“It was so much fun. Everyone was going quite hard because people were just so stoked to be there.”
With England’s bars and restaurants open again for the first time in months, London’s West End sprang back to life on what many dubbed “Super Saturday”.
And for Kathryn Lennon, it wasn’t just her first night out in months, it was her first proper night out in the UK.
The 25-year-old had not long settled into her flat in Clapham, south-west London, and sorted out her registration as an intensive care nurse when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Then it was weeks of 18-hour days from “hell”, losing two or three patients a day, with no chance of a night out to release the tension. Her family were thousands of miles away in Cairns, Australia.
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So it’s fair to say Kathryn was ready for it.
She slipped into high heels, left the mask at home – “no girl is going to smudge her make-up” – and headed into central London in mid-afternoon with friend and colleague, Dan Cahill, 23.
“It was phenomenal,” she tells Newsbeat. “We had such a great time. It reminded me what life’s all about.”
By evening, the streets around Soho and Oxford Circus were packed.
But having seen the effects of the pandemic at its height, Kathryn was reassured by the bar staff wearing masks and gloves, by their efforts to make clear the rules on distancing and remaining seated.
With limits on numbers, there was plenty of space in bars. But the old party atmosphere was back on the streets – time for an Abba singalong anyone?
Social distancing had “gone out of the window” by the time they left at 22:00 BST.
It’s the sort of scene that prompted the chair of the Police Federation to raise concerns about people’s ability to follow rules. However, police thanked the majority for acting responsibly.
Kathryn says: “Life is about having fun and we’ve all realised the importance of human interaction from a mental health point of view.”
As Dan put it: “To be with everyone else, in such a special atmosphere, makes me feel really happy knowing what we have done has made a real difference.”
A ‘different vibe’
Saturday was always going to be a big one for recruitment consultant Michael Leszman, 23. Before lockdown, he would go for a drink three or four times a week.
Since then, he’s been restricted to the occasional socially distanced beer in a field.
“It’s not the same as being in a group of 15, all belting out Sweet Caroline,” he says.
So he was through the doors of the Horse and Well, in Woodford, Essex, before 13:00, where tables were fully reserved. His group of four didn’t leave until closing time.
“The vibe was a little bit different,” he admits, with a Sunday morning croak in his voice.
“The football was on and usually it’d get quite packed in and people get a bit more worked up but it was much calmer.
“Often they have live music and they couldn’t do that. So it wasn’t quite a normal Saturday night.
“But we had a great night. It was nice to be out and see a lot of people I haven’t seen for a long time.”
The chance of a night out might have come as a relief to drinkers, but how did the bar staff feel about it?
On the other side of the bar…
Abby, 18, a student, is used to busy shifts pulling pints, taking food orders and waiting tables at the busy Yorkshire pub where she’s worked since last autumn.
But it was a very different workplace on Saturday, with table service only, restrictions on customer numbers and her job being limited to one duty – taking drinks orders – all night.
“I was quite nervous to go back because we have a lot of older regulars and I wasn’t sure if they’d want to follow the rules.”
In the end, a younger group were the only ones who caused trouble.
“There was a group of lads and they kept trying to slide over to talk to some girls on another table, so they got thrown out.
“But apart from that, it was a nice atmosphere. The music was low and it was nice to hear the chatter.”
With fewer drinkers, and chairs and tables carefully sprayed before a new group arrived, cleaning up at the end of the shift was a quick job.
“We were able to chill out for a bit after closing and catch up with workmates, which was really nice. A lot of us were relieved as we thought it was going to be ridiculous with big queues outside.”
Heading out wasn’t everyone’s idea of fun, though.
For the past few months, Eliza’s trips out have been limited to medical appointments and walking her dog, Pod – short for Podrick – around her local park in south-east London.
With multiple health complaints – including stomach issues, OCD and anxiety – and vulnerable family members, the 23-year-old designer had already had a stressful experience returning an item to a shop.
So going to the pub just didn’t feel worth the risk.
“I don’t feel it’s safe,” says Eliza, who did not want her full name used. “We need to be really careful and I wouldn’t feel comfortable in an environment where [the virus] could potentially spread.”
Instead, she and her partner, Michael, had friends round to enjoy an Indian takeaway and a few beers in the garden.
“It was really nice. It was a bit grey but we cosied up under blankets and managed to keep the candle lit all night,” says Eliza, who is also a disability and mental health YouTuber.
There was one element of Super Saturday she wasn’t going to miss out on, however: a trip to the hairdresser.
“It was actually really lovely,” she says. “They were wearing visors and had the door open, and I washed my hands when I went in and left. It was really nice to be pampered for half an hour.”