MADRID - Vast crowds of revellers in high heels, wigs and figure-hugging dresses cavorted in the streets of Madrid on Saturday in what was billed as Europe's biggest gay pride parade.
Hundreds of thousands crammed the Spanish capital's broad central avenues to the din of drums and whistles as rainbow-coloured flags fluttered in the sunshine.
Dressed as everything from policemen to ancient warriors with swords and helmets, drag queens, transsexuals and other party-goers danced in the street and waved from double-decker buses that crawled slowly through the crowd.
"I'm having a great time. This is an opportunity for me to offer myself to the world of showbiz," said Julia Woman, a lanky man of 30 in a blond wig and leopard-print dress, whose high heels made him nearly six and half feet (two metres) tall.
"It's also a chance to defend my rights on the subject of homophobia and all that. And also to have a bit of fun, a bit of personal satisfaction." Organisers expected more than a million people, including thousands from abroad, at the evening parade, the main event in five days of festivities by defenders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.
"I came because I was told it is the biggest Gay Pride parade, and that's true," said Christophe Probst, 47, a Frenchman who came from Paris for the party.
"It's fantastic. The whole city gets involved. There is nothing else like it."
Biggest in Europe
The festival kicked off on Wednesday night with an open air appearance by Conchita Wurst, the bearded Austrian transvestite who won the Eurovision song contest in May.
That was followed on Thursday by an annual highlight of the festival: men in high heels and dresses raced on foot through Madrid's gay district, Chueca, cheered on by crowds.
Wurst sang on Friday evening alongside various Spanish stars at a concert in the Vicente Calderon stadium, home to Atletico Madrid football club.