The hot pants, heels and glitter were the same but this year’s Mardi Gras in a pandemic was a totally different affair, with another venue, no floats and a crowd limit.
But the 43rd Gay and Lesbian event was declared a success as it became one of the biggest cultural events to be held anywhere in the world right now.
With the theme Rise, some 5000 people marched in the rainbow parade, representing more than 100 LGBTQI community groups.
About 35,000 people were streamed in batches into the seating at the Sydney Cricket Ground where the pride parade was held, the first time since it began in 1978 that it wasn’t a march down Oxford Street.
Normally about 300,000 people line the sidewalk to cheer on the iconic parade.
The customary large floats which usually wow the crowds were not allowed this year, with the focus instead on costumes and puppetry.
Spectators were reminded about being COVID safe over the thumping sound system and urged to remain seated.
Mardi Gras chief executive Albert Kruger declared the event a “huge success”.
“We couldn’t be happier with how things went and hope everyone had as much fun as we had.
Mr Kruger said the event almost didn’t go ahead due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is actually better than any expectations we ever had,” he said.
“We look forward to returning to our home on Oxford Street as soon as we can, it’s our spiritual home and that will never change.”
The dazzling night kicked off in traditional fashion with Dykes on Bikes leading the parade for the 33rd year in a row as AC/DC’s Thunderstruck rocked the stadium.
They were joined by the First Nations marchers who highlighted Black Lives Matter and Indigenous deaths in custody.
“I love being out there representing Aboriginal people, and being a gay Aboriginal person, I love doing anything to show my pride in myself and my community,” Ismail ‘Izzy’ Donovan told ABC.
British pop star Rita Ora closed the Mardi Gras with an electric performance.
Wearing a revealing, sparkling electric blue costume and knee-high rainbow-coloured boots, Ora treated revellers to songs including Let You Love Me, Carry On and Bang Bang.
“I’m a little bit emotional. This is my first show in a very, very long time so thank you,” she said.
Earlier the crowd took in live performances from Australia’s upcoming Eurovision contestant Montaigne, First Nations singer Scott Hunter, Electric Fields and G-Flip.
Participating organisations included the NSW Rural Fire Service, ANZ, Department of Defence and mental health organisation Headspace.
Earlier on Saturday, activist group Pride in Protest marched down Oxford St after being granted a public health exemption.
The group argue the Mardi Gras has become corporatised and had moved away from the original movement’s roots in 1978, when the first parade was held.
The case had been due to hit the NSW Supreme Court on Friday before a last-minute exemption to the 500-person limit on public gatherings was granted.
The march went ahead on Saturday at 2pm, with hundreds of people walking down Oxford St towards Hyde Park, waving flags in support of LGBTQI rights and setting off pink flares.
A banner was held at the front of the march declaring: “No pride in police, stand in solidarity with overpoliced communities”.
NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong earlier addressed the crowd, expressing her support for trans and sex worker rights as well as refugee and Indigenous rights.