A right royal do: Angel Canal Festival in review

Angel Central : post
Tuesday 08 Sep

For many people, the idea of meeting with regality can be intimidating. Do you bow or curtsy (depending on gender)? Do you simply shake their hand, and if so, in what manner? Is it a case of speak when spoken to, or can we chat freely? 

When the team at Angel Central found themselves at Angel Canal Festival on Sunday 6th September, these quandaries took on a new urgency. In and amongst what can only be described as a fabulous community event we are truly delighted to have sponsored, blessed with a 6,000-strong turnout and incredibly warm, sunny weather, we found ourselves in the reflected glory of one Phyllis Broadbent, Pearly Queen of Islington, and her son, Bobby Broadbent, Pearly King.

Dressed in traditional Pearly attire- so that’s black hat, blazer, skirt for the lady and trousers for the man, all dripping in the eponymous precious stones- the pair could well be the borough personified. During our brief conversation they discussed the good work done by themselves, and other Pearlies from across the great city of London, from fundraising for charities to gestures of kindness aimed at individual recipients. “We’re royalty for the common people,” joked Phyllis. We’d agree, so long as common means gracious, respectful and caring.

This idea of goodwill to all who deserve it resonated across the whole festival. Organisers Sasha Mears and Beryl Windsor have, for almost two decades now, been at the helm of this decade-spanning event that was originally set up with philanthropy in mind. Initially called Angel Day, the idea was to improve the water and towpaths around the Basin to encourage families to use this overlooked asset. Soon there were efforts to raise funds and buy a narrowboat that could transport youngsters far from the city limits to otherwise hard-to-access rural areas, and the free festival was born, with proceeds put directly to the cause. Today the first Sunday in September has become a treasured institution.

And it’s not hard to see why.

Spanning the sizable Canal Basin in its entirety, everywhere you looked there were people having fun, mingling, spreading information on local amenities and trying to promote the idea of inclusion. A huge variety of food sellers lined Graham Street to the junction with Danbury Street, ranging from Caribbean to Venezuelan cuisine, hog roasts to burgers and vegetarian bites, giving some idea as to the diversity of the attendees (and their taste buds). In turn telling much of the diversity of Islington as a whole.

Angel Central sponsored the Seaside In The City zone, which occupied a position at the bottom of the City Road Basin, looking down the water to offer a fantastic view of the boat race taking place further into the festival core. Comprising a landlocked pirate ship to climb on, in and around; a sand pit for little ones to build their own castles, and an array of traditional deck chairs, arriving here felt a little like being transported to the British coast for a few hours. We even caught sight of one guy who’d perhaps had a few too many rays mid-snooze; a case in point no less. 

Away from man-made beaches and sunbathers the entertainment was, typically given what we’ve just said, a case of something for everyone. The traditional Punch & Judy show was captivating for kids, and more than a little amusing for their parents. The stunning collection of hawks and owls on display close to the entrance from Graham Street was unarguably impressive- ranging in sizes from small and cuddly to miniature beasties. Meanwhile, musical acts such as Brightonian ska troupe The Tragic Roundabout more than lived up to the expectations of the day, leading the crowd in a kind of pub singalong performance packed with energy, humour and atmosphere.

Add to all that the arrival of Islington’s Deputy Mayor, the unarguably fun-loving Kat Fletcher, who shortly after her welcome speech could be seen hopping into one of the waterborne vessels to compete, impromptu, in the boat race, and we shouldn’t need to explain why Angel Canal Festival 2015 was such a special event to be part of. Wandering back through the various stalls selling gifts, toys and more, it was impossible not to feel the sense of community coursing through every corner of the site.

Success being the operative word, and that being an understatement in extremis, everyone involved should feel thoroughly proud of themselves. We know we do.

Angel Central sponsored the Seaside In The City area of Angel Canal Festival, which took place on Sunday 6th September 2015. The annual event will return in September 2016 for more canal-side celebrations. For information go to: www.angelcanalfestival.org

To read about the history of Angel Canal Festival, click here.