Years & Years' Olly Alexander performed a special cover of Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now'
On September 3, LGBT journalist and activist Dean Eastmond passed away following a battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer which affects the bones or the tissue around the bones. Dean was just 21 years old when he died, but he’d achieved a massive amount in a tragically short time. He co-founded LGBT magazine and website HISKIND, wrote articles about the LGBT experience and living with cancer for a wide variety of publications, and helped to change the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)’s policy towards same-sex couples. Thanks to Dean, the male partner of a man who passes away or becomes mentally incapable can now use his sperm sample just as a female partner can.
Because of his tremendous impact, it was supremely moving to see so many people – both LGBT-identifying and allies – turn out to celebrate Dean’s life at a glitter-topped gig/drag extravaganza in east London’s Oval Space. Thinking he had longer to live than he ultimately had, Dean had hoped to be able to attend last night’s celebration event, so he’d helped to organise entertainment and performances that reflected him. In one corner of the venue, people queued to have their faces decorated with glitter. Just outside the main space, live painting was taking place. And on stage, we were treated to poignant spoken word performances, a DJ set from rising star Will Joseph Cook, and lip syncs from Sink the Pink’s always sickening drag queens. In theory, a mash-up of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’ and Cher’s ‘Woman’s World’ shouldn’t really work, but last night, one queen made it slay.
The celebration climaxed with speeches from BuzzFeed’s LGBT editor Patrick Strudwick (who with Dean lobbied the HFEA to change its same-sex couple policy), Dean’s HISKIND co-founder Josh Fletcher, and Owen Jones, who recalled being interviewed by Dean at Latitude festival a couple of years ago. Each paid tribute to Dean’s kindness, his tenacity and the significant legacy he leaves behind. Owen Jones also pointed out, rightly, that the number of people who’d come to celebrate Dean’s life pretty much shuts down the idea that there’s no such thing as an “LGBT community” any more.
Then came a set from Dean’s favourite band, Years & Years, who were introduced by RuPaul’s Drag Race favourite Detox. The band performed their hits ‘Shine’, ‘Desire’, ‘Eyes Shut’ and ‘King’, but the emotional peak came when frontman Olly Alexander delivered a solo rendition of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’. This song was a special request, Olly told the crowd, and he hadn’t had time to learn it properly so he needed a lyric sheet in front of him. This hardly mattered – Olly sang the song beautifully, with palpable emotion, to a hushed room.
Olly also recalled being interviewed by Dean, and said he’d enjoyed seeing a quote from the feature – about Olly having FaceTime sex with his then-boyfriend – aggravating a few ignorant homophobes on Twitter. After Years & Years left the stage, the glittery and super-inclusive party at Oval Space continued for several more hours. It’s hard not to think Dean Eastmond got the emotional, joyous, and deeply appreciative celebration event that he really, really deserved.