One week before Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras launches its 2002 season, it has been hit with the shock withdrawal of high profile porn star and festival artist Aiden Shaw.

Shaw was billed to appear at the literary performance event Dirty Boys and fetish fashion show F*ck Fashion.

However, according to Mardi Gras festival director David Fenton, the transatlantic star had to cancel his involvement last week due to domestic commitments.

It came down to the fact that Aiden has a partner in London who only gets two weeks’ holiday per year and they decided his partner did not want to come down to Sydney and spend two weeks trailing around after Aiden while [Shaw] was working for the Mardi Gras festival, Fenton told the Star.

It was one of those whirlwind things, they were trying to fit their trip into two weeks and they couldn’t even do that. They didn’t even have time to do the party and the parade, so it’s just a case of bad timing, he said.

Earlier rumours suggesting that Shaw’s attendance was doubtful focused on claims that the star was having problems securing a number of minor special requests from Mardi Gras for the period of his stay in Sydney, including free temporary membership with a local gym.

However, Fenton rejected any notion that the organisation had trouble meeting Shaw’s demands.

There was some talk about Aiden demanding this and demanding that, but we had managed to deliver those things for him, so his decision not to come to Sydney was not about those issues, Fenton said. In reality, a lot of businesses got really excited about having Aiden in places like their gym because it would have been a great promotional opportunity for them.

Shaw’s withdrawal may leave a star-sized gap in the program for this year’s Mardi Gras festival. However, it is a gap that is set to be filled by Canadian Olympic swimming star Mark Tewksbury, who has been booked to speak at the launch of the Mardi Gras festival.

Thirty-three-year-old Tewksbury won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the men’s 100-metre backstroke event and was more recently part of the bidding team that helped secure the 2006 Gay Games for Montr?.

Sydney 2002 Gay Games chief executive officer Geoffrey Williams said Tewksbury led the presentation for the Montr? bid at the Feder-ation of Gay Games annual general meeting in Johannes-burg in October.

He was incredibly articulate and very personable. He led a great presentation, Williams said.

Tewksbury would be helping to raise the media profile of the Sydney 2002 Gay Games while in Australia, Williams said, and would also be talking to sponsors with Games organisers.

While Tewksbury’s impending arrival is undoubtedly good news for Sydney 2002 Gay Games, Mardi Gras organisers continue to express concerns about sluggish ticket sales for the Mardi Gras party.

Mardi Gras’ chief executive officer Kelly Gardiner would not disclose the number of party tickets sold to date, but said Mardi Gras was seeing a slightly different pattern this year in ticket purchasing. The fear of missing out on a ticket had driven partygoers to purchase early in previous years, she said, but that psychology had been broken by the non-sell-out of last year’s party.

The new patterns of party ticket buying raised interesting questions for Mardi Gras about budgeting, Gardiner said, but added that she was not panicking about ticket sales.

Her comments were echoed by Mardi Gras president Julie Regan, who said the organisation would not change its three-party-tickets-per-member policy lightly.

We’re not going into a change of policy without consulting the community, she said. It’s a vexed question. We did that last year, and got a lot of response, some positive and some negative.

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