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Friends’ farewell to Alan Wakeman, much-loved Soho gay rights pioneer who helped save Piccadilly lights in the 1970s

Friends gather to remember campaigner Alan Wakeman

Friends gather to remember campaigner Alan Wakeman: the scene at St Anne’s church in Dean Street, Soho, including Mike Klein, Michael James, Chris Legee, Stephen Clissold, James Lumsden, Nick Billingham and, below, Andrew Lumsden and Nettie Pollard

Andrew Lumsden and Nettie Pollard

Published: 23 October, 2015
by ALINA POLIANSKAYA

SOHO’S community gathered to say goodbye to a gay rights pioneer, who was laid to rest on Friday. 

Friends gathered to celebrate the life of Alan Wakeman and share their memories and tributes at a reception at St Anne’s Church in Dean Street.

Alan died suddenly on August 8, aged 79, a month after it was revealed that he may have to leave his flat to make way for a redevelopment scheme in Piccadilly, as reported in the West End Extra

Campaigner and a much-loved Soho character: Alan Wakeman
Campaigner and a much-loved Soho character: Alan Wakeman (1936-2015) at his flat

A “non-conformist” and a “tireless fighter for LGBT rights”, West London Crematorium was filled with those close to him, celebrating the life of a much-loved Soho man.

All gathered joined in with a rendition of The Gay Song by his former band Everyone Involved as Alan’s own mystical voice filled the room: “There’s a little bit of gay in everyone today, so why not let it out? That’s what we say. Gay is natural. Gay is good. Gay people should all come together and fight for our rights.”  

Alan spent his life fighting for these as a key player in the Gay Liberation Front. He also helped to save the Piccadilly lights as a campaigner in the 1970s, which he lived behind for most of his adult life in a rent-controlled flat in Denman Street. The building was home to a “bohemian community,” full of musicians, designers and architects. 

Neighbours recalled how they all met to have shared dinners, with each flat serving up a different course. 

Tributes poured in at St Anne’s as friends from many walks of life – the Soho Society, the GLF, and neighbours – recalled their memories of Alan, from planting trees in Soho to writing poetry, teaching languages to campaigning at Pride marches.  

His friend Mike Klein said at his funeral: “At the time he was growing up it was very hard to be gay. Alan was one of the people who changed that. He changed everybody’s consciousness about being gay.”

Later, at St Anne’s, old friend Nettie Pollard said: “He had the ability to see things other people couldn’t and he could think like a child as well an adult, most of us forget that. He did a lot for the Gay Liberation Front, designing badges, organising gay remembrance days, campaigning…”

As a diabetic, he took his vegan diet very seriously, Ms Pollard added: “He wrote the first vegan cook book. 

“He was obsessed with being vegan. 

“I invited him to my birthday party at a gay pub. He called up the day before and asked if I could guarantee that the oven they cook nut roast in has never been used for meat. I think he brought his own food.”  

Alan Wakeman waters plants
Alan Wakeman waters plants in the roof garden of his Denman street home in the 1970s

Friend Stephen Clissold recalled Alan’s genuine interest in other people: “If anyone should have been a barrister, it was Alan. He could cross-examine like there was no tomorrow. I miss him and I wish I knew him better.” 

James Lumsden, who saw Alan as a sort of adopted uncle, recalled one of the last times he spoke to him: “He called me up out of the blue and told me that my father was proud of me.”

His autobiography, Fragments of Joy and Sorrow: Memoir of a reluctant revolutionary, Fantastic Books Publishing is out now at £12.50.

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