We’ve had Carnival on postage stamps, Carnival down the Mall, Carnival at the opening of the London Olympics. And now Carnival has come to the heart of the former imperial power, on the very doorstep of no 10 Downing Street. Who, 70 years ago when the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, would have thought it possible?
The so-called Downing Street Carnival, on 22 August, was hosted by Lord Bourne, minister for faith. It was very much focused on children, and rightly so. It was a couple of small children’s street parties that first brought Russ Henderson’s steelpan trio out on to the west London streets in 1964 and 1965. Rhaune Laslett and her London Free School collaborators – who had been campaigning for safe play spaces in the area – then decided to hold a week-long event that would involve children (and adults) from all of Notting Hill’s diverse communities.
The first Notting Hill Fayre took place in September 1966 and, despite a mean-spirited last-minute withdrawal of funding by Kensington & Chelsea Council, was pronounced a great success and laid the foundations for what grew into Europe’s biggest annual outdoor event.
As Notting Hill Carnival Limited (NHCL) executive director Matthew Phillip made clear at the Carnival Launch on 19 July, the organisers are determined to bring children back into the forefront of Carnival. The first half of Carnival Sunday – traditionally Children’s Day, but in reality dominated by mud mas and T-shirt party bands in recent years – will be reserved for children’s mas.
Phillip said: “We are proud to be supporting more children’s bands as well as helping areas of Carnival, like Meanwhile Gardens, put on more children’s activities.”
Around 100 children took part in the afternoon event representing several mas bands ‑ DD Projects, Invaders, Lagniappe, Mahogany, Soca Massive, Tropical Isles and Tropical Mas. Music was provided by junior steelpan talent from Ebony Cubs, Love TKO sound system and calypso veteran Tobago Crusoe, who sang the iconic Lord Kitchener hit London is the Place for Me. And to complete the Caribbean ambience of the event, there was a barbecue provided by long-time Notting Hill food stall Heart and Soul Catering.
The event certainly met with His Lordship’s approval. “I was delighted to host today’s mini-carnival on Downing Street ahead of what I’m sure will be another successful Carnival,” declared Lord Bourne.