The Notting Hill Carnival, a Caribbean celebration in London, has been held in late August every year since the 1960s. Before the pandemic, it often attracted over 2 million people to the streets of London to celebrate West Indian culture.
The first carnival in the UK is credited to Trinidadian journalist and activist Claudia Jones, who was the founder and editor-in-chief of the West Indian Gazette. In the 1950s, Notting Hill had been in the news for racial intolerance and riots originating with the white working class and directed against members of the Black community. Jones saw an opportunity to push back against the racist violence with revelry, organizing a 1959 carnival indoors.
In the 1970s, a young teacher named Leslie Palmer took over the organization of the event. “I was a school teacher at the time and wanted to take a break from teaching,” he told Anneline Christie of the media company Ilovecarnivall in 2019. “Carnival seemed to be dying. There was an advert in Time Out for all those interested in carnival to attend a meeting. There were only five people. I gave my ideas.”
Palmer encouraged people to rent stalls for food and drink along the festival route. He also recruited local steelpan bands and other musicians with loudspeakers and organized sponsorship for the event. Palmer is also credited with extending the event to include everyone in the Caribbean diaspora and not just those of West Indian descent. The event, which draws over 1 million people annually, has experienced trouble with riots over the years. But overall, the festival remains as it was intended — a jubilant celebration of Caribbean culture and life.
“Notting Hill Carnival has always been the highlight of my summer, and because each single year brings with it a totally different experience, it never ever gets tired,” said Nadine Persaud, the deputy director of Photoworks, a London-based photography organization, and a UKBFTOG photographer who has been attending the carnival since she was a teenager. “When I was younger, it was purely a chance to party hard, but as I’ve gotten older and become a parent, attending has evolved into something more observant. 2019 was a great year with amazing weather, and it’s strange to think that no one there had any idea that a pandemic would put it on hold for two years. It is a huge party loved by many, but it holds a much deeper significance for the local West London community as well as the broader Black British and Caribbean communities in the UK, so 2022 can not come soon enough.”
We looked back at over five decades of joy.