How not to be an awkward white imperialist at Carnival

Your ‘rasta’ impression ain’t going to go down well

It’s Carnival weekend and the young, the smashed and the self-destructive will be descending on Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park to get loose and look beautiful. 

But with great pleasure comes great responsibility. Among Carnival’s surging crowds and cringey dancing coppers it’s easy to spot the privately educated white kids, the Timothys and the Francescas, who are taking things a little too far.


Don’t end up like this

They bring their bucket hats and their problematic lack of self-awareness to an event bristling with possibilities for cultural appropriation and misunderstanding.

Don’t worry though. We’ve asked a host of experts, from jerkers to DJs, from barmen to dancers, for their advice on how not to be a dickhead over the next two days. Their wisdom will help you see Carnival for what it is: not a 10 acre theme park and an excuse to do balloons, but a celebration of London at play, of noise, of colour, of people.

Benjamin D

DJ and MC with The Heatwave bashment crew. Twitter: @_Benjamin_D.

“Don’t worry too much about fitting in. Basically try not to do anything ironically: don’t dance ironically, don’t use slang ironically, don’t use Jamaican words ironically. That’s not a good vibe.

“Generally just approach it in a friendly way. Be nice and open about things and people will welcome you with open arms. If you just be open minded and friendly and smile at people they’ll probably smile back at you.”


“Don’t smoke too much weed because you’ll get lost, get in a bit of a state and feel like a bit of a wally. I’d say if one of your mates does smoke too much weed don’t leave them on their own in the middle of nowhere. You’ve got to look out for them and be loyal.

“One of the most awkward things I ever saw at Carnival was when I was walking through it with this girl. There was an older rasta guy in front of us who had his dreads in a plait thing, all wrapped up. She reached out and started touching his hair without asking him and that was a very bad move. He explained the specific meaning his hair has in terms of his faith and his culture, and how for her to touch it without asking was not a good move.

“You have to treat people respectfully. It’s not a novelty, it’s a serious thing.”

Lynda Joseph

Dancer with Arawak Carnival Club.

“Don’t jump into people’s floats. Don’t try to dance with everybody unless you’re invited. When people have too much to drink they get in with the floats and it can get irritating.

“It’s fine to dance with someone for a couple of minutes – when they get in with the float for a couple of minutes – but after that, if they hang on to the floats and climb all over them, it can be quite dangerous, and because they’re drunk you can’t explain it to them.”


“If somebody doesn’t know, they think they can do all these things. You can obviously have a dance but don’t jump on the floats and hang off them. Do the safe things.

“Find a band you’ll like beforehand and get involved with them. Don’t worry too much about being awkward, Carnival is for everyone – which is a beautiful thing. This is a London thing, not just a Caribbean thing. Come and introduce yourself and get involved.”

Adrian Luckie

Founding Jerker at Mama’s Jerk Stall. Twitter:@Mamasjerk

“It’s like anything in life, go there, have a good time. It’s important you don’t drink too much and you treat people with the respect they deserve. You really don’t need to do anything too different at Carnival – you know what is what. If people do get too drunk and mess about they’ll be dealt with in the right way. It’s not hard to look after people is it?”


“Carnival is a fasntastic time of the year for us and for everyone else. We’re planning to sell a shit load of chicken.”

Ted Lavender

Youngest ever Carnival DJ. Listen to Ted’s music here

“If you want to avoid annoying everyone, first off I’d say pick the right footwear. Nothing too flash, cus they’re bound to get ruined. Leave your Versace’s at home. After that, leave the string vests to the people who make them look good. Bucket hats: I’d leave them at home. Avoid the balloons, because that’s all you can hear at Carnival sometimes. Avoid getting on the clichés.”


“Attitude wise, relax, try to have a good time, no need to rush anywhere. It’s all about the music. Everyone needs to leave their attitude at home. I remember one year at Sancho Panzo there was one really, really, really drunk man, just dancing and getting in everyone’s way, smashing into them and spilling drinks everywhere. I mean fair play to him in a sense, but it’s still one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever seen.

“I went to my first Carnival when I was two and I first played it when I was 13. It was such a surreal experience. I was actually too short to see over the stage so I had to stand on a chair. Looking in every direction and seeing thousands of people, it felt so good.

“Carnival is the best weekend of the year. It’s the one. There’s over a million people there and although some people try and say it’s dangerous, when you really look at it, there’s more arrests at a festival like Glastonbury, with a quarter of the people there is at Carnival. It’s about having a good weekend and listening to some sick music.”

Andre Joseph

Socca Saga Boys Mas Band. Twiter: @SocaSagaBoys

“Go with the intention of having a good time. Sometimes you find people out there looking for trouble, when someone brushes past them or accidentally steps on their shoe or something, they might take it personally. It’s a crowded area – if someone steps on your shoe or barges you by accident – it’s not usually done with any malice or the intention of starting a fight.”


“Just say sorry and get on with the day. You should go there with a positive attitude, never a negative one, and look to enjoy the vibes of the day. People get drunk, people try and show off by doing stupid things and it can get out of hand.

“We prepare for Carnival all year. For us it’s the biggest weekend of the year, where we celebrate our art-form and get people to have a good time and celebrate with us. I’m looking forward to dressing up, enjoying the festival and partying.”


Barman, Portobello Star. Twitter: @Portobello_Star

“We don’t open our pub for Carnival. Pretty much because there are a lot of dickheads about. On the Sunday we do a private party for friends and family only, on the Monday we don’t open at all.

“There’s no huge story behind it. We don’t open because of the amount of hassle there would be. Opening a venue throughout Carnival means going through a lot, you might get as wrecked and as messy as the people coming in your place. It’s not really worth the stress on the staff.”


“Our reputation isn’t damaged because we close. It’s just not worth opening on that Monday, it gets so messy. We can chill out and have a good party on the Sunday and not worry about knobheads spoiling our time.

“Personally I’m going to East London on Monday, I’m getting as far away as possible mate.”


Manager at People’s Sound Records

“If you really want to be a twat then stay at home. I’ve seen a lot at Carnival over the years. I wouldn’t know if I’ve ever seen anything awakward, you know? There’s so many things I’ve seen, you don’t know if it’s normal, after a while.”


“People make fools of themselves all the time, especially when they’re drinking their drinks. After a certain amount of booze, people do that, it’s natural. Go out there, have a good time, respect yourself and respect everyone else.

“It’s quite straightforward really: they you’ll end up being a dickhead at Carnival is by not coming. Not coming, full stop, it’s that simple.”