New Mardi Gras Parade artistic director Ignatius Jones first worked with the festival in the late ’80s and early ’90s — participating in the Great Debate, judging competitions for Best Float and Costume and even appearing on the Parade’s lead float.

In the ensuing decades, Jones’ star rose on an international scale as he became one of the world’s most sought-after creative powerhouses, working on the Shanghai World Expo Opening Ceremony and the Ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Closer to home, he created the Sydney New Year’s Eve celebrations, during which he put ‘Eternity’ on the Harbour Bridge, and played a pivotal role as one of the directors of the Ceremonies of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Before all this, though, Jones was the lead singer of ‘punk cabaret’ band Jimmy and the Boys, who scored a top 10 single in 1981 with They Won’t Let My Girlfriend Talk To Me (YouTube it and you’ll see a young, snakehipped Jones in full New Romantic make-up, writhing around in a mental hospital. Let’s hope his tenure as artistic director has a happier ending).

With this unique combination of skills, Jones seems perfectly poised to rejuvenate the Parade — one of the most scrutinised events in Australia’s queer calendar — for 2011. While he’s spent the past eight years abroad, Jones admitted to having “expressed worries about the way [the Parade] was going” in recent years.

“[I] had concerns that if the parade didn’t lift its game artistically and organisationally, that it would be a little like watching an old friend die,” he told the Star Observer.

Far from putting it on life support, Jones plans for this year’s Parade to have a fully-fledged rebirth. For starters, the very appointment of an artistic director — after almost two decades working under a committee-based system — means the Parade again has a single person at the helm, wrangling hundreds of performers, floats and marchers into one vibrant, unified event. Jones said he was committed to helping community members figure out what exactly they wanted to get out of their participation in the Parade.

“You need to be fabulous, but there are 40 different kinds of fabulous. It’s not all about lycra and spangles if that’s not you. Work out what’s fabulous about you, and get it out there. That’s what’s so great about our GLBTQ community.”

And Jones isn’t afraid to stir up a bit of controversy — his recent announcement to the Star Observer that he’d invited NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and Prime Minister Julia Gillard to march in the Parade elicited a flurry of feedback within the gay community, with some loving the idea and others vehemently opposed to it. Jones didn’t stop there, saying he’d even be open to having Opposition leader Tony Abbott — the man who famously said he felt ‘threatened’ by gay people — march.

“If he was going to march I’d try to get a contingent of speedo-wearing marching boys with big ears,” he said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

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