London river festival set to go off with a bang

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Fireworks, thousands of lanterns, a snaking Chinese Dragon and a million people are expected to light up the banks of the River Thames in London this weekend for the 11th Mayor’s Thames Festival.

Stretching from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge the two-day festival involves artists and performers from 37 different countries, and is expected to attract up to a million spectators over the course of the weekend.

The entire event is free and encourages visitors to take part in dance lessons, filmmaking workshops and sculpture classes on offer for all ages.

“The river is the lifeblood of our city and a key factor in London’s success from Roman times to now,” London Mayor Boris Johnson said in a statement promoting the festival.

Some of this year’s highlights include the Sing For Water charity choir, which is expected to be 1,000 strong this year, a movie workshop offering children the chance to hone their filmmaking skills, and the Riverside Bazaar which will have over 350 international food and craft stalls.

Festival Director Adrian Evans said the celebration of London and its river will bring Londoners together.

“We want to close roads and bridges and transform them with culture,” Evans said. “We want to educate and transform people’s ideas about the river, too. Most of all, we want people not just to be spectators, but to be active participants in this spectacular London event.”

The festival features programmed work generated by schools from all 33 of London’s boroughs. In 2008 alone, the festival will provide workshop activities in nearly 300 schools reaching more than 10,000 young people. Over the festival weekend a further 15,000 people are expected to be actively involved.

The festival coincides with the Great River Race on Saturday in which 300 teams in various crafts will attempt to row 22 miles from Ham House in Surrey to Island Gardens in Greenwich.