BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Saturday, 27 August 2005, 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK
Changing face of carnival
By Marie Jackson
BBC News, London

Woman in costume at Notting Hill Carnival, pic by London Notting Hill Carnival Limited
Carnival is a 93m-a-year industry
At its roots, the Notting Hill Carnival is about the ideals of freedom, unity and community empowerment.

For 41 years it has been run by community-based organisations drawing ever larger crowds, albeit with criticisms over management and safety issues.

But some fear those ideals may be in jeopardy, as London mayor Ken Livingstone tries to get a grip on the globally-renowned event that generates more than 90m a year and supports the equivalent of 3,000 full-time jobs.

Following a four-year-long consultation process, the mayor is clear about what he wants but organisers are not ready to give the carnival up.

"The community is not about to allow local governments, in whatever guise, to take over the event, said Chris Boothman, of London Notting Hill Carnival Limited (LNHCL).

"We are happy for them to be involved but it's not going to become the mayor's carnival."

Spiritual home

In November last year, Mr Livingstone described his vision for Carnival 2005. He said he wanted to use Hyde Park, in central London, as the event's starting point.

There, the costumes and bands would be judged before the procession followed one of three possible routes to end in Notting Hill, the spiritual home of the carnival.

Chris Boothman, London Notting Hill Carnival Limited
It is a bit like Chelsea playing Arsenal and then kids playing a game down the road
Chris Boothman, London Notting Hill Carnival Limited

The reality is rather different.

This year, the traditional route starting in Ladbroke Grove and winding round to Great Western Road will remain.

Hyde Park, however, will become part of the day for the first time but solely under the mayor's banner.

The free family event on bank holiday - which the mayor says will complement the carnival - is called Caribbean Showcase. The aim is to draw 5,000 visitors to different zones featuring music, business, arts food and fashion.

Mr Livingstone said: "It is particularly aimed at families and others who want to be part of the weekend's carnival celebrations and experience the diversity of London's Caribbean culture, but want to avoid the crowds in the centre of carnival."

'Deeply suspicious'

But those involved in the original carnival have been reluctant to embrace it.

Angela Duncan Thompson, from the Notting Hill mas bands association, said: "That's his event. This is our event.

"It won't split us because this is a community carnival. The community is big enough - it can sustain both. But we know we are not giving up."

Girl in costume at Notting Hill Carnival, pic by London Notting Hill Carnival Limited
Carnival's board chairman says the festival 'is London in many ways'

Mr Boothman, of LNHCL, said: "It's a bit like Chelsea playing Arsenal and then kids playing a game down the road.

"I don't think it's going to create a problem."

The dismissive reaction to the mayor's event appears to be symptomatic of a deeper divide between his office and carnival organisers.

Mr Boothman, who previously sat on the mayor's review group, said there had been a number of "quite difficult" meetings over the last year between organisers, the Mayor's Office and other partners.

"There is a consensus that the current route was not sufficient to withstand the capacity of growing numbers but there was no consensus as to what that change should be," he said.

"There needs to be a proper consultation process, particularly with those who know and understand what carnival is.

"With all due respect to the mayor, he does not know that much about carnival routes.

"People are deeply suspicious. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the mayor's people are trying to take it over."

Power tussle

The mayor first became involved five years ago when he called for a consultation with carnival stakeholders, residents and statutory agencies.

A strategic review published in 2004 recommended a non-circular route incorporating Hyde Park, Bayswater Road and Harrow Road as part of a new route for Carnival 2005.

It also stated the Mayor of London should "continue to provide a strategic role in overseeing the implementation of recommendations".

While many agree with the conclusion that the carnival has outgrown its home of 41 years, they are not ready to hand over control of the event.

The current chairman of LNHCL Professor Chris Mullard said as a neutral chairman he does not have a vision for carnival 2006, but he did say any changes should reflect what the communities want.

"Should it be carnivalists and the community who control the changes or some other party?" he said.

"The community are saying it's our carnival - that is at the heart of it."

Carnival 'not a bombing target'
25 Aug 05 |  London
Carnival gang jailed for murder
28 Jul 05 |  London


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific