Notting Hill Carnival: Famous faces share their memories
From Bianca Saunders to Norman Jay, friends of Soho House reflect on special moments from London’s biggest cultural event
Saturday 27 August 2022 By Soho House
It’s been a long two years without Notting Hill Carnival, but this bank holiday weekend west London’s biggest cultural moment is back, and the energy around it is unmatched. No matter the weather, ‘skin out’ season is upon us, the floats are ready to take over the streets of the city, and Wray and Nephew is free-flowing.
The historic event has been a symbol of multiculturalism since 1966, celebrating the city’s Caribbean community in all its glory and attracting millions of people – not only in the UK, but globally – to come together. What makes Notting Hill Carnival so unique is that it champions the beauty of diverse cultures co-existing in a way we can all appreciate: a big old street party. Over the years, the event has hosted some pretty special moments, many of which have stuck with Soho House’s creative friends.
So, to celebrate the event, we asked members and collaborators to share their most cherished memories from Notting Hill Carnival. Here’s what they had to say…
Bianca Saunders, designer
‘I’ve been going to Carnival from a really young age and it has definitely been a part of my family experiences. One of my aunts goes by herself and brings a little camping chair to sit by the sound system. I always remember the preparation of Carnival being the biggest thing. I’d have an outfit checklist that I had planned months in advance. When I was younger, I always wanted to be on point with what was trendy, as it was a good feeling to know you had the outfit on time for the season’s trend. I’ll never forget my first Carnival with my friends and going all the way to west London, which felt like it was on the other side of the world – the bus route was crazy. It rained that day, but we came prepared with umbrellas. Trying to find the King Tubby sound system was always my challenge, as I always preferred the music there over the floats.’
Norman Jay MBE, DJ
‘My favourite moment from Carnival was my farewell performance in 2013. I was wearing sunglasses as I was so emotional. The tears were streaming down my face, because after 30 years of playing a set at the event, it was the final one. We had our corner at Carnival and I wanted to ensure our legacy by leaving on our own terms instead of being pushed out. I remember telling everyone ‘see you next year’, knowing full well that wouldn’t be the case, but I just couldn’t bring myself to announce it as the last one. I’m still glad I didn’t because we had a record first that year, with 5,000 people showing up, the place was buzzing, the streets were jumping. I remember the final two records we played towards the end, right before the 7pm curfew – that’s when the day reached its climax, the entire place was rocking. It was so special.’
Dom Chung, Head of Music, Soho House
‘Carnival is always one of my favourite weekends in the calendar. I’m a fan of everything about it: from getting the train from east London with everyone in the right spirit, to working my way through the crowds, floats and sound systems. It has a totally unique energy and vibe, which is what makes it so special.
‘My favourite memory was the Sancho Panza stage that’s sadly no longer there, that and ‘Good Times’ would be my go-to stages back in the day. There was always something magical about seeing DJs like Laurent Garnier, Norman Jay and Layo & Bushwacka! perform to thousands of people on the streets of London. It summed up what I love about London and its vibrant multicultural community.’
Aicha McKenzie, model and CEO/ director of The AMCK Group
‘For me, Carnival was always a family affair. I come from a Jamaican household in south London, but mum didn’t like crowds so it was up to my older brother Julian to take me. It was always on Sunday, the family day, but I remember vividly when I progressed to being able to do the Monday with the big people dem!
‘Our spot was Norman Jay’s bus and I’d see the same faces there every year as I got into house music and started living in west London. Sancha Panza and The Chilled Eskimo corner was always a buzz, especially since they were mates, and I was always allowed to pop in and use the loo in the house. I remember the first year Shoreditch House was open and we trekked all the way to east London to go to a pool party there after Carnival – it was legendary. As time progressed, bank holiday weekends got taken up with going to Ibiza, and when Norman Jay left so did I. My brother is coming up to London this weekend and taking me to Carnival on Monday, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing all the old faces again.’