The boss of Notting Hill Carnival has urged revellers to stay off the streets this weekend as the event moves online for the first time in its 54-year history.
A decision to cancel the west London street party was announced in May due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and since then organisers have put together an entirely digital festival.
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 told the PA news agency: “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.”
He said 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.”
Asked how worried he is about people coming into the area, Mr Phillip said: “Well, obviously we are worried, because people do want to get out and celebrate, but ultimately we hope that people will be responsible and sensible.
“If they really do love carnival, they wouldn’t come on to the streets of carnival. They would want to protect it in the same way that we have as organisers and the carnival community.”
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.