WHEN Forty Azzopardi first floated his National Day balloons idea, he had no way of knowing how it would catch on.
But his brainwave proved to be more than ‘hot air’. The annual release of 30,000 red and white balloons – one for each citizen of Gibraltar – celebrates the 25th anniversary of Gibraltar’s first referendum and has become an unmissable tradition in the British Territory.
Two decades on, Forty is the main man behind the National Day celebrations and the balloon release has become synonymous with the Rock’s national pride.
In what is only his second ever interview, the 57-year-old born-and-bred Gibraltarian reflected on the importance of the whole event, organised by the Self Determination for Gibraltar Group (SDGG).
“I really enjoy planning and preparing for National Day, and although it’s about more than self-determination these days, it is still very important,” said Forty.
“I started organising this year’s events as early as January. When August and September arrive, the SDGG is very busy putting final details into place.
“We are always thinking about ways to improve on the last one, although the size of Casemates Square limits how many improvements you can keep making!”
To make the midday political rally more special this year, Gibraltar’s Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson will be presented with the Freedom of the City as a prelude to the balloon release.
The politician is incredibly popular on the Rock, having staunchly defended Gibraltar in Europe over the last decade, frequently exchanging verbal blows with Spain’s Partido Popular.
“From being primarily about self-determination, National Day has changed a lot and it’s a real party nowadays,” said Forty, adding that the SDGG brought back candy floss and thrilling rides to Gibraltar’s traditional fair this year.
Held at the Naval Grounds during the last week of August, the classic funfair featured rifle ranges, tombolas and other ingredients designed to keep excitement levels primed for National Week.
“National week has grown to include all kinds of events, from chess competitions to photography exhibitions and classical concerts,” said Forty. “There is so much going on in celebration of all things Gibraltar.”
So when the last firework explodes over the Rock this year, spare a thought for the man who is already racking his brain over how to make next year’s National Day that little bit more special for the place and the people he loves.