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The Proms: what you need to know

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The BBC Proms were founded in 1895 and they are now in their 122nd season. Organised over eight weeks in the summer, around 70 concerts are held at the Royal Albert and Cadogan Halls, and, in addition, there are Proms in the Park and several educational events for children are held around the UK, too.

The Proms feature a wide range of classical music, opera, and even jazz, and they aim to be, above all else, inclusive – aiming to get more people involved in creating and listening to music. Many people’s experience of the Proms will be the Last Night celebrations which take place on the second Saturday in September and is broadcast on BBC radio and television. This concert, however, is not wholly representative of the other events as it takes a much lighter tone and features a range of well-known classical pieces followed by a round of patriotic British songs and arrangements.

History of the Proms

The idea for the original Proms back in the late 19th century was that of impresario Robert Newman. Newman offered Sir Henry Wood a position as the conductor of the first Proms season and it is his name which is most closely associated with the event.

Newman and Wood offered tickets at low prices to make music accessible to as many people as possible. Wood particularly worked to find new talented performers and to introduce them to a wider audience. During the Proms held in the first part of the 20th century, he featured many of the leading composers of the day including Ravel, Debussy, Richard Strauss, Vaughan Williams and Rakhmaninov.

The Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall is probably best known for hosting the Proms and this year is no exception. During August and September, there is a range of classical concerts on offer, including appearances by The National Jazz Youth Orchestra of Scotland and The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and as well, on August 8th, there is a Proms Extra featuring a Session with Jamie Cullum.

There are still tickets available for many events so head over and choose your favourites. One thing to remember is that tickets for the Proms cannot be resold and are non-transferrable.

Proms in the Park

The Proms in the Park bring the season to a close and form part of the Last Night celebrations. In London, the festivities in the Royal Albert Hall extend outwards to Hyde Park, and this year the event there is hosted by Michael Ball. There are also events going on in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and as the finale approaches, giant screens transmit events from the Royal Albert Hall, so that everyone can sing along. If you aren’t able to make it to London these events are equally as entertaining.

Getting to the Royal Albert Hall

If you are arriving by car or taxi the easiest place to be dropped off is at Door 1, next to the building’s south entrance. If you are driving, the Royal Albert Hall is offering parking spaces at Imperial College, about 5 minutes’ walk away, for evening shows and weekend matinees. However, parking is not available for weekday matinee performances. Book your space and pay the £10.20 fee in advance.

If you want to get there by public transport the nearest National Rail station is London Victoria and the closest tube stations are South Kensington and High Street Kensington.

Alternatively, see West London from the air before arriving in style by booking a chartered helicopter flight. This is a unique way to arrive and will make a special event of any performance.

Whether you are a keen music fan or would just like to experience what the Proms offers it is definitely worth visiting. Many people find that once they have attended one performance, they are fans for life and come back year after year. Maybe that will be your experience too.

 

Notting Hill Carnival: London’s best party

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The Notting Hill Carnival takes place every year over the weekend of the August bank holiday. The carnival started in 1964 and is one of the most well-known events of the British Calendar. In fact, it is so well loved that in 2006 it was voted into the list of icons of England by the UK public and won the GoBritain ‘Best Festival’ award in 2015, too.

The Carnival began as a way for Afro-Caribbean communities to celebrate their culture and traditions and it continues as a magnificent display of sound, beautiful costumes and community spirit. People are drawn together to celebrate the Carnival, and visitors attend locally and from across the country. Every year, around one million people watch the procession as it moves through the streets of Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove, and Westbourne Park.

This year the Carnival Bands will be swinging into action by 9am on both Sunday 28th August and Monday 29th August 2016 and they will complete the procession by early evening. Whether you come for the music, food, companionship or just to enjoy an exciting day out, there is something for everyone.

Music

The central feature of the Notting Hill Carnival is the music, and whether you want something up to date or more traditional, you are in the right place. Steel bands have always featured prominently and Soca and Calypso music are what most people think of when they picture the event. However, static sound systems have made an appearance over the last few years, playing an array of Funk, House, Dub, R&B, Reggae and much more.

In previous years, well-known international artists have appeared on the festival’s live stage including Jamiroquai, Courtney Pine, Eddie Grant and Wyclef Jean. This year, you can listen to a wide variety of music and a few of the bands in attendance will be the Bajan Revellers, Masquerade 2000, South Connections and Lagniappe.

On Sunday, it is also Children’s Day and kids and adults alike will love this swirling display of extravagant costumes. The participants travel the carnival route accompanied by steel bands and a multitude of sound systems.

Food

As well as the sights and sounds of the Carnival you will also be met by the mouth- watering aromas of traditional Caribbean food. Jerk chicken, patties, curries, and plantain are all available for you to saviour and you might want to accompany them with a rum punch or two. There are food outlets on virtually every corner so you will never go hungry along the route.

