Vibrant and inclusive: the history and legacy of Notting Hill Carnival

27 August 2021

Notting Hill Carnival may have been cancelled this year but many are keeping the festival spirit alive with smaller gatherings at home. 

We spoke to former Harlesden resident and Carnival veteran Raythe Harvey about her memories of Carnival, the roots of this world-famous celebration of Caribbean culture, and why she’s excited for its return.

In her own words, Raythe describes Carnival as “vibrant, inclusive and fun”, and it’s easy to see why as she recounts memories of her experiences, from performing in steel bands, travelling in a parade or dancing the night away with friends at after-parties.

Raythe said: “I love the vibe and the spirit of Carnival, especially when you’re in a band. Everyone wants to go and showcase their talent. It’s like a family. Some people in the band you never see until its Carnival, but when you meet up it’s like we’re all coming together as a family and everyone wants to have the best time ever.”

Raythe has been visiting Notting Hill Carnival since she was a baby and her mum used to bring her along in her pram. Her earliest memory is going with her dad and standing on Westbourne Grove. Her dad sat her on his shoulders so she could watch the parades and floats go by and see the amazing costumes.

Raythe’s passion for Carnival is infectious, to the extent that she has encouraged friends from Europe and Asia to fly over and join the different cultures brought together to enjoy the uniqueness of the west-London Caribbean festival.

“You are beautiful being yourself at Carnival,” said Raythe. “You can wear anything and people will still love you. Whether you’re big, small, white, black, Asian - nobody cares, everyone loves you.” Raythe has always had fantastic experiences and made friends that she still has today.

This is the second year that Carnival has been cancelled due to COVID-19, and many in the community are worried for its future.

Raythe said: “Carnival is more than just a street party. It grew up out of civil rights and fighting for a community that was marginalised. People stood together in solidarity to push back against racism.

“Caribbean people add to the fabric of UK society and through Carnival, we are celebrating our culture and heritage. If Carnival stops, that legacy will die and there is a danger of future generations not knowing its history. I would hate for that to be forgotten.”

Thinking about 2022, Raythe expects Carnival to be back on the road next year and is very excited. She wants newcomers to learn about the roots of the festival and people to come with a free spirit and leave any preconceptions at home.

She said: “Carnival is about meeting new people and making friends.”

To find out more about the history of Carnival, visit the organiser's website.

Raythe standing on a house pathway wearing a headdress and shorts and holding her leg up