‘A great shame’ – reactions to Notting Hill Carnival’s cancellation


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We knew it wasn’t going to be good news, but the finality of it still came as a shock, a blow to the heart: Notting Hill Carnival is cancelled.

The sages were telling us that life support for NHC 2020 would soon have to be switched off, but how could we not hope that somehow a miracle could be plucked from the ashes of our Covid-wrecked spring and summer? It was not to be and we have to accept our August bank holiday won’t be spent in the warm embrace of rum and soca and pan and barbecue smoke and tens of thousands of fellow revellers.

Reactions were mostly sad but realistic, praising organiser NHCL for doing the right thing. A few wondered why they hadn’t done it earlier, given the escalating casualty statistics in our unequal war against the virus.

Naturally, a minority used it to bash Carnival and crow over its temporary absence from the streets of W11 – but, as Soca News suggests elsewhere, their authors may not be the anti-Carnival die-hards we might assume.

In a statement issued by the London Mayor’s Office, Sadiq Khan was much more supportive:

It’s a great shame that Notting Hill Carnival will not be celebrated on our streets this year, but the Board has made the right decision to change the format of this year’s event for the good of everyone’s health… it would not be appropriate to have more than a million people physically joining together in August. We will work with the community to celebrate carnival in a creative and safe way, keeping carnival’s unifying spirit alive, and look forward to when we can unite again on the streets of London.

Over at Kensington Town Hall, RBKC Culture, Leisure and Community Safety head Cllr Emma Will said:

It is a huge shame; so many people have put in so much effort to get Carnival ready for 2020, including our own officers here at the CouncilThis now gives us all an opportunity to explore how we can still celebrate Carnival in different ways this summer, before bringing it back even better in 2021.

Mas bands will be seriously affected by the loss of Carnival this year, but many had resigned themselves to the situation. Well before the axe fell, Ray Mahabir, leader of Sunshine International Arts, had already decided to pull out, saying,

As a band leader of a family-oriented mas band I am sad that this year my members are unable to rejoice and celebrate the annual Notting Hill Carnival. For most of my members this is the one time of the year they can celebrate the cultural of the roots of their forefathers and the culture they belong to. I feel for my members, as the carnival I create is their love and passion… BUT LIVES COME FIRST!

Ray ended on a positive note: “aH sea of …HopE… LOVE…LIFE…de silver lining…”

One band decided to give NHC 2020 a miss even earlier – in December, when the virus was still jumping from bat to man. DUKA Mas Dominik UK’s leader, Vincent John, admitted that with hindsight that decision “appears to be very prescient; however, we did not anticipate that a pandemic would be the main driver”. He warned: “From the perspective of one who loves Carnival but must at the same time be realistic, the Covid-19 pandemic is very likely to have adverse repercussions for Carnival in the next few years.” In a separate article, Vincent has set out his thoughts on some of those repercussions and how we can adapt to them.

Taking a year off may give carnival leaders some useful time to make some overdue improvements to the event, some commentators suggested. Alex Loewenthal – better known to fans of the ACASA London Calypso Tent as calypsonian Alexander D Great – said:

It gives an opportunity for carnival disciplines to expand their creative thinking and find ways for the public to engage with carnival activities on line in a truly international manner.

The London Calypso Tent will be looking at ways of presenting our new calypsos to a much wider audience than our traditional physical one, but it will require some positive planning to bring it to fruition, a challenge which we all welcome.

Still, we have to accept that Carnival might not be the ideal way to bring down that famous ‘R’ number. Carnivalist, commentator, writer and academic Ruth Tompsett reminded us why we need to be patient this year:

The essence of Notting Hill Carnival is a kind of abandon, a chance to be other and out of your usual self ‑ the absolute contrary to 2 metre distancing!

  • How do you feel about the cancellation of Notting Hill Carnival or any of the other carnivals in the UK and around the world this year? Has it affected you financially? What will you be doing instead over the August bank holiday? Use our social media platforms to share your thoughts.