Who doesn’t know about Notting Hill Carnival? It is one of the biggest annual festivals in the world that has taken place in London since 1966. Being held on the August bank holiday Monday and the previous Sunday, this event will last for 2-3 days, starting at 9.30 a.m and finishing at 7 p.m., before moving the excitement to the after party. There, you can watch a large-scale parade, steel bands as well as live music, and don’t forget about the impressive dancers. Plus, you can try a lot of Caribbean food and several drinks too.
Maybe you are interested in this carnival, so you want to know more about it before actually going there. Or maybe you live in London or a tourist who has already experienced the fun yourself and you want to reminisce about the times you attended the carnival, this article is made for you! Containing 15 Notting Hill Carnival facts that everyone needs to know, we are certain that you will get more knowledge after reading these. Ready to discover them all?
1. You Won’t Be Charged to Enter Notting Hill Carnival
If you are wondering how much does it cost to visit Notting Hill Carnival, then we are glad to tell you that it is free! You will not be charged to enter because the main carnival is unticketed. However, you will be charged if you are planning to go to the after party that kicks off from 10:00 p.m. at the Ministry of Sound in Elephant & Castle until 6 in the morning. Still, make sure to carry some cash before you join the carnival since there are some food and drink stalls that will save you from starving after having fun for hours.
2. It Is the Second Largest Annual Arts Event in the World and the Largest in Europe
When the Notting Hill Carnival was first held, only about 500 people attended it. But today, it is a lot different since its popularity has increased over the last 5 decades. Notting Hill Carnival now creates a huge crowd involving around 2 million people, 40,000 volunteers and 9,000 police. With such a myriad number of participants, Notting Hill Carnival immediately became the second largest annual arts event in the world, after Brazil’s Rio Carnival. It is also considered as the largest street festival in Europe.
3. Born Because of the Race Riots in Notting Hill
You might be surprised that the rousing London’s carnival we know these days was initially born because of the race riots in Notting Hill. The white nationalists openly hostile thousands of the black newcomers from Caribbean countries, some even attacked physically in 1958.
Five months later, on January 30, 1959, a Trinidadian human rights activist named Claudia Jones organized an indoor ‘Caribbean Carnival’ event at St Pancras Town Hall. The first outdoor festival then took place in the streets of Notting Hill in 1966 and has been held annually ever since.
4. Number of Death Caused by Notting Hill Carnival Were Much Less Than Saturday England Football Matches
Knowing how many participants took part in Notting Hill Carnival, the number of riots that occurred would certainly be a lot too. Therefore, thousands of police were assigned to secure several locations where Notting Hill Carnival was held. However, if you think that this event takes a lot of lives, you are very wrong.
Since it was held until now, only 5 people have died because of this carnival in 4 different years. They are Michael A. Galvin, Nicholas J. Hanscomb, Greg Fitzgerald, Abdul Munam Bhatti and Lee Christopher Surbaran. The first three were stabbed, while the other two were beaten to death and shot by a machine pistol. Even so, this number is much less compared to Saturday’s England football matches, such as the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 which killed 96 people.
5. There Are More White Visitors Than Blacks in the Carnival
We have mentioned before that Notting Hill Carnival as Europe’s annual biggest street festival attracts around two and a half million people. But, you also need to know that only 20% of them are foreign tourists.
More details, the other 20% are visitors from other parts of the UK, while the 60% are from London or local people. In contrast to the origin of this carnival that is to celebrate the British West Indian community, two-thirds of participants are white and the rest are mainly Afro-Caribbean. Nevertheless, the event continues to act as a bridge to the cultural gap between the both communities.
6. Approximately 1 Million Man Hours Are Needed to Create 15,000 Handmade Costumes Every Year
There are many reasons why Notting Hill Carnival is so popular and eagerly awaited. One of which is because of the incredible costumes worn by performers at festivals. Roughly 15,000 costumes are handmade each year and every single one is made by hand.
The costumes are the traditional Caribbean carnival costumes, thus around 1 million man hours are needed to create these masterpieces by hand. Usually, costumes are made with brightly-colored feathers with sequin pattern accents. This adds-up around 30 million sequins, 15,000 plumed feathers and 30 liters of body paint are used every year to make Notting Hill Carnival costumes.
7. The Carnival Inspired The Clash to Write Their Song
Notting Hill Carnival as the second largest street festival not only has stunning performances but it also has an ability to inspire a lot of people, one of them is the frontman of The Clash, Joe Strummer. He wrote a song, titled “White Riot,” after he, his bandmate Paul Simonon and their manager Bernie Rhodes were attending Notting Hill Carnival in West London when a great disaster burst-forth on 30th August 1976. They got caught up in the riots and saw the mess with their own eyes which made Joe write a song urging white youth to have courage like black people in fighting government oppression.
