WEDNESDAY 21 MAY
7:30 UK time - Woke up and finished packing 5 bags between two of us. I'm only taking leathers, boot socks and Hoist t-shirts to wear for a week. Wore full leathers on the plane in case I meet a judge at O'Hare airport when we land.
11:30 - Arrived at Heathrow and checked in 3 hours before take-off. Delayed at security because a tiny pair of nail scissors was hidden somewhere in our luggage and showed up on the X-ray machine. It took three searches for us to find them stuffed in an obscure pocket from a trip six months ago and we had to throw them away before we could get through the gate. Flight took nearly 9 hours.
17:15 Chicago time - Landed at O'Hare and travelled by taxi to the hotel - the trip took an hour in rush hour traffic. Checked in at 18:45, unpacked as quckly as possible and went to the unofficial contestant registration until 21:00. Filled in the forms and got my pass for the weekend. Too tired to go looking for a restaurant afterwards so we ate at the hotel then stayed in the lobby chatting until midnight. Very happy atmosphere - full of anticipation. Surprised to see how many people we know, by reputation if nothing else. Slept badly, waking every hour until 5:00. Dreamt about IML.
THURSDAY 22 MAY
08:00 - Finally got up and went to a local diner (Beef & Brandy) for breakfast, then spent the morning handing out business cards in the foyer.
Photo credit: Dave Harris
18:40 - Attended rehearsals for the evening's "opening ceremony" in front of the public in the State Ballroom. I have to carry the Union Jack flag when I enter. Spent some time trying to explain to the other contestants why people from the UK aren't that patriotic (our national characteristic would be "embarrassment"). Surprised by how keen the Canadian contestants are on the Queen and the Commonwealth and even Frank, our emcee for the night, wants me to introduce myself to the public by saying "My name is John Pendal and my sponsor is the Queen!" The event ran from 21:00 to 23:00 - made the crowd laugh by saying "My name is John Pendal and I'm NOT sponsored by the Queen, I'm sponsored by the Hoist London." Drew contestant number 31 - right in the mid-point of the group. That means my contestant interview is at 8:10 on Saturday morning. Can't remember a single time in my adult life when I've been awake at 8:10 on Saturday morning. This contest is evil. More meeting and greeting in the foyer until 2:00, then bed. Slept badly again until 8:00. More dreams about IML.
Photo credit: Dave Harris
12:00 Had to go to the sixth floor for my official IML photoshoot. [Dave came along with his camera so you can see what I got up to. I find these pictures very funny and not at all sexy.]
Spent the afternoon doing more meeting and greeting in the foyer, then to the hotel gym for a workout. Dave tested me on the judges' biographies for an hour.
20:00 - Dinner at B&B. Already we're established customers - as are most of the other contestants, it seems. From 22:00 there were three parties being held simultaneously in the hotel, sponsored by groups from Florida, Texas and Toronto. Contestants are encouraged to go to these parties and meet people. Did all three parties before 00:30, but mostly seemed to keep meeting other contestants doing the same. Felt very sorry for any "real" guests at these parties who must have been pounced on by the rest of us. Too worried about my interview tomorrow morning to sleep well. Got less than 5 hours sleep AGAIN. By the morning I couldn't remember if I'd spent the night lying awake thinking about the interview, or dreaming about the interview in my sleep...
SATURDAY 24 MAY
6:30 - My candidate interview is in less than 2 hours. Got up and left our hotel room, as I was keeping David awake. Walked around the block a few times and had a long breakfast at B&B. I never drink coffee but I had several cups this morning. Finally made it to the interview at 8:10.
I missed this.
Photo credit: Dave Harris
11:30 - Signed 100 IML posters along with some other judges and contestants. It gave me an opportunity to chat to the judges in a less formal setting, which was a big relief. Went back to Dave for a long cuddle and then he went outside to take pictures of the Memorial Day parade which passed right outside the hotel. I lay awake on the bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to conserve my energy.
15:00 - Went to the Leather Navigator party and the market area. (Okay, just to see if Mr July was there again.)
Photo credit: Dave Harris
17:00 - Dinner at B&B. Not that I dare eat anything anyway. After 13 years of working out I've finally managed to get a "two-pack" of which I'm very fond. I've even given them names: Bob and Don, after two friends in Florida. I don't want to lose them now.
18:40 - Attended rehearsals for the evening's "pecs and stage presence ceremony" in front of the public in the State Ballroom. This is my living nightmare: walking out in just a jockstrap and boots in front of a thousand leathermen and spontaneously answering a lighthearted question. If only it could be the other way around, that I had to get the audience to laugh at my physique and be in awe of my answer - I'm sure I'd be fine! Doors opened at 20:00 and the ceremony began at 21:00. Many contestants were pumping up backstage doing press-ups, crunches, hand stand press-ups and lateral raises. In different circumstances I might have paid to be able to watch this, but instead I felt ill with fear.
21:00 - The ceremony began. Remember to smile, wave and hold your
tummy in. Don't look at your feet. My lighthearted question was HORRIBLE.
Something like: "so John, you say you often cook dinner for visiting
leathermen. What kitchen utensil would you reserve for a leatherman and
why?" My mind went blank. Oven ... microwave .... food mixer ...
Sleep deprivation did not help. I stalled for time: "Well thank
you for that question, Frank." Still nothing. My nightmare was coming
true. Finally a heckler from the crowd - thank you, whoever you were - called
out "whipping!". "That's right," I stumbled into the
microphone, "something to beat eggs with. And I'd use it on him."
Lame, lame, lame. Very depressed. Dragged my tired old carcase back to bed
and slept well for the first time all week. 8 beautiful hours sleep.
SUNDAY 25 MAY
08:00 - Woke and tried to go for breakfast, but we kept getting
waylaid by people in the hotel wanting to chat to us. Joe Gallagher came to
our rescue and the three of us went to B&B together. Felt very strange to
be sitting across the table from an IML (1996) - and such a good looking one
too. Afterwards Dave and I went for a walk to the lake and tried to have a
moment of calm before the grand final tonight.
13:00 - Trying to pack in our hotel room. Contestants will be taken by bus to the Congress Theatre in an hour and we have to take everything we need for the final, including 5 costume changes, food, drink, medals, sashes and cameras. For the first time this week I began to lose my cool, as first our only lockable suitcase appeared to break (it hadn't - but I was that stressed) and then I temporarily mislaid my hotel room door key. Dave was the epitome of cool. I don't think I've ever loved him so much as when he came back with a borrowed suitcase, new padlock and replacement door card minutes before two o'clock.
14:00 - All the contestants gathered to board the coach. This is it, we won't be seeing the Palmer House Hilton again until we know who has won IML. Guy Baldwin gave a moving speech to all the contestants once we'd arrived at the theatre. Tried to stay focussed throughout the afternoon rehearsals. The stage set includes several flights of stairs with no handrail, which we have to navigate whilst waving at the crowd and not looking at our feet.
I missed this too.
Photo credit: Dave Harris
18:45 - Over a thousand leatherfolk are finally seated and the show begins. It's a big production with a huge stage crew, video screens, circus acts, a cabaret singer - oh, and 58 nervous contestants. Highlight of the early acts is a choreographed routine by half a dozen hunky guys. Of course, I miss it because I'm backstage. After an hour we appear on stage together and listen for the numbers of twenty contestants who have made the cut. 16 numbers are called and I'm not one of them. I prepare myself for the thought that I won't be called and I'll have to sit in the audience for the remainder of the show. Then the 17th finalist is announced: "no. 31!". What a relief. I move to the front of the stage and salute the crowd. The remaining 3 finalists are called. Behind us the other contestants leave the stage and we won't see them again until the early hours of the morning. The judges take a good look at us and then we go backstage for another change of clothes.
