To celebrate the 2011 Notting Hill Carnival, a Commemorative Blue
Plaque is being unveiled to honour Rhaune Laslett O'Brien, the
creator of the first multicultural street festival in Notting Hill.
In 1965, a community worker and social activist named Rhaune Laslett O'Brien introduced the Notting
Hill Street Festival in North Kensington – a multicultural take on an older local fayre. No one could know
at the time it would develop into becoming Europe’s largest street festival.
Rhaune Laslett was born in London’s East End in 1919, of Russian and Native American heritage. Laslett
lived in West London for most of her adult life, which after WW2 became one of Britain’s most diverse
districts. She dedicated her life to helping the poor, fighting for better housing and community cohesion.
Her home was opened to the community and her work was supported by luminaries including
Muhammad Ali and Marc Bolan. Her motivation for reinventing the Notting Hill Fayre was to give local
people a chance to celebrate together the many different cultural backgrounds within the area of Notting
Hill. For the first festival she borrowed costumes from Madame Tussauds; a local hairdresser did the hair
and make-up for nothing; the gas board and fire brigade had floats; and stallholders in Portobello market
donated horses and carts. The festival of indoor and outdoor events lasted an entire week and around
1,000 people turned up, according to police figures.
At the first festival Rhaune invited professional musician Russell Henderson and his group to play the
steelpan in her playground. Henderson told Sterling Bettencourt and the other musicians to walk down
the street with the pan around their neck. What followed was a procession of people dancing through the
streets of Notting Hill behind the sweet sound of steelpan music. The panmen had brought the spirit of
Caribbean Carnival to Rhaune Laslett O'Brien’s impressive multi-cultural celebrations.
From 1966 until the early 1970s Rhaune Lasslett worked with the Caribbean community, many of them
her friends, to organize the Notting Hill Carnival. In 1973 Leslie Palmer took over running the event and
created the carnival we know today by introducing costume bands and sound systems as well as reaching
out to communities beyond Notting Hill.
Rhaune Laslett died in April 2002, after suffering from multiple sclerosis for 50 years. But her legacy of
racial tolerance and cultural respect can be seen every August Bank Holiday when people of diverse
backgrounds come together to celebrate on the streets of West London. The unveiling of her plaque will
officially open up the Notting Hill Carnival Weekend celebration.