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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 August 2005, 08:26 GMT 09:26 UK
Carry on carnival
Dancer at carnival
The carnival has survived 41 years

Despite the power struggles, the future of the Notting Hill Carnival is as stable as it has ever been, writes BBC London community affairs reporter Errol Murray, who has been involved with the event for 20 years.

Head for Ladbroke Grove on Sunday and you could end up with mud on your face.

'J'ouvert' or 'Jouve' marks the start of the Notting Hill Carnival's festivities.

In Trinidad, revellers daub paint and mud on themselves and that tradition has now been taken up here.

2004: 750,000
2003: 600,000
2002: 1.4m
2001: 1.25m
2000: 1.5m
1999: 1.4m
1998: 1.15m
1997: 1.3m
1996: 1m

It is seen as a way of driving away demons. Once washed off it reflects baptism.

But if we apply that concept to Notting Hill Carnival, they will be needing an ocean of mud.

The event, which has run for 41 years, has seen plenty of new additions and if it is to continue, will face huge changes.

But how prepared the carnivalists are to take the event into the future remains to be seen.

The first challenge to square up to the carnival was the Jamaicans.

In the early years, scores of steel drummers revived memories of home in Trinidad by parading down Bayswater Road and back up Ladbroke Grove with costumed youth, calypsonians and even a donkey cart.

Elisar Cabrera's picture of children's day at the Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill has a children's day on Sunday

The mood was lively and people carrying their weekend shopping would join in and take part.

But that was before reggae and the sound systems moved in.

By the early 70s, kilowatts of heavyweight bass were pumped out by sound systems set up off-route, along Powis Square and Acklam Road.

This proved to be an instant crowd-pleaser but was viewed as competition by the steel pan players when speaker boxes were inevitably hauled onto the carnival route.

On the route today, an uneasy truce barely hides the fact that pan players have been all but drowned-out by the vinyl junkies.

More people come to rave to Rampage and Norman Jay's Good Times playing house, garage, hip hop, reggae and soul, than admire the fabulous costumes, or even hear the pan musicians.

Petty criminals

Whether they are watching a football match or listening to rock music, large crowds always attract crime.

It is the same with the carnival.

Too many petty criminals use the event to settle scores, or gain payback for minor cases of disrespect.

In 2000, this resulted in the murders of 21-year-old Greg Watson and 28-year-old Abdul Bhatti - two men who joined hundreds of thousands of others to party, but never went home.

Street dancer
There were just 101 arrests in 2002

This saw the cost of policing rise to 4m, with 10,000 officers putting on a performance that would have been greatly received years before.

By 2002 the extra investment had paid off - with a crowd of 1.25 million people. There were just 101 arrests.

Compared with Glastonbury 2002 - two deaths, 270 arrests, 100,000 people - it was clear that a vital corner had been turned.

Although the carnival is a street festival and not favoured by all residents, it was never violent.

So stepping up policing from 300 to 3,000 officers in just one year was a clumsy and heavy-handed attempt to curb minor incursions.

This led to a needless riot in 1976, and one of the worst reputations a party could ever have.

Falling out

Next to change the carnival was politics.

At first there were minor squabbles over who ran the event and which disciplines were favoured most.

Then the carnival organisers turned on themselves.

In 2002 a major falling out saw the former carnival committee chair Claire Holder locked out of her office by colleagues.

Male dancer at carnival
Mr Livingstone favours a linear route over the current circular one

She was suspended shortly after a no-confidence vote but, following a protracted legal battle, won a five-figure sum at the High Court this year.

But there was more to come. For 25 years the event was managed by a collective with minimal money and no sponsors.

Before the riot in 1976 it was not viewed as a major event.

In February 2003 the Notting Hill Carnival Trust was replaced by a new body to run the event - London Notting Hill Carnival Ltd.

Professor Chris Mullard was called in to chair the new group.

But the Greater London Authority (GLA) was not happy with the former trust's accounting.

Lee Jasper, the mayor's race advisor, claimed the previous year's accounts had not been settled and held back on grants of 50,000.

The London Arts Council also criticised the trust's poor accounting and business practices, and announced it would give its 60,000 funding directly to the carnival artists.

'Ken carnival'

But the biggest controversy was saved for the route.

A review set up by London mayor Ken Livingstone looked into scrapping the troublesome existing circular route for safety reasons.

Mr Livingstone favoured a linear route ending in Hyde Park.

Although the GLA stressed that its plans did not include moving the heart of the carnival away from Notting Hill, a report - temptingly titled Keeping it Real: What do black Londoners really feel about the Notting Hill Carnival? - found 72% wanted the event to stay in the neighbourhood.

Children in costume at carnival
Bright costumes are the order of the day

Mr Livingstone's latest move is to host a Caribbean Showcase in Hyde Park on Monday, catering for up to 5,000 people.

This has been rejected by LNHCL as disappointing and is seen as the first step towards a 'Ken-Carnival'.

All three of these issues have weighed heavily against a street party that brings up to a million people together to enjoy the culture and spirit of the Caribbean.

Carnival in Notting Hill thrives on change.

It has been altered so many times that the original pan-playing parade might not even recognise today's event.

But the people who keep fire in the belly of the beast remain the same.

Thousands don costumes, sew sequins and play in bands for nothing.

The mayor cannot buy that, the police clearly can't stop it.

We may see Carnival move to Hyde Park, we may see a more linear route - but it is doubtful we will see the party stop, or an external body take it over.

All who have tried have ended up with mud in their eye.

See the preparations for London's biggest street party

Changing face of carnival
27 Aug 05 |  London
Carnival 'not a bombing target'
25 Aug 05 |  London
Carnival gang jailed for murder
28 Jul 05 |  London


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