The twenty finalists are split into two groups of ten. I'm in the group giving our speeches before the interval and enduring another physique round after the interval. (From this point on there seems to be a lot of waiting in line in stairwells waiting to go on stage.) Our group quickly changed into the outfits for giving our speeches and waited in line to go on stage. I had the honour of being backstage within earshot when Donald Dotson gave his speech, which blew me away and almost made me not want to go on after him. But I had no choice. My name was called, I walked out to the microphone, smiled and made eye contact with as many people as I could. I said my introduction, realised that a full minute had passed out of my 90 second time limit, cut to the conclusion and smiled with relief. No one would ever know the middle boring bit except for my partner David. (Click here to see what I actually had time to say.)
During the interval I managed to chat to Juan Zazueta via his sign language interpreter. Juan was Mr Deaf San Diego Leather at IML and has since won International Mr Deaf Leather 2003 in Orlando on June 5th. One of the highlights of my week in Chicago was listening to Juan's coming out story, first as a deaf gay man and then as a deaf, gay leatherman.
When the interval was over I changed into a jockstrap and boots for the physique round and stood for ages in a stairwell waiting to go onstage. Volunteer handlers kept passing us, but sadly none of them did any handling. Finally our names were called and we walked out in "minimal wear", waved at the crowd, negotiated the stairs, walked past the judges and left the stage.
For the next round all 20 finalists had to appear in a line together in "minimal wear" to have our physiques compared side by side. This is how I know that God has a sense of humour: I was contestant no. 31 and Walt Weiss, Mr Lure NYC, was contestant no. 32. He is at least twice my size and one of the most handsome men to walk the earth. We couldn't all fit on stage side by side without overlapping slightly, so we turned sideways a little and bunched up. Walt's shoulder and arm covered most of my body. Just great!
Offstage to change yet again for our final appearance, more waiting in stairwells, then on stage one last time. Twenty men were dotted around the set standing on numbered glow-in-the-dark sticky tape marking our spots. More speeches but I couldn't hear what was being said, partly because there were no speakers turned towards the stage so we only heard echoes in triplicate, and partly because of the blood rushing through my ears. Remember: got to keep smiling!
Almost midnight: - Chuck Renslow came onstage to announce the winners. In third place .... . I had no idea what name was announced next but I started applauding the second runner up, whoever he was, and thinking: "congratulations, you really deserve it!" Finally I got to see it was Stephen from LA. In second place .... still can't work out what's being said but clap, clap, clap and "congratulations, you deserve that too! " Donald walked forwards - the guy who gave the great speech. Long pause .... there is no way it's going to be me.. It wasn't me before, there's no way it's going to be me now. I'll just start clapping with the rest of them and congratulate the winner. It won't be so bad, I made it to the final and that's good enough.
"In first place: ....." Again I can't hear what Chuck Renslow has said, so I look around to see which contestant has won. No-one is going forward. I look at the monitor at the foot of the stage.
Photo credit: Dave Harris
In a complete daze I made my way to the front of the stage and saluted the audience. Some indoor fireworks went off nearby and nearly made me jump off the stage. I think I'm supposed to be on the podium by now out of harm's way. I turn to the podium - it's about two and a half feet high and I'm wearing tight breeches and knee high boots. There are no steps at the back. Should I climb up on my knees or go up backwards on my arse? I have no idea. Neither way is very presidential. I opt for climbing up on my knees.
The press are allowed out of their corner and people take photos for what feels like an hour. Me with the two runners up (Stephen Blackwell and Donald Dotson). The three of us with International Mr Bootblack (Richie Chameroy). Me with International Ms Leather (Russ Cosgrove). Me with the IML founder (Chuck Renslow). Me on my own. Then a couple of TV interviews. I finally get to hug my partner, who wangled himself a press pass and saw the whole thing from the front of the stage. Being in his arms is the best moment of the night.
IML co-ordinator, Bill Stadt, led the winners, their partners and our luggage away to a waiting van. At 1:00 we made a twenty second public appearance at the House of Blues party, and at 1:30 we made another appearance at the Salut! party which was serving Bacardi. I'd been looking forward to the Salut! party all week (I'm allergic to beer) and was quite upset when we left without getting a drink. Quite upset. I think I may have used the words "I'm not going another step until ..." I'd only been IML for two hours and already I was making demands.
