The History of The Great British Bear Bash & Manbears

In The Beginning…

The Great British Bear Bash was born in 1998, but has its origins way back in 1998, and was organised by Manchester bear group ‘Paws’. This group was formed by Seamus McAteer, Gerard Hall, and Chris Blunt.

Seamus writes… “ Around 1995 there were only two bear groups in the country (that I knew of) - BearHug in London, and BCUK for the rest of the country. BCUK ran a series of local meetings in various cities (I remember Sheffield and Warwick, but there were others), and eventually a monthly bear night run by them was established in the basement bar of Napoleons, in Manchester.Gerard Hall and I took over as the local BCUK reps in Autumn 1996. Early in 1997, we took a decision to split with BCUK, and along with Chris Blunt, set up PAWS and moved the monthly night to Chains nightclub (now Legends). PAWS was a membership group which charged an annual fee, but allowed members cheaper entry to the club nights. The club nights grew slowly and began to attract 100+ bears, cubs and admirers. In the summer of 1997, I went on holiday to the US and Canada and took in 2 very different 'bear runs' while I was there. One was held in a barn and campground in the Pennsylvania countryside and the other in the city of Toronto. At that time there was only really one bear event in the UK, (i.e. in the country!) the Mr Bear UK final held at Ilam Hall in Derbyshire, run by BearHug. But I came back from holiday with the idea to run a city based bear event - and the idea for the Great British Bear Bash was born.”

“The first Great British Bear Bash We decided to run it on the first weekend in May in 1998 to try to get some sort of reasonable weather not to clash with any Pride events and to be at a different time of year to Ilam Hall which was September (I think). The first Great British Bear Bash meal The first few GBBB's had a series of events for the weekend including a sit down meal sauna (rare at the time!) two club nights including a fixed fee night where drinks were free Mr Bear Manchester competition canal boat trip We even hired a cinema for private screenings, everyone also got a badge and a T-shirt. The biggest difference from today was that we included an option for a hotel in the costs. The full event (*including* hotel) was a massive £50 for the weekend! GBBB1”.

“Mr Bear UK The winner of Mr Bear UK (held at Ilam Hall) was traditionally sent to San Francisco to participate in the Mr International Bear competition at IBR. BearHug and PAWS had previously raised money for this to happen, but in 1998 the PAWS team came up with the idea to hold a fund raising night to help with this. We invited BearHug and the newly formed Bears of the North East (BONE) to a club night in November which we imaginitively called 'PAWS BONE BearHug'. This is the forerunner to what is now Pre-HiBEARnation. PAWS kept going till around 2003 when Manbears took over...”

Great British Bear Bash & Manbears-Manchester

In 2003, after successfully establishing a bear night at what would become The Outpost, Gerard Gudgion, Paul Atherton, Scott Owens and Chris Blunt, were asked to reboot The Great British Bear Bash which had foundered at number 5 the previous year. The Bear Bash was rethought, rebranded and GBBB6 relaunched with Outpost/Legends as its core venues and with it an embryonic Manbears was born. The success of the relaunch lead to a Manbears walking entry in the Pride Parade of 2003. The idea to have a proper float the following year resulted in the winning, Bears in a Bathtub entry and the subsequent video which went viral around the world. The development of a Comedy Sunday afternoon segment of the bear bash together with the creation of comedy videos effectively set the bear bash apart internationally. British Bearways, Bears Scene Investigation, Dr Woof and many more videos, some musical effectively promoted the event and Manbears around the world. As GBBB grew so did the active support of Manchester City council’s marketing arm, Marketing Manchester and soon the event was being promoted across the world. Bears from all over the world started to make it a bear event destination of choice.

The two main events we organise, have gained in numbers attending each year, and in 2007, we held a 10th Anniversary Bash, where well over a thousand guys from all over the world, attended the weekend. In 2007, Manbears moved the Sunday afternoon event, including the Mr Bear Bash Competition and hosted by the fabulous Jonathan Mayor out of the gay village to The Birdcage on Withy Grove. This was due to increased numbers wishing to attend, making it necessary to find a venue large enough to hold getting on for a thousand partying bears and cubs! This has been the most successful of the daytime events, and was greatly enjoyed by all who attended Bears at the Birdcage.

GBBB 18 - 21!

Whilst the primary aim of the GBBB remains the same, to bring together Bears, Cubs, Chasers and Daddies for a weekend of fun and frolics, the GBBB weekends have developed into a more social event. GBBB18 brought the focus back onto the community and it’s changing development from focused club and cabaret events to more social entertainment and freedom. The loss of Legends in 2012 had hit the community hard, we no longer had a home base, so finding new venues and supporters was a hard task.

A new core team saw the changes in the how the community was developing. People wanted safe spaces, they wanted place they could go where the focus wasn’t sex and hookups! So GBBB18 saw a total change making the Sunday afternoon Cabaret back into The Village and the community. More events became free: bar crawls, social meet ups and an increasing the number of tickets for the Pool Party.

Pre-HiBEARnation also took from this scaling back to look at its roots and think how it could better serve its local community. A new partnership with SCRUM - the local sports themed fetish night - showed how the group was focused on giving back to the community. GBBB19 saw the Bangkok take over, for the Viking Invasion. Through focused marketing and links to venues over 800 bears descended on Manchester!

This team also saw the inclusion into the Manchester Pride, not only with a HUGE number of bears but opening the events with The Manbears Community stage in Sackville Gardens that gave small acts a chance to shine.

GBBB21 saw the Sackville Gardens take over where, working with several venues and partners, the bears pretty much occupied the space. The glorious Manchester weather helping shine the light on what wonderful time it is to be a part of the bear community.

Manbears-Manchester and beyond

May 2018 saw the main core committee take another change. It was time for people to move on and focus on their other projects. With fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm the new management committee hope to raise the event, and the community, higher. Showing how awesome it is to be a bear or admirer, and how fun and welcoming our community is to all.

From its early roots to the present day, the community has always been a core part of what the Bear Scene in Manchester is about. From PAWS to Manbears and beyond. Why not give us your thoughts and contact us, sign up for our newsletter, or come along to one of our events.