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50 things you didn't know about Notting Hill Carnival

Here are 50 facts you might not know about Europe's biggest street party

© Guillaume Capron

There are up to 2 million attendees at Carnival every year, plus 40,000 volunteers and 9,000 police.

© Mike T

That means that Carnival is as big as 11 Glastonbury festivals.

© Alan Myers

It’s the second largest carnival in the world, just behind Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro…

© Eduardo

…and the largest street festival in Europe.

© David Tett

Carnival contributes around £93 million to London’s economy. Policing costs just £6 million.

© David Tett

Tourists only make up about 20 percent of the Carnival crowd.

© David Tett

The carnival tradition has its distant roots in the eighteenth-century Trinidadian Canboulay processions, back in the dark days before Red Stripe.

© David Tett

There are five different aspects of carnival: masquerade, soundsystems, steel pan bands, calypso and and soca.

© David Tett

There are around 40 static soundsystems, ten steel pan bands and 70 performing stages.

© David Tett

The costume troupes are known as ‘Mas bands’ – ‘Mas’ meaning masquerade.

© David Tett

Anything between 80 and 300 people take part in each Mas costume band.

© David Tett

Early Mas costumes at Carnival were inspired by West African mythology, and were more scary than sexy.


‘Mas camps’ work on Carnival costumes, and are busy all year round to prepare for Carnival.

© David Tett

Mas camps use top Trinidadian designers and craftspeople to design and create each themed costume.

© David Tett

There are around 15,000 costumes on display every year…

© Valters Krontals

…and every single costume is made by hand. It takes 1 million man-hours to make and decorate them all.


Around 30 million sequins, 15,000 feather plumes and 30 litres of body paint get used.

© Bill

On Sunday, it's a tradition among some carnivalgoers to slap anyone in the vicinity with a handful of melted chocolate.

© John Wright

Every year the Grenadian Shortknee band take part in the parade in their traditional short breeches.

© DavideGorla

Moko jumbie stilt walkers are another famous sight, as is the sinister Devil Mas.

© Valters Krontals

Monday is the rowdiest day of Carnival, with Sunday kept a bit more child-friendly.

© David Tett

The main parade on Monday starts at 10am, and the route is 3.5 miles long.

© David Tett

There are around 300 food stalls on the streets, which serve five tons of chicken, 30,000 corn cobs and one ton of rice and peas.


Five million hot and cold drinks are served, including 25,000 bottles of rum and 70,000 litres of carrot juice.

© Aleksandra Petrova

Reassuringly, stallholders need to attend a stringent two-hour health and safety course to get a licence.

© David Tett

Over 16,000 different records are played across the weekend.


Carnival warm-up and after parties take place across the city from Thursday right through until Monday night.

See this year's Carnival warm-up and after parties

© Jeff Van Campen

The annual Panorama steel band competition has taken place on bank holiday Saturday every year since 1978 – head to Horniman's Pleasance Park to catch it.

© David Tett

The first Carnival events were arranged as a demonstration of racial unity after the Notting Hill Race Riots of 1958.

© Wikipedia

Another important influence was the unsolved murder of Kelso Cochrane, a young black Londoner, on Golborne Road in 1959.

© David Tett

An early (indoor) precursor to Carnival was organised in King's Cross in 1959 by the American campaigner Claudia Jones.

© Valters Krontals

Rhaune Laslett organised the Notting Hill Children’s Neighbourhood Festival in 1964, which included steel bands.

© Mike T

This was then followed by the first proper outdoor street party in Notting Hill in 1966, also organised by Laslett.

© David Tett

Amazingly, Laslett's Notting Hill Festival was inspired by a dream she had about people of different races dancing in the streets together.

© David Tett

The 1966 festival included participants from Ireland, India, Cyprus and elsewhere, as well as a Trinidadian steel band.

© bestoftrinidad.com

Russ Henderson's steel band, the first Caribbean participants, went for an unscheduled walkabout which turned into the first Carnival parade.


Legendary rock band Pink Floyd also played one of their first gigs as part of the original festival.

© Charlie Marshall

After the 1966 festival, Caribbean participation increased and turned the annual event into a Trinidadian-style carnival.

© Valters Krontals

Time Out played a part in Carnival's history, when it ran advertising for a public meeting to save the event in 1973.

© Cristiano Betta

The 1973 Carnival was the first one with a scheduled parade route; before then musicians took their own route through the streets.

© Cristiano Betta

Popular radio broadcasts between 1973 and 1975 established Carnival as a national event, and in 1976 over half a million people attended.


The first major riots at the carnival, in 1976, inspired Joe Strummer of The Clash to write ‘White Riot’.

© Pennie Smith

In 2011, Blur planned to release a single to help save the Carnival when the London riots put the event in doubt.

© Dan Marsh

Another high-profile supporter is Prince Charles, who spoke in favour of Carnival in the 1970s.

© Mike T

There were five deaths at Carnival between 1987 and 2000. Compare that to 155 deaths during 2014's Rio Carnaval alone.

© Valters Krontals

On 2013's Carnival Monday, 279 people were arrested: that's about 0.03 per cent of all Carnivalgoers.

© Fabio Venni

Despite its reputation, Carnival has a relatively low crime rate for an event of its size: ‘no worse than at any Saturday football match,’ according to the Met.

© Valters Krontals

As well as performing, many Carnival bands operate year-round as social enterprises working with disadvantaged young people.

© Channel 1

Over 8,500 people signed a petition to keep Channel One Soundsystem at the 2014 Carnival.


A video of policemen dancing at the 2013 Carnival has had 1.1 million YouTube views.

Watch more skanking policemen here

Ever wondered how many people attend Notting Hill Carnival annually? Want to know which member of the royal family is a fan of Carnival? Well, prepare to be amazed with our top 50 of things you didn’t know about Notting Hill Carnival. 

RECOMMENDED: Read the full Notting Hill Carnival guide

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By: Michael Curle