Sadiq Khan has defended London’s New Year list show featuring tributes to the NHS, Captain Tom Moore and the Black Lives Matter movement after it was criticised for being “woke”.
London welcomed in 2021 with a stunning light and fireworks show on the Thames, with 300 drones showing images in the sky above the O2 Arena, one of which showed the NHS logo in a heart while a child said: “Thank you NHS heroes.”
A huge drone-formed outline of Capt Moore standing with his walking frame and giving a thumbs-up also shone over the arena. The captain raised £33m this year by walking in his back garden, and a chorus of voices called: “Thanks Captain Tom.”
There was also a joke about working from home during the “new normal” of 2020, with a mute symbol filling the sky along with the words: “No, you’re on mute.”
The display began with a poem: “In the year of 2020 a new virus came our way; We knew what must be done and so to help we hid away.”
There was also a tribute for BAME NHS workers, with a voice talking about “so many of the nurses and doctors and consultants and cleaners, the helping hands guiding us through this storm”.
The Black Lives Matter movement also received recognition with the display of its clenched-fist symbol, which became recognised worldwide amid the protests following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota in May.
The show ended with a rallying call from Sir David Attenborough, who said: “Our planet is unique – a living world of diversity and wonder. It’s also fragile.
“With a new year comes the opportunity for change, and if we act in 2021 we can make a world of difference.
“Together we can turn things around. Together we can restore our fragile home, and make it a happy new year for all the inhabitants of planet Earth.”
Defending the light show following criticism, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, shared a picture online of a Mail Online headline reading: “Fury at Sadiq Khan for ‘forcing politics’ onto NYE: Locked-down Londoners rage over ‘woke’ fireworks demo that lit up night sky with EU flag, NHS logo and BLM fist after mayor worked with BBC and Met Police to keep event secret.”
Mr Khan tweeted: “Anyone else think it was pretty good?”
While the vast majority of people online appeared to celebrate the display, others were critical of the display’s perceived political messages.
“It is deplorable that London’s New Year fireworks display contains a Marxist/BLM fist,” David Kurten tweeted.
Gary Williams said: “Regardless of the worthiness of the causes, I wish we could go back to having fireworks displays that don’t try to ram a message down your throat.”
Earlier, Mr Khan said although crowds along the river were banned this year due to coronavirus restrictions, the display reflected the resolve of Londoners to endure despite the pandemic.
“I’m proud that the eyes of the world turned to our capital to see a unique drone, lighting and firework show that reflected on the defining moments of this year, paid tribute to our NHS heroes and the way that Londoners continue to stand together, and showed why our city is the greatest in the world,” Mr Khan said in a statement.
“We showed how our capital and the UK have made huge sacrifices to support one another through these difficult times, and how they will continue to do so as the vaccine is rolled out.”
New Year’s Eve in the capital was “quiet”, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, Ken Marsh, said.
Sporadic gatherings of people “who just won’t take note of what is being said” were quickly dealt with by officers and smaller gatherings were also dispersed, he added.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I think the public have really cottoned on that this is really serious, the position that we are in, and we did not see the numbers we thought we would.”