Notting Hill Carnival is going ahead after all. Yay!
After 47 years of ladies in sparkling bikinis and men in feathered headdresses parading through the music-filled streets of north-west London, Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest street festival, was this year under threat of being cancelled for the first time ever, over fears it would trigger more riots.
Then last week it was announced the party would not (save for a 7pm curfew) be stopped in the face of a bunch of teenage looters. But defiance is what Notting Hill Carnival is about – its roots are in 19th-century Caribbean carnivals that celebrated the abolition of the slave trade.
This year, the event will be bigger and better than any before, says the director of Notting Hill Carnival, Ancil Barclay: “We had backing from the home secretary to the dustman in the street. This year we have more support than any other year for Carnival. And this year we also have more performers than any other year.”
With an extra £50,000 spent on stewarding and the Metropolitan Police increasing numbers of officers, organisers are making sure the 80-float procession and 500 musicians set to perform – along with over one million attendees – are kept safe.
Carnival began in 1964 with 500 people, when steel bands paraded through W11, reminding Caribbean residents of their homes and drawing them out on to the streets.
Now, it has grown, with scores of other nationalities joining the party.
“It’s the largest culturally diverse festival in this part of the world,” Barclay says. “It’s an opportunity to see the Brazilians in the streets of London, it’s an opportunity to see the Asians in the streets of London, it’s an opportunity to see people from all parts of the Caribbean showcasing their art forms, their food their drinks, we have people from Germany we have France. It’s an international melting pot.”
Notting Hill Carnival is embodied by five “disciplines”. There’s steel pan, calypso and soca music from Trinidad and sound systems (originally from Jamaica, playing hip hop, r’n’b, reggae roots and culture calypso).
But the biggest part of the carnival is Mas (or Masquerade – the costumes and floats made for the procession), which Barclay cites as the must-see part of the festival. For anyone wanting to uncover what goes on at Carnival away from the procession, there are parties in the surrounding streets. Sancho Panza, held where Middle Row and Conlan Street cross over (sanchopanza.org), hosts secret gigs throughout the festival (they’re announced the day they happen, but past acts have been Rob da Bank and Stanton Warriors).
There’ll be bars serving Notting Hill-themed cocktails and free flower garlands being handed out to some of the 10,000 people expected to turn up.
Camila Beeston, brand manager for Sancho Panza’s sponsor, Passoã, says the atmosphere there is intimate despite the numbers. “Sancho Panza is all about enjoying life, sharing with your friends, experiencing the exotic, freedom and spontaneity.”
It’s good to know that years on, against the odds, Carnival still hasn't lost its heart and soul.
Notting Hill Carnival
Across Notting Hill. Free. Aug 28-29, 9am-7pm.
Tube: Notting Hill Gate/ Westbourne Park
– Clare Vooght