Always a highlight of the London festival season, this late summer street party, the largest of it’s kind in Europe, has a flavour all of it’s own. Now, with the 2020 edition of the carnival cancelled due to the Coronavirus Crisis, preparations are already under way for the Notting Hill Carnival 2021.
The carnival, which began as a celebration of the British West Indian community, has grown from a small neighbourhood street party to an event of international significance which regularly attracts in excess of one million people every year.
Now in it’s 55th year, the Notting Hill Carnival will once again fill the streets of west London with a never ending stream of feel good music and spectacular colour as traditional Caribbean music and modern sound systems do battle to see who can be the most popular and also the loudest!
It’s the parade that most people come to see, off course. The costumes have to be seen to be believed and the dancing often leaving little to the imagination.
The History of the Notting Hill Carnival
The event is the brainchild of two remarkable women, Claudia Jones and Rhaune Laslett. Driven to do something positive for community relations at a time of heightened racial tension and in the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill riots, Jones organised a small ‘Caribbean carnival’ in St Pancras Town Hall on 30th January 1959. The BBC broadcast the event in the hope that it would improve community relations by showcasing Caribbean culture.
The first organised out door event would have to wait another seven years however. The woman behind it was a social worker called Rhaune Laslett. The daughter of a Russian mother and a native American father, Laslett was already active in the local community having founded the London Free School with journalist John Hopkins.
In 1966, Laslett had a vision in which she saw people of all races dancing through the streets. Lascett soon turned her vision into a street party. In order to foster better community relations , Laslett sought participants from all of Notting Hill’s ethnic communities.
Crucially she also invited a renowned Trinidadian musician, Russell Henderson, to perform with his steel-pan band. When the day arrived, Henderson led his band through a few numbers as arranged but then decided to take his band for a impromptu parade through the surrounding streets. The reaction was overwhelming. The Notting Hill carnival was born.
The Notting Hill Carnival is a not to be missed centre piece of London’s summer event calendar but given its size and scale, the event can prove a challenge to the first timer. So, here’s our handy guide to making the most out of the event.
Where does the event take place?
The carnival moves through the streets of Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park with the main body of the event beginning on Great Western Road, before moving off down Chepstow Road, Westbourne Grove and Ladbroke Grove.
When should I get there?
The carnival normally starts around 10am although the exact timings for this year’s parade will be confirmed as the event approaches.
How should I travel to and from the carnival?
Given the scale of the event, all modes of travel will be affected to some extent during the carnival. Road traffic increases dramatically over the weekend and the Tube and bus network can be incredibly busy on both days. The best advice is to check the Transport for London website before you set off for the carnival and before you make your way home.
Do I need a ticket for the event?
No. The Notting Hill Carnival 2021 is completely free.
Is the carnival child friendly?
Yes, especially on Sunday when the carnival holds a special Family Day. Sunday is the ‘quiet’ day (just don’t tell the bands!) and it the best day to take the family along with you.
Will food and drink be available at the carnival?
Err…yes! The carnival has a dazzling array of street food – everything from Caribbean style cooking to Asian and south American street food. So, whatever you choose, you definitely won’t go hungry at the event.
How will this year’s carnival differ from previous events?
The carnival seems to get bigger and better each year and whilst we have not yet heard news of what’s going on this year, you can safely assume that the Notting Hill Carnival 2021 will be another cracker.
Is the carnival safe?
Relative to the number of people who attend the event, the number of arrests and prosecutions is quite low. Carnival goers should exercise basic safety practices like keeping an eye on your belongings in crowded areas and not taking unnecessary valuables, but there is certainly nothing to worry about.
What kind of music can I expect at the carnival?
When the carnival began, it was designed purely as a celebration of the music and culture of the West Indies. Therefore, the music at the event reflected this, with a traditional mix of soca and calypso.
However, as time has passed by, the carnival has come to reflect the tastes of young Londoners just as much as that of the older generation who first embraced the event. So nowadays you can expect to hear most forms of music at the carnival – from soca and calypso, to r’n’b, reggae, rap, hip hop and dance music.
The Notting Hill Carnival 2021 will take place on the 29th and 30th of August 2021.
More information about the event can be found here.
Information about other great outdoor events in London can be found here.