10 Sep, 2014 @ 08:30
1 min read

The man behind the Gibraltar National Day balloons speaks exclusively to the Olive Press

balloon pic

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.

Tom Powell

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  1. It is irresponsible for this balloon release tradition to continue. All those balloons fall to Earth as ugly litter. Animals mistake them as food & die a slow agonizing death as their digestive tracts get blocked. Perhaps in the future, Mr. Azzopardi will consider the needless & deadly waste from 30,000 latex pieces of garbage this awful tradition creates.

  2. Quite right D&C. Gibraltarians should not let their sense of freedom extend to the freedom to pollute. They ought to consider alternatives. White and red doves perhaps? There must be a harmless food dye that would do the job. If dyed doves don’t appeal, Then, just white ones. If they were homers, they could be re-cycled every year.
    Or eaten, if Spain continues its squeeze.

  3. Danielle and Chelsea and stefanjo

    So quick on the trigger, but you weren’t to know that Gibraltar has gone the extra mile and now only releases bio degradable balloons with no strings attached, would you?
    Would that the thousands released any day of the week all year round throughout Spain for weddings, parties and town and village fiestas and the rest of the world were as conscious of the environment as Gibraltar is, and we only release the balloons once a year.

    And stefanjo are you real about the pigeons? Have you looked them up recently? And no, the seagulls are out of the question too, they have all gone this time of year. Spain can squeeze till the cows come home my dear, they ain’t getting Gibraltar. Get Spain to leave off on their outdated, anachronistic, and undemocratic claim on our country and the balloons, bio degradable or not will cease to fly over our Rock.

  4. How very patronising Inthename. I’m well aware of so-called bio-degradable balloons. Trouble is, they aint. Latex can take months to years to rot to nothing. In the meantime they’ve choked turtles, dolphins, cows and any other poor creature misguided enough to eat them. Helium is another problem. There’s only so much of it, it can’t so far, be synthesised, it’s a finite resource. It doesn’t wash to compare yourselves to the rest of Spain in this subject, you are all better than them aren’t you? If you are really concerned about the environment check out “balloonsblow.org” educate yourself.
    I understand your patriotism, but do get it right dear.
    Better study those doves a bit more.

  5. Sadly “biodegradable” balloons are a ploy by the industry to persuade people to keep releasing this rubbish into the air. The research was done in 1989 by someone sponsored by the industry and has since been comprehensively discredited.

    So yet, every one of those balloons is litter and the fact that others are doing it doesn’t make any of it right!

  6. Balloon releases are harmful to the environment, to wildlife and to domestic animals, as I outline in this article:


    Even latex balloons can last – and do harm – for a year or more. Yet it only takes a minutes for them to suffocate, choke or strangle an animal, or days to cause a painful death from starvation. Newspapers, cardboard boxes, supermarket carrier bags and fast-food leftovers are all biodegradable; would it be OK to scatter them so carelessly?

    As the Gibraltar Government’s own website:


    informs us, the Gibraltar Litter Control Act Regulations (1990) state that:

    “If any person throws down, drops or otherwise deposits in, into or from any place, or leaves anything whatsoever in such circumstances as to cause, or contribute to, or tend to lead to, the defacement by litter of any place in the open air, he/she shall be guilty of an offence.”

    I wonder why this article doesn’t make any mention of that, nor of the well-known environmental concerns about this event, of which the government are well aware?

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