FIREWORKS, balloons and beers at the ready… The Rock is ready to rumble as Gibraltar prepares for its National Day celebrations.
Almost 50 years on from the referendum that gave it such a unique appeal, the Rock is standing taller than ever.
An abundance of local pride means that the former one-day event now spills over into a week of celebrations – including music of all genres, arts, food, photography, competitions, a rally – plenty to bring locals and tourists alike into the street and onto their feet.
It’s a chance to show the world that there really is nowhere quite like Gibraltar, and there is no group of people quite like Gibraltarians.
This year, it’s a statement as well as a celebration; because it’s a tense time politically, that only fuels the fire of the locals.
For just as the Rock is a symbol of the country’s strength and unity, the people are a reflection of its charm and character and stand as tall as one of Europe’s most recognisable landmarks.
Passion truly makes this party… and organisers expect more than 30,000 revellers – not to mention the monkeys (Barbary macaques, if we are being pedantic) – to join the celebrations.
For outsiders, September 10 is officially Gibraltar’s National Day, but this year the festivities truly begin five days earlier with the Gibraltar Music Festival (GMF).
For the first time spanning two days, the event on September 5 and 6 marks the start of the festivities with internationally renowned acts, including Duran Duran and Kings of Leon, kicking off the party in style.
“There is always a real buzz around Gibraltar in the build up to national day,” explains 25-year-old Michael Hayes, who commutes in daily from La Linea.
“I love working here and as always am really looking forward to National Day.
“It really is the highlight of the year and is a time all of us can really show off how proud we are.”
The festival is a mix of looking back at Gibraltar’s proud history; and looking forward, celebrating the business opportunities, innovation and building plans for this very modern peninsular.
Organised by the Self Determination for Gibraltar Group in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture, the annual celebration commemorates one of the most important moments in Gibraltar’s history: the referendum of 1967, when citizens had a say on their sovereignty for the very first time.
On that day, an overwhelming 99% of Gibraltarians voted to remain British and, 48 years later, they are just as, if not more, impassioned – largely due to the ever-volatile relationship with their Spanish neighbours.
Last month, Britain accused Spain of violating its sovereignty by allowing a coastguard patrol boat to enter disputed waters and airspace off Gibraltar pursuing suspected drug traffickers.
Spain claims Gibraltar is not taking smuggling seriously and that the Rock is hindering its law enforcement agencies, claims the enclave denies.
And while Gibraltar is red and white all the way through, there is still a hint of blue, too. It is important to remember that Gibraltar is very much part – and proud to be a part of – the UK and has been for more than 300 years in one way or another.
The Queen may not have made an appearance since 1954 but, two years ago, with the Gibraltar flag flying over the Foreign Office in London, Prime Minister David Cameron joined the celebrations in spirit, rallying his loyal troops from a giant screen in Casemates.
“For 300 years we have stood together, as one with our shared sovereign. Let me assure you that the British people and my Government stand with you now. Our relationship is solid, sure and enduring,” he proclaimed to roars of approval.
These sentiments are increasingly important to Gibraltar in the light of the recent international tensions, played out through the media.
But Gibraltar has said ‘enough is enough’ to one-sided Spanish news reports. Three high-profile defamation cases against TV channel Telecinco, Spanish newspaper ABC and trade union Manos Limpias have been launched in Spain as the Rock fights back against years of ‘slanderous’ comments.
As lawyer Charles Gomez says, if the rabid right-wing Spanish press is to be believed then Gibraltar is ‘a cocaine-fuelled, money-laundering playground run by the barbary apes’.
He adds: “Enough is enough, the government has finally had enough of the lies, untruths and complete propaganda. It is time for the Rock to stand up for itself and be proud.”
And what better day to do so than on National Day? It’s about a party, not a political party, but it sends a message, loud and clear, in the best possible way.
The day itself kicks off with a political rally at midday followed by the mass release of 30,000 balloons in Casemates Square – one to represent every citizen on the Rock. It’s even visible from Spain’s southern coastline, so the perfect way to kick off proceedings with a beautiful, yet symbolic, display.
After a summer of stunning weather, an open-air concert was a no-brainer for organisers. Reggae legend Maxi Priest will get the crowds in Casemates Square dancing, before a performance by the Rock’s most-loved groover and Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Jonathan Lutwyche.
Children’s activities, live music and DJs will also keep the crowds entertained at other locations, including King’s Bastion Leisure Centre, Victoria Park and John Mackintosh Hall. But stick around for the grand finale at midnight when fireworks light up Casemates, before older visitors party the night away in the bars and clubs surrounding the square.
So that’s the day itself – what about the rest of the week?
Kicking off with the Gibraltar Music Festival (GMF) on September 5 and 6, this year’s celebrations are set to blow any previous event out of the water.
The first-ever two-day event plays host to the likes of Madness, Kings of Leon and Paloma Faith. Not to mention Duran Duran and the Kaiser Chiefs.
Symbolically, it’s going to be held at the national football stadium, Victoria Park – yet another example of Gibraltar doing things bigger and better, as the national team take part in their first major tournament.
The line-up is receiving international attention and regarded by many as the finale to the global summer festival programme.
But Gibraltar certainly deserves a bigger platform in the global arena. As well as showing off the aforementioned football stadium (which is due for a revamp; if a UEFA-approved new arena at Europa Point doesn’t beat them to it), the festival gives Gibraltar a chance to show off its ever-evolving education system, a twist on the best of British in beautiful surroundings.
Plans are already in motion for a university – due to open at Europa Point in 2016 – and there will also be a school to rival the UK’s best, as top private school Prior Park opens in the same year.
Quality schools are a priority as booming business means Gibraltar is attracting top talent from around the world for a new life in the sun.
The Sunborn, the world’s first five-star superyacht hotel, is going from strength-to-strength with popular bar La Sala its latest flagship edition. The boat symbolises all that’s great about Gibraltan business: innovation, inspiration, luxury and sublime customer service and attention to detail.
The gambling industry, one of Gibraltar’s most lucrative, is also pushing on, with the Rank Group announcing they will double their workforce in the coming months.
While the World Trade Centre is a project that has cost tens of millions of pounds and will be unveiled, next to Victoria Stadium, at the end of the year – yet another example of Gibraltar’s refusal to rest on its laurels as it continues to innovate.
Indeed, it is expected to become the hub of Gibraltar’s working sectors, with a focus on finance, transport, banking and internet gaming already mooted.
So while National Day has history at its roots, it is also a celebration of the peninsula’s future: if there was ever a time to stand up and be proud of Gibraltar, it really is now.
Like the 30,000 balloons that will be released on September 10, Gibraltar really is moving on up.
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