Getting There

The event is best avoided by road and the easiest way to get there is by network rail for those attending from outside the city, and the Underground for those within. Many people walk to the parade route from any of the nearby tube stations such as Holland Park, High Street Kensington, Shepherd’s Bush or Paddington and this is all part of the fun and excitement of the day.

If you want to see the Carnival as few other people have done before and get a true scale of the size of the event, why not charter a helicopter and view the sights of London from the air before heading to the event. This would make for a truly memorable day and is a great way to celebrate with family and friends.

Top Tips

  • The carnival is free to attend although some after-event parties at clubs and bars will charge a fee and get pre-booked quickly, so it’s best to research what’s going on, and where, before you attend.
  • Take cash with you as local ATM’s run out fairly early as they are in such high demand.
  • Wear comfortable closed-in shoes, dress in layers and take something waterproof if the weather forecast calls for it.
  • The Carnival gets very crowded but there is space away from the central streets if you need a rest.
  • Don’t be put off by scare stories about crime but do take sensible precautions. Crime is relatively rare, and the event is well policed, however, opportunistic crime can happen at any busy event. So stay in groups, and don’t flash valuables such as wallets, phones or cameras.

The Notting Hill Carnival is an event not to be missed and if you have never attended before you are in for a treat. It’s one of the last big events of the summer so head along and celebrate at the largest street festival in the UK before Autumn rolls in.

 

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

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The Hampton Court Palace Flower show is the world’s biggest annual Flower Show and this year it took place between the 5th and the 10th July. Held in the grand setting of Hampton Court Palace near Richmond upon Thames, the grounds encapsulate the stunning formal gardens designed by Capability Brown and the renowned maze.

The show is organised by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and their judges reward the top show gardens and floral exhibits on the first day of the show. They award a ‘best’ in each category and then there are four medals available ranging from gold through to bronze.  If you are a keen gardener or just a flower fanatic, this is not an event to be missed.

Show Gardens

Every year there is a range of show gardens judged at Hampton Court including water, summer, city, world and conceptual gardens amongst others. The conceptual gardens are always a massive hit as the public loves to view the creativity on display. The Hythe Garden Landscape entry proved popular this year as it featured a giant wooden wave. It was also interactive as visitors were asked to write memories directly onto the wave, bringing out the correlation between waves crashing on the sand and the passing of time.

Other conceptual gardens raised awareness for a variety of issues including depression and cancer. There was also a garden sponsored by The Dog’s Trust which hoped to increase interest in dog rescue. The best garden in the conceptual category was judged to be The Border Control Garden which was sponsored by UNHCR. This set out to highlight the plight of refugees and draw attention to the risks many of them undertake to find shelter.

Marquees

There are two main marquees at the Hampton Court Flower Show – one which showcases a wide variety of blooms and one which focuses solely on roses. A marquee dedicated to roses is unusual at flower shows and thus this display always proves popular. Every year, new roses are introduced and there is an overall ‘best in show’ chosen. This year the best rose exhibit went to ‘Peter Beales’ Roses’.

Visitors to the flower show were in for an extra treat this year as there was the addition of the Butterfly Dome. This was filled with exotic butterflies from Indonesia and South America, you could wander amongst the plants and admire the beauty of the butterflies. In addition, the area surrounding the dome was planted with meadow flowers designed to attract our own native butterfly species.

Other Activities

Celebrity gardeners were out in force at Hampton Court with Monty Don presenting the main show for the BBC. In addition, several theatre demonstrations took place where renowned experts talked about their specialist topics and took questions from the audience. On Saturday it was a family day with lots of kids’ activities on offer including a cookery class and even a space themed scarecrow competition. Throughout the show, there was the opportunity for all visitors to shop, learn about gardening, listen to music and admire the flowers.

Another highlight of the Hampton Court Flower Show is the food and drink on offer. There are Champagne & Seafood Restaurants if you prefer something more formal, or you can browse the array of food courts where a vast array of savoury and sweet delights are on offer. Hog roasts, fish and chips, fresh produce including strawberries and cakes and pastries are all available from a wide range of suppliers.

Getting There

The show is easily accessible by road from the M25 or directly from central London. There is plenty of parking available at the two large car parks, although each will cost £15 per day. If you prefer to travel by train head to Hampton Court station from Waterloo, which is approximately a 30 minute journey by rail. If you want to make a real feature of your visit next year, why not experience the event from the air with a private helicopter charter before landing in style. If you want to enjoy a glass or two of champagne you need not worry as you will travel home with equal flair.

Next Year

As you can see there was plenty on offer at the Hampton Court Flower Show this year and they have just as much planned, if not more, for next year. One way to make it extra special is to attend the Preview Show, and tickets for the 2017 event are already on sale. If you are lucky enough to attend, you will be one of the first to see the show. Additionally, you can enjoy fine dining to live music and fireworks. It’s best to book early if you don’t want to miss this event, as it always proves a popular outing.

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