17 things you need to know about Notting Hill Carnival

1. Originally carnival was just a small street party to bring neighbours of the (then) deprived area of Notting Hill together.

2. There’s a whole lot of controversy about who officially started it and what year that was. Several people have claimed to be responsible for the first carnival, and some say that was in 1964, others 1965 or 1966. So this year may, or may not, be the 50th anniversary.

People dancing in the street at Notting Hill Carnival 1981
Dancing in the street at Notting Hill Carnival 1981 (PA)

3. The carnival we now know has strong West Indian ties, but that apparently that wasn’t really established until a few years later.

4. One man from Trinidad reportedly started teaching the pans (steel drums) to children at the street party in 1964, the following year a steel drum band showcased their talents. The instrument has since become an integral part of the carnival we know today.

Policemen dancing at Carnival in 1982
Policemen joining in the knees-up in 1982 (PA)

5. Notting Hill Carnival is based on the history of Caribbean street parties of the 19th century, which were all about celebrating the abolition of the slave trade through song and dance.

6. The first was held in Trinidad and it became a particularly strong tradition there. They had been forbidden to join in Mardi Gras or hold carnivals of their own during the period of slavery.

A parade in 1982's carnival
A parade in 1982′s carnival (PA)

7. These 19th century carnivals were a parody. They would dress up in costumes that mimicked the European fashions of their former captors, even wearing white make up on their faces. This established a tradition that continues in the costumes of today’s Notting Hill Carnival.

8. As the carnival developed in Notting Hill it became a celebration of all Afro-Caribbean cultures in the face of the racial tension of the 60s.

Notting Hill Carnival 1997
Carnival in 1997 (Fiona Hanson/PA)

9. Today the carnival music ranges from calypso (tradition Trinidadian music) and Soca (modern calypso) to reggae, drum and bass, hip hop, dancehall and garage.

10. Katy B, Chase and Status and Basement Jaxx are all headlining at the free festival this year.

Part of the vast crowd watching the procession of floats on the Children's Day of the Notting Hill carnival in London.
A float in 1999 (PA)

11.  The colourful costumed procession and floats is called “Mas”.

12. If you haven’t been before, there’s a severe lack of public toilets. Residents are known for opening their houses up and charging a fee for the use of their loo.

A costumed man dances next to a police woman in 2010
The police love the dancing (Matt Dunham/AP)

13. One million people descending on Carnival makes getting there extremely troublesome. If you think you can just jump on the central line, think again.

14. There are 4,000 volunteers and 9,000 police at the carnival each year.

Notting Hill Carnival parade 2012
Carnival 2012 (Lewis Whyld/PA)

15. It’s the second largest carnival in the world after Rio. If you lose your friends be prepared to never see them again and make some new ones.

16. The Trinidadian contingent have a giant chocolate fight on the Sunday.

People covered in chocolate at Notting Hill Carnival 2009
People covered in chocolate (Ian Nicholson/PA)

17. It starts at 10am when you can enjoy quieter streets and finishes at 6:30pm.

Last year's Carnival
Last year’s Carnival (John Stillwell/PA)

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