Ivan Tribute by Philip Collins

One of my best memories of Ivan is Out to Swim’s Pink Flamingo at the IGLA Championships in San Diego in October 1997. This was another example of his inspiration, flair and ability to find the right people to do a job. 

The Pink Flamingo is a tradition at these meets and teams do their utmost to outdo each other in putting on a short theatrical performance. We in Out to Swim had been racking our brains trying to come up with something original which our small team could do without making complete fools of ourselves. Ivan, like most of us had been moved by the death of Diana, Princess of Wales on 30 August 1997. He quickly understood the resonance she had with gay men because of the way she had met with people with AIDS and helped breakdown barriers.

The original ideas were dropped like stones and Ivan quickly worked up a Lady Diana tribute theme. Ben Gifford made some beautiful red roses the size of a small umbrella, (in fact I think they were small umbrellas) that not only floated but were able to be folded and carried in our luggage. Vicki Carter recorded the soundtrack which involved a voiceover by Ivan and music by John Tavener including the hauntingly beautiful “Song for Athene (Alleluia. May Flights of Angels sing Thee to Thy Rest)” played at Diana’s funeral. 

The Pink Flamingo took place at the end of the championships in the outdoor pool at the Ramada hotel with specially constructed stands on either side along the length of the pool. Ivan had asked the organisers to treat our performance as a special Diana tribute, not part of the competition, so we went on last. It was a warm evening and we were just starting to lose the light. The stands were jam packed and the crowd were getting impatient wondering what we were up to. Meanwhile we were struggling, out of sight, with a huge roll of black ribbon about two feet wide which somehow had managed to get in a tangle. You can’t imagine how stressful this was. Eventually Sue Antell sorted it out and we one by one gently lowered ourselves into the pool and led the black ribbon resting on top of the water surface down to the other end. At the same time Ivan’s voiceover had started. When the soundtrack ended it was twilight and we had looped the ribbon back down to the other end of the pool forming a giant black AIDS type ribbon with Ben’s red roses floating around it. As the crowd had begun to appreciate what we were doing, the jeers fell to a hushed silence broken by the occasional sound of grown men weeping. The reaction at the end was ecstatic – everyone was on their feet clapping and cheering. Ivan’s idea had hit the spot and not only had we shown what Out to Swim could do we had also given many people the opportunity to greave for Diana and also for friends and lovers.

I am so proud to have taken part in that Pink Flamingo and so proud to have known Ivan. 

Ivan, we will manage without you, but it will be a struggle not having you at our side, or on the end of a phone buzzing with ideas about how to take Out to Swim forward.

Philip Collins

Chair Out to Swim 1997-1999