Sundowners events to honour ‘local icon’ Shirley Sullivan and raise cancer charity funds in memory of David Fuller

The events honour the memory of former landlady Shirley and Iain's husband David

Sundowners boss Iain Maxstead, of Proud Pink Inns, is holding two special events this month, the first to raise funds for a cancer charity in memory of his husband of 36 years David Fuller and then to celebrate a local community icon.

The celebration of David’s life takes place this Friday (February 2) at the Albert Terrace venue and will be raising money for Cancer is a Drag.

The charity helps people with financial and other challenges faced when fighting cancer while often having to survive on greatly reduced wages and/or sick pay.

It is a cause that Iain and David supported together for many years before David’s untimely death last December aged just 67 due to bladder, prostrate and kidney cancer.

David and his dogs

David had only retired in May last year after a career as a chef where his clients included the royal household, cooking for the Queen Mother, and former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Condon.

He was originally told he had kidney stones but eventually received the devastating diagnosis of cancer.

Iain and David

Iain said: “He had four major surgeries last year, the last one in September was to remove his bladder, prostate, urinary tract, appendix and lymph nodes. They sent him home from hospital nine days after that operation and he could not even walk or stand.”

After being discharged David stayed with medically trained friends of the couple but after three days was taken back to hospital with sepsis and c diff infections. Sadly he died on December 18.

David did not challenge his first, incorrect, diagnosis and Iain now wants to get the message out for people to get tested, whether it be for prostate or breast cancer.

The 55-year-old said: “David did not challenge it or follow it up. He had a whole retirement ahead of him.

“Get tested whether it is for prostate cancer or breast cancer. Prostate cancer is huge, a massive number of men are affected in the UK and Thanet has quite high numbers compared to the UK (average).

“Follow up, make sure you are protected. Early diagnosis means living, it’s as simple as that.”

Iain, who has spent his working life in the hospitality and entertainment industries, says the couple had been planning to move together to Margate rather than commuting from their Sheppey home.

The pair, who split their time between Spain and the UK, had taken on Sundowners during the time David battled the disease. Iain has now moved to the isle and says David would have been very happy here.

He said: “He was looking forward to it, bringing the dogs here, having more people and more shops around; he was a bit of a shopper.”

Iain also wants people to be aware of the complications that can be faced for those left behind after experiencing issues with David’s pension payments and unexpected costs for cremation.

David’s 50th birthday present from Iain after learning to drive

He said: “The government took back a large amount of his pension for the last month as they paid on December 2 and he died on December 18, They claimed back just over £400 straight away and said he did not qualify for the  £500 allowance because he was in hospital for 16 consecutive days, With his private pension they wrote to say I have to repay them £294 before I can claim (widow pension).

“Then I will get £28pm. He paid in for 45 years and never claimed a penny.”

Iain says the direct cremation company also wanted a top up of some £1860 despite David having made payments for the service plan. Iain made arrangements through another firm instead but warns people to check the small print when taking out funeral plans.

The celebration of David’s life will include a host of performances from acts including Claudia F, Miss Krystal Ball and Sugar Cube.

There will also be an auction in aid of the charity with items including an original dancer’s tour jacket from Danny La Rue’s show, a Gucci watch David was given for his 60th birthday and some personal pieces of jewellery.

Entry is free (opens at 7pm, no entry after 1.30am) but donations will be appreciated.

The funds go to the Cancer is a Drag charity, which was founded by Alan Bugg following his diagnosis of cancer in 2010.

He struggled financially and wanted to find a way to help others in the same situation.

The charity offers support and care for those whom are struggling with general bills and gaining the help for their families with vital links and guidance, while treatment is in place.

Iain said: “The charity was formed to make sure that anybody – young, old, gay or straight -could get help from getting to the hospital or helping family visit to help with bills or even getting someone to feed the goldfish. They make sure that money is put in place to help families, individuals or children to fulfil the needs at  a time when it is most desperately needed.

“That’s the reason for supporting the charity. We did not personally benefit from it but it came to our attention when a couple of people we knew were going through financial difficulties and faced losing their home and the charity helped them.