8. Your Children Are Allowed to Join the Carnival
Don’t hesitate to take your children to the carnival because there is absolutely no prohibition against it. If you are worried about crowds that will harm the children, don’t go on Monday when it gets hectic. Instead, you can go on Sunday which is considered “family day” at Notting Hill Carnival since it is a lot easier to get around and see more things. Besides, the music playing on the center stage will also be age-appropriate, so the children are encouraged to have fun without sacrificing their safety.
9. The Moko Jumbie
At Notting Hill Carnival, you will meet so many traditional characters (or widely known as Ole Mas) that have their own story and individual representation. Some of them are the Blue Devils, Pierrot Grenade and Sailor Mas. But, we should never miss the famous Moko Jumbie’s appearance for the carnival!
It is a stilt-walking masquerader that always wears colorful garb, including plaid fabrics and large straw hats. The name “Moko” means healer in Central Africa, while “Jumbi” is a West Indian word which is derived from the Kongo language word ‘zumbi’ for a ghost or spirit.
10. You Should Expect a Chocolate Slap If You Attend the Carnival on Sunday
Notting Hill Carnival is held for 2-3 days on every late August bank holiday weekend, thus the vibe must feel different on each day. On Sunday, for example, there is a tradition among the carnival-goers to slap each other with a handful of melted chocolate. So, you should expect a chocolate slap if you are going to attend the carnival on that day. And oh, don’t hold a grudge against the person who slaps you, alright?
11. Adele Got a Cultural Appropriation for Joining Notting Hill Carnival in 2020
As the biggest street festival in London, Notting Hill surely attracts many people, including celebrities. Some of them were the famous singer Rihanna, British model Jourdan Dunn, and the model-turned actress Cara Delevingne.
But did you know that Adele, a singer who is known for her song ‘Hello’, once uploaded a picture of herself on instagram to show her appreciation of Notting Hill Carnival in 2020, but then got a cultural appropriation backlash because of her outfit? She was wearing Bantu knots, the small coiled buns typically associated with people of African descent, and a Jamaican flag bikini. Consequently, she got criticism and hate from the internet. However, there are also some Black artists who defended her by giving supportive comments, like Popcaan.
12. There Is No Parade in the Carnival Until the Band Took an Impromptu Walk in 1964
Initially, the Caribbean Carnival was held only in St. Pancras Town Hall, so it was considered an indoor festival that obviously had no parade. But, the Russell Henderson Steel Band, which had been part of the carnival since 1960, made a huge difference in 1966. The band took an impromptu walk after Russ suggested moving the barriers from the street and making a block of it.
Once they reached the corner of Ladbroke Grove, they went to Holland Park and continued to Notting Hill Gate. They got a lot of crowd and went along the Bayswater Road and turned up Queensway, to the Westbourne Grove and back to Ladbroke Grove.
13. It Contributes a Massive Income for London
As Notting Hill Carnival became the largest street festival in Europe, it might be no longer surprising that it contributes a massive income for its host city, London. It is because the carnival acts as the icon of London’s public event, which obviously lures people to come there. Approximately, a million visitors from across the capital, the UK and across the world come every year, just because they want to experience the excitement of this carnival directly in person.
According to the data, Notting Hill Carnival in 2002 affected the London economy with an impact on incomes of £93 million, while the estimated cost of the carnival, such as for training, policing and enforcement, is just around £6-10 million. Surely a lot of money, right?
14. Blur’s Unreleased Song Has Saved Notting Hill Carnival From Being Canceled in 2011
On August 4, 2011, only a few days before the carnival took place, riots occurred in London. It was a revolt against the police in Tottenham who shot Mark Duggan twice to death because the police believed that he was carrying a gun. The riots started two days later and this, more or less, has affected Notting Hill Carnival.
When people began doubting the carnival, Blur, the popular British rock band, came to rescue. In the same year, Damon Albarn, the lead vocalist, revealed that Blur has recorded a new song which is an impromptu collaboration with the poet Michael Horovitz. Albarn said that the new track was acting as a campaign to save the Notting Hill Carnival from being canceled by the officials because of the riots that just happened in the same month.
15. The Carnival Was Held Virtually for the First Time Due To the Pandemic
After being held regularly every year since 1966, in 2020, Notting Hill Carnival had to be conducted in an online format. This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic which requires people to maintain social distance. Therefore, holding the carnival as in previous years became impossible.
However, with the Virtual Notting Hill Carnival, people from all over the world can watch it at the same time. This 54th carnival can be livestreamed on the YouTube platform and also on Google Arts and Culture. Still and all, the carnival has successfully provided global audiences with exciting performances from 15 steel bands and many other artists and dancers. Did you stream it?