Key West residents are well known for their big hearts, especially when it comes to the island’s remarkable number of fundraisers for charities and nonprofit organizations.

Fantasy Fest 2017 king and queen

King Paul and Queen Destiny, garbed in royal regalia, greet their “subjects” after the coronation. (All photos by Peter Arnow)

One of the standout events is the Fantasy Fest Royal Campaign, which has been held each fall since 1989. Fantasy Fest, for those who don’t know, is the island’s outrageous 10-day costuming and masking festival that takes place in October.

In August the candidates for festival king and queen are officially introduced, and then the royal showdown begins.

The candidates are local men and women who volunteer to host events around Key West to raise funds for the Florida Keys’ AIDS Help organization. The royal hopefuls who raise the most money are crowned king and queen of Fantasy Fest, with the runners-up serving as their court.

This year’s festival royalty assumed their thrones Oct. 20 at the Coronation Ball, which is the official kick-off event for Fantasy Fest. Paul Murphy was crowned king, Destiny Montgomery was named queen, and Bucky Montgomery and Vicki Hodgson became duke and duchess.

The new royal family — despite fundraising efforts being interrupted by an unwelcome September hurricane named Irma — was able to raise more than $129,000!

King Paul was recently holding court, and I asked him to introduce himself to his new “subjects” who read this blog.

Keys Voices: How long have you lived in Key West?

Paul Murphy: I have been here in Key West for four years this coming March. My best friend invited me for a vacation the year before, and I fell in love with the island (and with someone). After a second visit, I decided that I wanted to make Key West my home.

King and Queen Fantasy Fest fundraising

The royal family raised more than $129,00 for the Keys’ AIDS Help organization — a remarkable and heartwarming feat.

KV: What was your inspiration for participating in this year’s royal campaign?

PM: I used to do a lot of fundraising in the U.K. for Positive East, as a friend of mine volunteered for them and sadly passed away. I felt it was about time to do something in Key West and this was the year.

KV: What motivated you and your fellow candidates to continue the campaign after Hurricane Irma, even though AIDS Help offered the option of canceling it this year?

PM: Tradition! There was no way that Irma was going to wipe out nearly 30 years of royal campaigning for AIDS Help.

KV: What were some of the challenges of raising money while the Keys were recovering from the hurricane?

PM: The main challenge for me was that there were not that many people around, and they were busy with cleaning up. I held most of my events at the end of September so that people were ready to get back to some sort of normalcy.

KV: What events that you held helped raise the most money for your campaign?

PM: The orchid auction raised a very large amount of money, but all my events raised more than I could have expected at this hard time. My Gatsby party was definitely one to remember — seeing all those people turn up in costume really was fantastic and emotional for me. I have decided my legacy will be that I will hold a yearly Gatsby party and raise money for AIDS Help.

2017 Fantasy Fest royal family

The 2017 royal family consists of (from left) Duchess Vicki, King Paul, Queen Destiny and Duke Bucky.

KV: How many volunteers helped with your campaign?

PM: I had a very strong team behind me — about 16. I was also very fortunate to have a wonderful campaign manager, Jacqueline Luhta, who made everything run smoothly.

KV: How would you describe the community that helped the candidates raise such an astonishing amount of money in such a difficult year?

PM: Amazingly awesome. We truly are “One Human Family” here, and the LGBTQ community is great in helping and donating not only money but their time too. I am proud to be part of this community and island.


These days Key West is back in full swing, with Irma well behind us. So why not make a trip to the Florida Keys? You might not be greeted with a crown, but you’ll get the royal treatment!

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