Amid the gloom of a drizzly Notting Hill morning, one sound resonates: the doleful hammering of plywood boards over shop windows and front doors as residents hunker down for a weekend that could decide the future of Europe's largest street party.
A record 16,000 police officers will be on duty and more than 40 pre-emptive arrests have already been made in a Scotland Yard operation designed to reassure revellers and residents that the scenes of widespread looting and disorder earlier this month will not be repeated at the Bank Holiday Carnival.
This exclusive enclave of the wealthy received its own visitation from the rioters, prompting calls for the cancellation of the 46th Notting Hill Carnival, expected to attract up to one million people. Despite "chatter" from gangs seeking to whip up trouble, the event will go ahead, with a beefed-up security operation. The procession and sound systems will be closed down at 7pm and police hope to clear the streets soon after.
It is what happens after the attempted curfew that concerns Amy Mellor at The West Village fashion boutique on Kensington Park Road. "We're boarding up the front and the back entrance in case people climb over the flats," she said. "The shop next door and over the road had their windows smashed in the riots."
This year's heightened security means extra expenses for shopkeepers. "They are running out of wood boards," Ms Mellor said. "It normally costs £180 for Carnival weekend but now they are asking £400."
The post-riot Carnival has a mission to "heal the nation", according to the organisers. But there are local tensions: "There is a huge disparity of wealth," said Simon Withers as he watched workmen board up the frontage to the impressive terraced house at 1 Ladbroke Gardens.
"The people who drink down the road couldn't conceive of living in a house like this," Mr Withers said. But the Harrow Road resident said the spirit of Carnival would triumph over the fear of violence. "It's more important than ever that Carnival goes ahead after what has happened," Mr Withers said. "People have spent months working on costumes and preparing sound systems."
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and Tim Godwin, the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner, insisted the event go ahead to show that the capital could handle large-scale events before the 2012 Olympics. Boris Johnson, London's Mayor, said the Carnival was such a popular event that people would have a street party even if he "issued a fatwa" banning it.
If the gamble fails to pay off, it could mark the end of Carnival in its current form, Brian Connell, the Conservative councillor for Bayswater, said. "There are low-level tensions because Carnival doesn't reflect the residential population of the area it was started in," he said. "There was a sizeable West Indian community, but it has become much more white and middle class. Carnival has become safer over the years.
"The question is whether an event of this size can go ahead every year in such a small area." Should this year's event have been cancelled? "The majority of residents would wish that the Carnival didn't go ahead, but they have been reassured by the changes that have been made. On balance, I'm in favour of it going ahead. We have our fingers crossed."
Those residents who don't enjoy the privilege of fleeing Notting Hill for their country homes are inured to the disruption the event causes. Fulvia Fuheid, proprietor of the Nadi Antiques stall on Portobello Road, said: "Everyone is boarding up and closing and so will we. But I'll be enjoying a Carnival party on a mews terrace."
Mr Withers said: "They want to move Carnival to Hyde Park and make it a corporate affair. The community wants it to stay here because it is important for the area."
Despite the lingering threat to her livelihood, even Ms Mellor is looking forward to the weekend: "Will I be going? Of course, I love Carnival."
The world's second-largest street party
*The first Notting Hill Carnival was held as a protest against fractious race relations in 1959. Started by the Trinidadian Claudia Jones it was first held in St Pancras Town Hall and didn't move to the Notting Hill streets until 1969.
*The festival is no stranger to violence. One hundred police officers were hospitalised after the 1976 event ended in a riot. In 2007 two teenagers were shot just outside the festival area and the 2008 festival ended with rioting that saw the arrest of around 500 youths.
*Last year the Carnival attracted one million visitors and in the past has drawn as many as two million. It brings an estimated £93m to the local economy. A 20 per cent increase in performers means that visitor numbers are expected to remain high despite the recent London riots.
*Police numbers have been stepped up this year over fears that recent rioting will re-emerge in the festival's densely populated streets. Scotland Yard has doubled the number of police officers on duty to 20,000 – the biggest deployment in the festival's history. In previous years the cost of policing has exceeded £6m.
*The two-day festival plays host to 40,000 volunteers and performers who will line the 20-mile route. Notting Hill Carnival is the largest street festival in Europe and second in the world after the Rio Carnival in Brazil.
- More about:
- Festive Events (including Carnivals)
- Kensington And Chelsea
- Notting Hill
- Notting Hill, London