Thousands of people turned out for Sydney’s 43rd Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on Saturday, one of the world’s few Pride events allowed to go ahead.

The British pop star Rita Ora closed the event with an electric performance at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where the Mardi Gras was held for the first time in the event’s history.

The venue allowed crowds to stay seated while parade participants marched and danced past.

Wearing a sparkling electric blue costume and knee-high rainbow-coloured boots, Ora treated revellers to songs including Let You Love Me, Carry On and Bang Bang.

“I’m a little bit emotional. This is my first show in a very, very long time so thank you,” she said.

Earlier, the crowd took in live performances from Australia’s upcoming Eurovision contestant Montaigne, First Nations singer Scott Hunter, Electric Fields and G Flip.

Sydney’s Mardi Gras chief executive, Albert Kruger, said the event almost did not go ahead due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is actually better than any expectations we ever had,” he said.

For the first time in its 43-year history, the Mardi Gras parade did not head down Oxford Street, and did not feature traditional large floats, but focused on costumes, puppetry and props.

Dykes on Bikes delighted the crowd at the beginning, followed in the arena by thousands of participants.

With the theme Rise, about 5,000 people marched in the parade, representing more than 100 LGBTQI community groups.

Participating organisations included the NSW rural fire service, ANZ, the Department of Defence and mental health organisation Headspace.

Earlier on Saturday, activist group Pride in Protest marched down Oxford Street after being granted a public health exemption.

The group argues Mardi Gras has become corporatised and moved away from the original movement’s roots in 1978, when the first parade was held.

The case had been due to hit the New South Wales supreme court on Friday before a last-minute exemption to the 500-person limit on public gatherings was granted.

The march went ahead on Saturday at 2pm, with hundreds of people walking down Oxford Street towards Hyde Park, waving flags in support of LGBTQI rights and setting off pink flares.

A banner was held at the front of the march declaring: “No pride in police, stand in solidarity with over-policed communities”.

NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong earlier addressed the crowd, expressing her support for trans and sex worker rights as well as refugee and Indigenous rights.

This content first appear on the guardian

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