02:00 - All the winners, partners and some IML staff were treated to a wonderful dinner in a private dining room. It was weird eating steak in the early hours of the morning, but I was too hungry to worry about it.
03:00 - Walked around the hotel to see what was going on but all the bars had closed and parties drunk dry. So much for toasting my success! Finally crashed into bed at 04:00. What a night.
MONDAY 26 MAY
09:30 - Woken by the phone ringing. It was my sponsors from The HOIST London ringing to congratulate me. Chatted for 20 minutes. Went to B&B for breakfast, then tried to go to the leather market to spend some of the gift vouchers I'd won.
Greeting the world looking my worst.
Photo credit: Dave Harris
12:00 - Went up to the Hilton penthouse to prepare for the press conference. None of us had had much sleep and it feels very strange to be thrown together like this, working as a team when we don't know each other yet.
13:00 - Taken to a room full of journalists, photographers and microphones. Fortunately many of our fellow contestants were lined up at the back of the room with big smiles on their faces. Whenever I needed support I only had to look to see the class of 2003 giving us the thumbs up. Thank you.
14:00 - The winners are whisked away to the photo studio on the 6th floor for more official photographs. When I had my official photos done on Friday I'd had two hours to prepare, was wearing my best clothes, showered, shaved and looking bright - but had no winner's sash. Today I had bloodshot eyes and was suffering from lack of sleep, was emotionally drained and wearing casual clothes (including a Hoist t-shirt I'd pulled out of our laundry bag). However, because I had the IML winners sash with me these are the pictures I'll carry round with me for the rest of the year and which will appear on all my IML stationery. Looking dreadful. How ironic!
15:00 - We tried to slip back to the leather market without my medals, desperate to spend some of the gift vouchers before the traders in question left Chicago. Gave up very quickly as it was obvious that my role was to stand and be photographed hugging strangers until we left. Went down to the foyer instead and signed a pile of "Mr Hoist" A3 posters to anyone who wanted one for a charity or leatherbar.
17:00 - Meal in the Hilton Penthouse with the other winners and IML staff. Afterwards sent an email from the IML office to my employer informing them of my win and asking for Thursday 29th May off work. I think I'll need it.
20:00 - was invited to Guy Baldwin's room for a chat. He let me hold both his and my winner's medals in my hands at once. "Anyone can hold one medal by asking a winner's permission ... but you can only hold two if you've won one and meet another winner ...." It was a strange moment. I still don't quite believe my name is on the same list as the other IML's. Maybe at the end of the year I'll feel like I've earned my place - but not yet.
22:00 - Stephen, Donald and I (plus companions) were driven by stretch limo to make public appearances at the Eagle bar, the Cellblock and the Metro. Our appearances were finished by 12:30 and Bill said that Dave and I could have the use of the limo until 02:00. Asked the driver to give us a guided tour of Chicago by night, as I hadn't seen any of the city apart from two blocks around the hotel. Fell asleep almost immediately. Dave says it was beautiful.
2:45 - Back to bed and SLEEP.
TUESDAY 27 MAY
Bill and Chris from the IML office had arranged a late check-out from the hotel for us, but because we didn't put a "do not disturb" sign on our door a maid woke us up at 8:00 wanting us to clear the room. We got up, cancelled the late-check out and cleared the room by 11:00 anyway. After giving our bags to the bell hop we went to B&B one last time for brunch. Chatted to Andy Mangels (one of the judges) until our food arrived.
After lunch we sat in the hotel lobby for an hour and said our goodbyes to people we recognised. Joe Harnett was one of them. It turns out Dave and I had met two of his friends at O'Hare airport the day we arrived, and they'd reported back to Joe that I was wearing full leathers - so it was worth it.
Bill organised a car to take Dave and me to the airport. At 14:30 another stretch limo arrived (thanks, Bill!). Slept all the way to O'Hare terminal 3. Our flight lasted almost 9 hours, from 17:10 Tuesday to 7:00 Wednesday morning. Home by 8:00, still buzzing with excitement and several hundred emails to reply to since Sunday. Now my year really begins .....
(For a list of my other diary entries please go to FULL INDEX)