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Rhaune Laslett: The true founder of Notting Hill Carnival

CARNIVAL QUEEN: Rhaune Laslett

REGARDED BY many as the true founder of Notting Hill Carnival, Rhaune Laslett (also known as Rhaune Laslett-O’Brien) was born in London’s east end in 1919, to a Native American mother and a Russian father.

She set up the Children’s Play Group at 34 Tavistock Crescent in west London, which was visited in May 1966 by the late boxing hero, Muhammad Ali, prior to his fight against Henry Cooper.

Laslett became president of the London Free School, organised by a group of local activists, including emerging artists of the area, notably, the late photographer and activist John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins.

The aims of the school were to promote cooperation and understanding between people of various races and creeds through education and through working together.

The late activist Michael X is credited with providing 26 Powis Terrace in Notting Hill as a base for the school’s activities, and it was here that Laslett’s idea of a free festival was born.

BEGINNINGS: An issue of the Kensington Post, dated September 23 1966, reports on Laslett’s Notting Hill Fayre

Outlining her aims for the event, Laslett explained that she wanted it to bring together the many cultural groups who resided in the area at the time. In the London Free School’s newsletter, The Grove, she reportedly wrote:

“We felt that although West Indians, Africans, Irish and many other nationalities all live in a very congested area, there is very little communication between us. If we can infect them with a desire to participate, then this can only have good results.”

In 1966, The Notting Hill Fayre and Pageant was held over a week in September. Staying true to Laslett’s aim, the festival featured a parade that included children dressed as Charles Dickens characters, along with a host of performers that reflected the area’s cultural diversity.

It is this historic event that is considered by many to be the true beginning of Notting Hill Carnival.

Laslett died in 2002 and in 2011, Nubian Jak Community Trust unveiled a blue plaque on the corner of Tavistock Square, commemorating Laslett’s conception of the Notting Hill street festival that “later evolved into Notting Hill Carnival.”

HONOURED: The Nubian Jak Community Trust blue plaque

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