There aren’t many people in the area who don’t know Leslie ‘Teacher’ Palmer and he is rightly lauded for his work as director of the Notting Hill Carnival in the early 1970s and for shaping the way the Carnival still struts its stuff to this day, with sound systems, Mas bands, costumes and food.
What began as a celebration of West Indian culture as a way of bringing the community together and easing social tensions in North Kensington in the 60s has become one of London’s most well-known phenomena, a blast of sights, sounds and smells as famous as festivals such as Glastonbury.
Leslie, though, wasn’t ever going to be satisfied with his role in just one cultural celebration and created Notting Hill Carnival Pioneers. He explains: “People who were born after 1973 don't know what [the Carnival’s] all about and don't know the history of it, so I thought it would be a good idea to create … The Pioneers so that the people who were the real pioneers who started the Carnival, were not forgotten.”
What was once a small music festival on Portobello Green featuring older Caribbean music acts has grown into a day-long affair, attracting thousands of visitors to food stalls, kids’ entertainment and other acts alongside the bands at its new home in Horniman’s Park, just round the corner: “It became to large for the [Green] so we had to go to Horniman’s Park in Kensal Road. We've been there for the last two years.”
The Pioneers festival is a true community event, with Westway Trust providing an array of support behind the scenes, local people manning stalls, and others volunteering as stewards, and Leslie is visibly proud of the way it “showcases the young people of the area and the older people of the area but particularly uses local talent.”
Having lived in Notting Hill for over 50 years, and as much as he treasures his Trinidadian roots, Leslie has become a local legend - his image pops up all over the area, including at the Tabernacle church, and he was awarded an MBE for his contributions to the area and the cultural life of London and the UK.
He is clearly happy, though, just to keep the flag flying for his local community, for West Indian music, and for the Pioneers and their carnival: “It always happen two weeks before the [Notting Hill] Carnival. It’s like a sign that Carnival is on its way,” he says.