Half a million take to streets of London for new year parade boosted by US razzmatazz

Click to follow
The Independent Online

London's New Year's Day parade enjoyed one of its best-ever turnouts yesterday, as the annual event filled the streets of the capital with entertainers.

Almost half a million people turned out to celebrate the start of 2008 at the parade, lining the streets to watch bands, bell-ringers and carnival floats. The 22nd annual parade, which wound its way from Parliament Square in Westminster to Piccadilly, featured 8,500 entertainers and performers, including 3,500 from the United States.

In keeping with tradition, the parade set off from Parliament Square as Big Ben struck midday. The prize for best carnival float went to Ealing's South Connections group, a national carnival band who performed "De Journey Now Start", depicting the history of slavery from captivity through to freedom.

Eighteen of London's 32 boroughs took part in the procession, with Westminster winning second place for its celebration of 100 years of theatre in the borough, and Enfield coming third with a float focused on global warming. Dan Kirkby, spokesman for the event, said: "There were massive, massive crowds lining the streets we estimate about 475,000.

"The parade is shown globally on television and is a big boost for London. It is playing an increasing role as a shop window for tourists deciding whether to book a trip here." In its 22-year history, the parade has featured a marching elephant, a world-record attempt, a three-headed man and a fire-breathing dragon. It has also helped raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for London-based charities, and has welcomed among its participants visitors from the US, Japan, South Africa and the Caribbean.

The event is particularly popular in the US, with TV viewing figures at a record high. The 3,500 performers from the US included cheerleaders and a high school brass band from Honolulu, Hawaii.

Since its inception in 1987, the parade has raised more than 650,000 for charity.

First known as the Lord Mayor of Westminster's Big Parade, the event was renamed the London Parade in 1994 and then in 2001 became known as the New Year's Day Parade, London. The route has changed several times, from one incorporating the commercial backdrop of Regent Street and Oxford Street to the more distinguished current route from Parliament Square to Piccadilly.

On the parade website, Gordon Brown left a message wishing London a happy new year and saying the parade was "embedded in local and international history".