The first organized, outside, Notting Hill Carnival event, took place in 1966, the year I was born, but its roots extend much farther back in cultural history.
Year by year it grew bigger and more organized, without local authority permission, surviving many attempts to forcibly shut it down without success until 1987, when a more conciliatory approach was adopted for the first time after confrontation and rioting on grounds of racial discrimination.
1989 became known as the Police Carnival due to the large numbers of the force deployed to control it.
In search of broadening our horizons as teenagers some years previously we’d got in the back of an open top pick up and lay in bed on a mattress covered by a tarpaulin as we made the journey up the motorway from Somerset to the big smoke of London town. On arrival we sat up in the back as we drove through the city and smoked spliffs, waving to the onlookers on the city streets.
Friends from the West Country lived in a squat in Ladroke Crescent, where life was, quite frankly, a romantic eye opener. It wasn’t an everyday thing that you got hang out with people like Gene October from Chelsea. He’d supported the Clash and had hung out with all our youthful punk idols for real. His mates went on to form Generation X with Billy Idol.
People were coming in from Heathrow with blocks of hash sown into their sheepskins. The place was full of beautiful wasted hippie girls. You walked down the street and there was reggae and blue beat drifting from speakers outside cafes and record shops.
Rastas, hippies and punks just hung out together. The squat parties were eye opening psychedelic cultural melting pots were that lasted for days, if you were so inclined. Notting Hill and Portobello Road then was a place and a race of people you could fall in love with.
After college I moved there for a bit to work for a music photographer who made his name as photographer to the Rolling Stones and Hendrix. He was shooting production advertising by then, for all the big ad agencies, for two and half grand a day. Just one of my roles was to make the art directors great lunches.
Not being a fan of advertising, I didn’t last long, but the job taught me a lot. After year or so he sacked me for leaving a heater on low by mistake in the kitchen over Carnival weekend. It was only a couple of months after my friends had been on the phone from Castlemorton while I watching it on TV news in the studio, saying come! Why aren’t you here???
These days Carnival is legal, licensed, and over a million people turn up