This weekend would have seen the streets of Notting Hill full of revellers celebrating the carnival.
Live music, colourful parades and feathered dancers usually combine with the mouth-watering flavours of Afro-Caribbean cuisine to bring the streets of west London alive during the August bank holiday.
But for the first time in the carnival’s 54-year history, the festivities have moved online and while more than a million people usually descend on the Notting Hill, this year they will have to enjoy it from their living rooms.
The street party was cancelled in May as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the UK and across the world but organisers have been working hard to ensure the event still goes ahead with a programme full of digital performances.
Instead, all that remains on the streets of London are boarded up shops and quiet scenes patrolled by police officers.
The boss of Notting Hill Carnival has urged revellers to stay off the streets this weekend as shops, restaurants and homes have been boarded up down Notting Hill’s main roads that are usually flooded with around one million people over the two-day celebration of Caribbean and black culture.
Spread over four separate channels, the bank holiday weekend’s entertainment will have more than 200 videos showing in excess of 36 hours of original content.
Matthew Phillip, executive director of Notting Hill Carnival, said people should enjoy the event ‘at home safely’.
Asked what he would say to anyone planning to come into the area or to anyone with a street party in mind, Mr Phillip said: ‘We would ask them to respect carnival, respect the community, and also respect the health and wellbeing of the people that have been affected by this pandemic.
‘We’ve all gone through a lot in the last few months, we’ve sacrificed a lot.’
Earlier this weekend, Met police officers said they were concerned about parties in London as police chiefs said up to 35 illegal raves were organised across London in place of the cancelled Notting Hill Carnival which they warned could cause chaos this bank holiday weekend.
Mr Philip added cancelling the carnival was not an easy decision, adding: ‘We did it in the interest of safety, so we would urge people to stay at home, stay away from the streets of Notting Hill.
‘There’s no infrastructure there in place, there’s no toilets. These are the things that are needed if you’re bringing a lot of people on to the streets, and it wouldn’t be fair on the local community of Ladbroke Grove and North Kensington to disrupt the area like that.
‘We want people to stay home and stay safe and respect carnival and protect it.
‘We don’t want anything to jeopardise the future of the carnival.’
Reflecting on the significance of the west London summer staple, Mr Phillip said: ‘Carnival means so much to many people.
‘You’ve only got to look on social media and hear from people that go to carnival regularly, it’s such an important part of people’s lives.
‘I’ve heard some people say they’d rather have carnival than Christmas. It’s very important and it’s been that way for over 54 years.
‘I think, because of the meaning of it, why it was set up in the first place, to bring people together in times of adversity and unite people, it’s always been an important thing to do, bring people together in the spirit of unity.’
Notting Hill Carnival 2020: Access All Areas will include videos filmed all over the world as well as at venues across London, including the Royal Albert Hall, Abbey Road Studios, Theatre Royal and The Tabernacle.
Singing sisters the Sundvivas – Samantha and Nadine Bryant – are among those who recorded music at Abbey Road Studios for the event.
‘Carnival means everything to us,’ said Nadine, adding: ‘We’ve just grown up with Caribbean culture so it’s really part of us.’
Singer-songwriter Don-E said he was ‘gutted’ about the carnival being cancelled as he has been going to it since the 1980s, but is pleased to be part of the virtual event.
Looking ahead to celebrating at home with his family, he said: ‘It’s going to be a different one this year, totally unexpected. I’m just going to have to adapt this year.’
In 2019, more than one million people had been expected to attend Notting Hill Carnival, which has been held since 1966.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan urged everyone who loves the carnival to enjoy the show from home.
‘We’ve all made huge sacrifices to reduce the level of Covid-19 in our city, and it’s vital that this bank holiday weekend we continue to play our part in tackling the spread of this deadly virus,’ he said.
While the carnival was cancelled, up to 300 Black Lives Matter protesters gathered outside Notting Hill tube station in west London for a demonstration.
The Million People March is protesting against systemic racism and is taking place in lieu of this year’s Notting Hill carnival. Demonstrators lay down in the road outside Notting Hill tube station, blocking oncoming traffic.
Protesters chanted ‘whose streets, our streets’ and ‘this is what democracy looks like’ and held placards as they began moving down to Hyde Park.