is mindful of how much employment has changed since the pit closures. "Every day, somebody in my constituency asks: when is manufacturing coming back to Britain?" She tells them it is a post-industrial society, the landscape changed for ever. "The jobs available in Swansea East are different – a lot are in the service sector. That is not to demean service sector jobs, but some of them are minimum wage with zero-hours contracts and those are challenges for politicians."

Siân was "apprehensive" before watching the film but from "the moment the credits started to roll, we were enthralled, we were bang! back into it…" Jessica Gunning's performance, she enthuses, is phenomenal. "She even caught my mannerisms. I've a habit of standing with my hands linked across my stomach I'd never noticed before." But it is the film's message Siân celebrates above all. "It doesn't matter what colour, sexuality or creed you are, there will always be a common thread." And she exclaims: "We wanted this so much – we have waited 30 years for this story to be told."

Pride opens at cinemas on 12 September