In a vibrant twist to tradition, Keith Ratcliff, fondly known as Mr Pink, is making headlines as the first male finalist in the race for the coveted title of Flower Queen at Spalding's annual Flower Parade. We caught up with Keith to delve into his groundbreaking journey to the finals.
The Spalding Flower Parade, a spectacle of colour and community spirit, first blossomed in 1959, becoming a cherished annual event until its hiatus in 2013 due to financial constraints. Last year, under the stewardship of Stephen Timewell and his wife Sandra, alongside a dedicated team of volunteers, the parade bloomed once again, reinstating its place in the heart of the community.
Keith, a father of two and grandfather of six, stands among nine distinguished finalists vying for the title of Flower Queen. At 62, his participation marks a significant step towards inclusivity and diversity in the parade's history.
On March 9, 2024, at Vista Hall in Spalding, Keith and his fellow candidates will undergo a five-minute on-stage interview with Stephen Timewell, after which the judges will crown the Flower Queen and their deputy. Keith's pioneering candidacy not only adds a fresh petal to the parade's legacy but also celebrates the universal love for flowers that transcends gender.
Keith was born in Hertfordshire and grew up and spent a lot of time in the Stevenage area during his childhood.
He has worked from home as a software support consultant for a long time, and eight years ago he decided to move to Spalding, saying it “seemed a really nice area and the house prices were good”.
He lived with his wife Sue, who he married in 1984 and had two daughters with, and they had many happy years together before she sadly passed away in 2020.
Keith said he always knew he was gay, but didn’t come out until two years ago to his family and friends who were “all very supportive and positive”.
Around that time he also started wearing pink hats, t-shirts and scarves, earning him the nickname of “Mr Pink” from his friends.
One of his friends suggested that he should apply to be Flower Queen, but initially Keith dismissed the idea. However, after thinking about it more, he said: “I decided it would be a bit of fun and that I’d enjoy it.
“There’s no ulterior motive, I just want to enjoy life and take on whatever challenges come to me.”
Keith filled out the application form in January 2024 and sent it off to the organisers before finding out around a fortnight ago that he’d been selected for the final.
“I had no idea what to expect and to be honest I thought I’d be rejected under a technicality, so I was very surprised, and pleased, to be in the final,” he said.
“I was surprised that I was the only male candidate as I thought there would be others, but I am really looking forward to it.
“It’s a great opportunity and all of the contestants are wonderful from what I’ve seen and read, and chatting to some of them, but I want to win."
Keith’s participation in the competition sparked some debate on social media, with some arguing that a man should not be filling a role that was historically meant for women.
“In this day and age it’s all about equality,” Keith said. “It shouldn’t be gender specific or anything to do with sexual orientation.
“It could be and should be anybody that is the best person suitable for the role and to promote the flower parade and the area.”
He added: “I have only read positive and supportive things. I have seen a few negative things, but I don’t read it, as it would get to me, I know it’s there, but I ignore it and scroll past.
“People are allowed their own opinions. Sometimes they can get a bit nasty, but I will carry on in my happy little way.
“I am surprised by all the attention and interviews with the media, it’s a total surprise, but it has all been okay so far.”
Keith also believes that the attitudes of society towards gay men are getting better, but says “there’s always room for improvement.”
“It is tremendously better than when I was in my teenage years,” he said. “I knew at that time it was not something you showed or expressed.
“Since coming out, I’ve had nothing but supportive and positive comments from people, and nothing negative has been said directly to me about being a gay man. Some people raise their eyes with what I wear, which I don’t mind.”
Keith missed out on attending the Spalding Flower Parade last year as he was away, so he is looking forward to the 2024 spectacular regardless of whether it’s as the Flower Queen or to watch.
“I think the whole flower parade is marvellous and fantastic for Spalding,” he said.
“I know I will get very emotional if I’m selected, and I am up there on the parade and will thoroughly enjoy it — and it is good for the area.
“My friend told me I should picture myself up there on the float at the head of the parade and focus on that.
“I do think about it, and it would be great if I win, but it won’t be the end of my life if I don’t, and I’ll wish whoever does the best of luck.”
Away from preparing for the Flower Queen final, Keith enjoys plenty of hobbies.
“I enjoy walking, mainly for my mental health, and play my music loud,” he said. “It’s quite a mixture of 80s, 90s, and I love Abba. I really enjoy electronic dance music and Ibiza type music.
“I also started paddleboarding a few years ago and try to do that as much as possible. I go to a nearby river at Surfleet and also to Peterborough and other places.”