“We should not have to have a charity, there should be something where the government step in to help but that isn’t the case.”

Find the fundraiser for Cancer is a Drag in memory of David here

The second event at Sundowners will be held on Friday next week (February 9) and is in honour of legendary Margate pub landlady and LGBTIQA+  champion Shirley Sullivan.

Shirley had been fighting a lengthy battle with cancer in previous years and finally succumbed, surrounded by her family, in April 2020.

An Eltham girl by origin, Shirley arrived in Margate in 1974 and in 1982 took over her first pub with husband Mick, The Six Bells at the top of Margate High Street. This was to be the start of a 40 year career as a much loved, respected and at times feared publican!

Shirley and Mick moved to the New Inn in the Old Town in 1985 and it was here Shirley began to really make her mark. A builder’s pub by day, Shirley began to host gay nights in the evenings and weekends that quickly became renowned throughout East Kent and beyond in the gay and lesbian communities, providing a much-needed safe environment for people in those less tolerant times.

As well as the New Inn, Shirley ran Rumours nightclub in Cliftonville, and welcomed resident DJ Flipz and drag artists such as a young Lily Savage to the area well ahead of mainstream exposure.

After a brief stint living in France, Mick and Shirley returned to publican life in 1995, taking over the Oxford before having the opportunity to run the Bull’s Head in the heart of the Old Town in 1997. The Bull’s Head during those years, had all the instantly recognisable characteristics of a Shirley Sullivan pub.

The event on February 9 will add Shirley to the Sundowners’ wall of icons in the LGBTIQA+ community – particularly fitting is that it takes place during LGBT History Month, celebrated throughout February to recognise the contributions and struggles of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

Iain said: “I spotted the family’s gofundme page to get a bench in place for the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the LGBTIQA+ who wanted the recognise her.

“I thought it was appropriate to contact the family. We have changed a lot at Sundowners and we have put up our gay icons, posters of icons in the gay community such as my friend Paul O’Grady, showing what they stood for, what they did and what they achieved within the community.

“We have Paul, Barbara Streisand, we wrote to Kylie (Minogue) and she sent a signed photo, Abba, George Michael, Boy George. That’s recognised renowned icons but for me the community is paramount and I wanted to recognise a local icon and Shirley was obviously that person. We can respect and honour her and there is somewhere for her family and the community to come and recognise what she achieved in the 80s and 90s when Aids and homophobia was rife but she provided a safe space.”

An icons poster for Shirley will be unveiled by Margate mayor Rob Yates at 7.30pm, people are advised to arrive by 7pm, and those present will then raise a glass to Shirley’s memory.

Iain said: “We are very active to make sure the community know we are maintaining and upholding Shirley’s standards as a safe space where everyone is welcome as long as respect is shown for all.”

Proud Pink Inns took over Sundowners last October, securing the jobs of 11 staff at the venue.

Iain says there has been much work to deal with legacy issues left by the previous leaseholder who has no connection to the current business.

Original tribute to Shirley by Neil Brennan

2 Comments

  1. “Iain says the direct cremation company also wanted a top up of some £1860 despite David having made payments for the service plan. Iain made arrangements through another firm instead but warns people to check the small print when taking out funeral plans.” I’m so sorry to hear you had this experience Iain – I had the exact same problem with Pure Cremation after my mum died. She’d paid a very similar amount but they somehow used small print to convince us that was worth zero. My poor mum was bankrupt when terminally ill and spent her final pennies on that plan over the 18 months she paid into it. We just didn’t have the energy to fight them when we were grieving and paid up another £1200 as they had already collected her from the morgue and we didn’t want the stress of moving her elsewhere. Hopefully the scandal of these companies who claim to make cremation simple and affordable will be uncovered in time as people pay for peace of mind and are not around by the time the families find out the truth that the payments were worth nothing. Sorry to sound negative but I just wanted you and others to know you weren’t alone in being deceived. Good luck with all the fundraising for an amazing cause. We did fundraising for charities after my mum died and it really helped us to enjoy some positive action and love from the community.

  2. What happened to the old landlord that’s up on charges of sex offences? Place is a breeding ground needs shutting for good

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