As the dust settles, heart rates return to normal and the boys fly back to their own countries, it’s hard to take stock on what has actually happened over the past week. So this is my experience and how I have seen it.

We have done so much with the delegates this past week from flying into Sweden and attending Stockholm Pride to traveling 12 hours on the coach to Norway; a sports challenge running up and down a Norwegian mountain four times; a team challenge which involved arranging a fashion show in Oppdal’s Auna Mall which meant sourcing out their own clothes to staging a blank canvas runway, finding female models, promoting the event and choreographing the catwalk; we were invited to the Heart of Norway and were welcomed by the Bishop to the inner most sanctum of the Nidaros Cathedral of Trondheim where we were blessed before God; of course there was the beach photo shoot too and afterwards, a game of volleyball, ‘delegates versus the production team’, but obviously the MGE Team won and then after that we visited a hidden waterfall; not forgetting the time that the boys milked a cow for the milk in their coffees; we also treated the boys to an excursion where they visited a Viking burial site then we toured around the local museum and school house where the written test was set which even had a Star Trek question in it (live long and prosper); The Mayor and Vice Mayor of Oppdal interviewed the delegates at the formal interview where all the delegates had the chance to shine in front of a panel of experts (including myself); the Winners Announcement was streamed live across the world and not to mention the entire week has been caught on film as part of our new ten year documentary. WOW! What a week.

So many characters stick in my mind after this past week, from Wales, our Mr Congeniality of the group, winner of the social media challenge and our practical joker who we came to affectionately know as ‘Donkey’; Poland (our public vote winner) who was Mr Gay Wales’ partner in crime and the ‘Shrek’ to his Donkey; Czech Republic our quiet soldier and master of friendship bracelets along with his side kick and interpreter the beautifully peaceful yoga master from The Slovak Republic; England who was the most out spoken delegate of the group, the sports challenge winner, a choreographer extraordinaire and the one who helped our photogenic winner and artistic Mr Spain communicate from Spanish to English; Bulgaria, the Daddy of the group, our Written Test winner and self proclaimed nerd of the group who re-found his Faith along his journey; Ireland the man behind the staging of the fashion show and who has the coolest taste in comic book clothing and of course our fashionista from Denmark whose booming voice and joy for life can only be summed up in one word, “Hiiiiiii!”

Of course, there has to be an overall winner in a competition and this year was the year of Belgium and the year of Raf, our baby of the group. He has grown so much this past week and it was lovely to see him develop into a quietly authorative gentleman with a drive and passion for promoting LGBTI issues in the sports sector of Europe. I see great things for him in the future, not only is he a driven young man but he has a goal, and a clear endgame for which he can see himself completing. Raf has so much to say and something which he wants to achieve as Mr Gay Europe and he has the power and determination to succeed in whatever he sets his mind to. Europe, watch out! Raf is on the way…

From perfectly professional strangers to a family of equals, I knew my first year as MD of Mr Gay Europe was going to be special, but I didn’t realise it was going to be THIS SPECIAL. Being in front of the camera as Mr Gay World only prepares you fractionally to being in charge of ten grown men in a competition like Mr Gay Europe, I learnt so much about myself this past week, it is almost like being the distant uncle of ten nephews who want to get to know you and who you equally want to get to know back but you have such a limited short space of time to do so; then when the time comes to say goodbye, you realise that you are no longer the distant relatives you thought you once were but instead you’ve all moulded into a tightly-knit family woven together through experiences and challenges that affirm the strength of mutual brotherly love and a respect for one another which will transcend beyond the competition and turn into life long bonds. It goes without saying that Mr Gay Europe 2016 has been the year of Norway, the year of Sweden and the year of family.