The only way to really avoid the crowds and toilet queues at carnival is to put on a costume and ‘play mas’. We start early; meeting in a local church hall at about 7am ready to join the parade at 9am. Our costumes are shipped from Trinidad, some dancers don’t get theirs until that morning so it’s a whole world of chaos with people glue gunning sequins and sewing each other into things in a cloud of glitter and hairspray.
A whole year of preparation goes into getting costumes, floats, music and dancers ready for Carnival and it’s the most colourful thing you’ll ever see in London. Some people do Carnival without even glimpsing the parade and just head straight to sound systems; they are missing out massively. Start early and meet your friends before you set off, because finding people at Carnival is next to impossible due to temporary station closures, road blocks and reduced phone signal. Know in advance how you are getting home or to an after party and have a plan B route. Maybe even a C. We all help each other get ready and spend the day sharing food and drinks around. We also make friends with the floats around us. Look out for your friends and make new ones.
Carnival carries with it the carefree Caribbean attitude, and you’ll see people of all shapes, sizes and races fetin (partying) together. Don’t worry if you haven’t perfected your bogle: as long as you are joining in and entering into the spirit, no one will judge you. We’ve seen confused Italian tourists who came to peruse the antiques on Portobello Road getting sandwiched between two grinding, feathery dancers, being offered capfulls of rum having a great time.
Carnival law states that you must get your picture taken with a policeman; we have them dancing along with us ready for photo opportunities. Most of our day is filled with posing for pictures, we don’t mind at all, just be quick or you’ll hold up the whole parade and get shouted at by our security people.
Sunday is traditionally children’s day so is slightly tamer. We treat it as a warm up for Monday. Avoid bringing bikes or pushchairs, we see people holding them over their heads struggling through the crowds. If you are bringing small children carry them on your shoulders; they’ll see more fun that way. Carnival is loud; there are bands parading and static sound systems offering a variety of music. We have a truck full of amplifiers blasting soca into our faces all day so I wear earplugs. If you value your hearing, do the same.
We are ‘chipping’ (walking and dancing) behind the truck from 9am till 7pm, and after that we carry on until the next day. Some dancers do all this in crazy high heels, I would cry in Carnival’s face if I had to do that. Treat it like a festival; wear comfortable, closed toe shoes with a decent sole. There are no seats at Carnival and no one attempts to clean up until the day is done so you’ll be walking over litter. In particularly crowded areas you probably won’t be able to see where you are walking so just to be safe, don’t attempt this weekend in flip flops.
We smash the myth that dancers don’t eat and are well fed and watered by our team. There are food stalls dotted around. Try EVERYTHING but don’t leave without eating jerk chicken.
Bring something to cover up in the evening; it’s still London so the sun isn’t guaranteed. We keep warm by shaking our feathers and being on the move all day. We also have a double decker rest bus that we rarely rest on. In an ideal world we would keep something warm to wear home on the bus but that would make going home from our after party the next day less fun for people going to work in their Tuesday suits.
There are portaloo stations dotted around, expect epic queues. Some locals charge £5 to use their toilets. £5! I’d take a bath and use their best towels for that. One year The Chilled Eskimo had a queue imposed time limit, which saw the whole queue count to 30 then open the door. There were a lot of undone flies around Southern Row that year. Some bands have vans with portaloos but most don’t, so please let us cut the toilet queues, we promise we’ll be quick as we don’t want to lose our crew and you’ll get to see the logistical nightmare that is trying to get a feathered headdress in and out of a portaloo. Don’t even get me started on what goes on inside if our costumes have hanging beaded fringes.
The parade stops around 7pm and the police are pretty serious about wrapping things up and moving people on. We get on our bus and hit our after party. What happens there puts us in hibernation until next August. My top tip for Carnival would be to book the Tuesday off work. Jude Brosnan
Find out everything else you need to know with our Notting Hill Carnival Guide.