Being British, Bonfire Night is one of my favourite days of the year. I have never been to Alexandra Palace before, otherwise known as ‘Ally Pally’, but from what I had heard and seen on social media, it looked like the perfect place to celebrate.
What is Bonfire Night?
For those of you who aren’t British and may not be familiar with Bonfire Night, here’s a quick history lesson, which I’ve only recently come to fully understand myself after watching the BBC series ‘Gunpowder’ (check it out!).
Bonfire Night, otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Night, is a British celebration that dates back to 1605 when Robert Catesby and his group attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in an event known as the ‘Gunpowder Plot’. England was, and still is, a Protestant country, and those practising Catholicism were tortured and executed. Catesby and co wanted to blow up King James I and his Protestant government and replace them with a Catholic Head of State. On the evening of November 4th, they managed to place 36 barrels of gunpowder in cellars under the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes kept guard throughout the evening and aimed to light the fuse the following morning. During this time, an anonymous letter was sent to Lord Monteagle; a catholic loyal to the crown, with a warning to stay away from Parliament on November 5th.
The letter was discovered by the King and at around midnight, Guy Fawkes and his barrels were found. He was executed.
Over 400 years later, Britons still commemorate the events that nearly changed the course of the country’s history, by lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks and mini explosions.
Alexandra Palace organised two nights of Bonfire Bonanza on Friday 3rd and Saturday the 4th of November. I opted for the Friday, and after finishing work at 5pm, I hopped on the tube to Wood Green Station and followed the crowd on a 20-30 minute walk to the palace. Annoyingly, busses had stopped running for ‘crowd control’ which I still find bizarre considering you normally have more busses on to cater for more people during a big event…..but anyways, despite the inconvenience, we made it in good time.
The lighting of the bonfire kicked the evening off, as crowds gathered around the barriers to watch an enormous fire light up the lower field. Within 15 minutes of the torches being lit, the flames had engulfed the entire ‘pyre’ sending a gigantic plume of fire and smoke into the night sky. The temperature became so unbearably hot, my place at the front lost its appeal, forcing myself and the crowd to move on. It was however, one of the most impressive bonfires I’ve ever seen!
We had booked our first Ice Skating session of the year and headed up to the palace for our one hour time slot. The palace is stunning and the grounds are HUGE, which led to a lot of walking around and made it quite difficult to manage our time. The skating was so far away from the bonfire, that we ended up walking for 15-20 minutes, missing some of our allocated slot. If I could offer an improvement for future events, it would be useful to hand out maps to guests on the entrance, or at least have a map online, so people can check how far apart things are and plan their night accordingly.
Once on the ice, we had fun skating around to some classic cheese tunes including the Macarena and Cha Cha slide, where everyone got involved trying to master the art of simultaneously skating and busting out those well known dance moves. Later in the evening, the ice rink turned into a disco which I can imagine would have been really fun but for me, I headed outside to continue the celebrations.
As we left the Ice Rink, we were able to catch part of the parade which took you on a fantastical magical journey from the fall of the Phoenix, to its glorious rebirth. This ‘March of the Phoenix’ parade included performances from fire eaters, motorised animatronics, puppets, drummers and aerialists that helped tell the story in their own unique way as they marched around the palace grounds.
Fireworks & Laser Show
In preparation for the main event, there was an epic 30 minute laser show, that saw beams of light shoot across the sky to the beat of the music. The lights projected hypnotic patterns on the palace walls and smoke machines situated around the grounds helped emphasise the lasers.
At 9pm, it was time for the main event! Thousands of people huddled together at the base of the palace to watch the spectacular fireworks display that illuminated the sky for a full 20 minutes. Not only were the colours totally mesmerising, but the fireworks were perfectly timed in conjunction with the music, dancing across the sky to everybody’s favourite tunes. I must admit, when they started playing Katy Perry ‘Firework’ I thought they had killed it with an overload of cringe, but they managed to bring it back with Michael Bublé’s ‘Feeling Good’ for the finale.
The base of the palace is situated on top of quite a steep hill, giving rise to stunning panoramic view of the London skyline. Canary Wharf can be seen glowing in the distance and the striking view of the shard, jutting up from the concrete jungle below.
Throughout the evening, live music continued to be played from the Festival Tent. A variety of bands catered to everyone’s music taste, providing entertainment for the whole family. I didn’t catch the name but there was a brilliant duet performing some classics, with an added folk/country twist, which I particularly enjoyed.
Like most outdoor family events, there was a fairground section, with a selection of rides including the Dodgems, Waltzer and a Helter Skelter. You usually can’t get me off the rides, but on this occasion, I gave it a miss, as there was so much stuff going on, I decided to prioritise other things. It looked like great fun though, and I’m sure when I return next year, I’ll be back on!
There was a wide variety of delicious foods and drinks throughout the evening. Over 30 of London’s top street food vendors, craft beer, mulled wine, and cocktails made up a mini ‘streatlife festival’ which was well received amongst visitors. Despite all the amazing street food, I’m a true northerner, and nothing beats a good old chips and curry sauce which I happily consumed on my way home!
There is no doubt that Alexandra Palace is the hottest bonfire night in the capital. I will 100% be attending next year and urge everyone to do the same.
Here is their website link for info: Alexandra Palace
Link for Ally Pally Firework Festival: Bonfire Night