Notting Hill carnival goes corporate as blue-chip companies plan hospitality tents

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The Independent Online

The Notting Hill carnival, once troubled by rioting, drugs and street crime, may join Henley and Ascot on the corporate social calendar.

The organisers of Europe's biggest street festival plan to sell seating areas and hospitality tents.

The launch yesterday of this year's carnival revealed that a new City-based Corporate Sponsors Group planned to make it more attractive to big companies. The group is the brainchild of the new carnival chairman, Professor Christopher Mullard, a former business consultant.

But the involvement of the Cityhas not gone down well withtraditionalists, who fear the event will lose its spirit.

Darcus Howe, a long-standing carnival supporter, said the event was a "cultural festival, not a money-making business". "Who's going to come and drink Pimm's and champagne?" he asked. "The middle classes are terrified of it. They think they will get their pockets picked and their arses kicked."

Professor Mullard, who has set up a company called London Notting Hill Carnival to run the event, said he hoped the festival would eventually become "a self-financing entity".

"Carnivals cost money. We have to have a private-public partnership here. This is a big show and we want proper funding."

Debi Gardner, a member of the committee, said the organisers were exploring ways of making the event less dependent on grant money.

"We are looking at the possibility of having seats at the judging point which we can sell," she said. "We want somebody to sponsor the judging point, and as part of that we will provide a hospitality area where they can bring their guests and wine and dine them."

She acknowledged the carnival was known as a free event, but said some people maybe willing to pay to sit down.

While there are a host of summer festivities in the capital, such as Pride in the Park, in Hyde Park this weekend, it is the Notting Hill carnival that is the most celebrated, attracting crowds of up to 1.5 million throughout the two-day event.

But despite its immense following and the fact it generated about £80m for the economy, the carnival was unable to afford full-time staff, Ms Gardner said.

The carnival launch was notable for a new spirit of co-operation between the committee and Kensington and Chelsea council - the local authority - who have bickered in the past over funding, security and other organisational matters.

The Metropolitan Police, which commits about 900 officers, has also become more supportive.

Seven people have already been arrested on suspicion of planning criminal activities at this year's carnival.