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Hi Yogi and congratulations on becoming Mr Birmingham Bear 2017.

Let’s start by getting to know you, tell me about yourself.

Well my real name is Andy Morris, I’m 39 and i was born and bred in Birmingham, UK. During the day my main job is as a school counsellor and teacher at a school that caters for children with social, emotional, or mental health issues, that’s enough to keep anyone busy. Outside of my main job I get booked to sing at various events around the country and I also DJ occasionally at Eden Bar in Birmingham, usually covering the Karaoke nights.

Outside of working I’m an avid gamer, playing all kinds of genres, at the moment being captured competitively on Overwatch and World of Warcraft. I love to cook and bake, not up to bake off standards yet, but i do make a mean lemon meringue and a tasty parmesan and sundried tomato loaf. Both of those aside you’ll often find me at the cinema relaxing with a movie, i love a cheesy comedy and being the massive geek i am, will usually be first in line for anything involving a superhero.

So this is when you found out that you were the winner of this years Midsbears  Mr Birmingham Bear 2017

So, what made you enter Mr Birmingham Bear 2017 then?

Entering wasn't an easy decision for me, and i was persuaded eventually by a lot of friends hounding me daily. Within the last 6 weeks i have just come out of a 9-year relationship, and can honestly say it’s been some of the roughest times of my recent life, though anyone who’s had to deal with a heartbreak could say the same. This really left me feeling low, unconfident, unattractive and really down on myself, i couldn't see any reason why i could get up on stage and people would vote for me.

I’m very lucky to have the supportive, positive, relationships with friends and family that i do. Most of my friends are from around the different flavors of the bear community, including a few of my fellow competitors. Not only did my family and friends push me to enter but also helped me put together what i was going to do on stage, cheered me on along the way, turn up on the night from all over the country to support me and constantly reassure me about my decisions for doing this. If it wasn't for them i wouldn't be the person i am today, let alone be in this interview as winner of Mr Birmingham Bear.

When i came out as Bisexual at the age of 27, it was the bear community that took me in. I met some wonderful, life changing people who took me under their wing, didn't judge me, showed me around, introduced me to the likes of XXL, The Kings Arms, Bear Bash, Bristol Bear Fiesta and more. They showed me that a chunky furry guy can be body proud, strip off their top and shake they booty like they had no care in the world. They showed me that there was this rich culture, community, and acceptance that i hadn't been a part of before. I was very confused and lost until that point, not fitting into any pigeon hole in any community, gay or straight, but the bear community being so varied, relaxed and accepting just took me for who i was.

I still believe to this day whether you are gay, bi, fat, furry, smooth, skinny, masc, femme,

chubby, muscled or anything in between, being a “bear” is a state of mind and the community will be there to accept you and help you accept yourself.

It’s great when the community can inspire us to do things we would'nt have done otherwise! Did you think you would win?

I completely had myself convinced that i wasn't going to stand a chance of winning, or even coming top three. Did you see my other competitors, they were all gorgeous, warm, wonderful people! All of them showed me so much love and support throughout the entire process. The competition was taken light heartedly with the other boys and we had a chat group where we kept in touch and gave each other encouragement. Our mentality was that this was a fun night and we should go out there and put on a show and entertain the crowd, it never felt like the result was the biggest part of it. I made some friends through this and for me, that’s the biggest win.

So, what did you feel like when you were announced as the winner?

Total disbelief, it took me a second to realise that it was my name Andrew Clarke had shouted out. I actually turned to Jason just before the result was read out and said, “You got this”, I was convinced. To be honest, i just wanted to get off the stage and get my pint back in my hand, the pressure was done and i just wanted to shake my booty for the rest of the night.

When i realised it was my name, i had that moment where you feel your Adam’s apple hit the pit of your stomach and for that split second you forget to breathe. I had no idea what to do and to be honest the next 5 minutes is a bit of a blur in my mind. I remember hugging the other competitors and just not really getting why, i was expecting someone to tell me they were just joking, or doing a Steve Harvey and just getting it wrong.

Now i look back, i feel so proud of myself and the others, i feel even more love for those who encouraged me to jump back out there and show the world that the end of a relationship doesn't mean the end of me. The other competitors and I were never cut throat and competitive with each other, it was all done with smiles, laughter and loving support for each other, and i think we achieved our goal of putting on a good piece of entertainment. That’s what any bear event should be based on.

That’s great! Finally, what do you plan to do with your title?

I’m going to have my head held high for the year, proudly telling anyone who will listen that Birmingham has a great bear community, built of fun, respect and acceptance. I will continue to promote the notion that “Bear” isn’t a physical attribute but a state of mind and if you look for it, the support and community you find will be there. I would love the Birmingham bear scene to continue growing, month on month, at Midbears events until we are just as well-known and respected as elsewhere in the country.

Yogi, thanks for speaking with us and all the best for your year ahead.

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