FIREWORKS, flags and beers at the ready… The Rock is ready to rumble as Gibraltar prepares for its 50th anniversary National Day celebrations.
Half a century on from the referendum that unequivocally sided with Britain, 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, what with the 50th anniversary and the advent of Brexit looming.
But 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 up 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 a week earlier with the Gibraltar Music Festival (GMF).
Spanning two days, the event on September 2 and 3 marks the start of the festivities with internationally renowned acts, including Ricky Martin, Steve Aoki and Tinie Tempah, kicking off the party in style.
“There is always a real buzz around Gibraltar in the build up to national day,” explains 26-year-old Brit Michael Hayes.
“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, 50 years later, they are just as, if not more, impassioned – largely due to the ever-volatile relationship with their Spanish neighbours.
“National Day 2017 takes a special place in Gibraltar’s history, as we mark the 50th Anniversary of the overwhelming affirmation of the People of Gibraltar of their wish to remain British,” explains Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“For the first time in history, Gibraltar became British by the freely expressed choice of the People of Gibraltar, and the 1967 sovereignty referendum cemented the identity of Gibraltarians as a People in our own right.”
And while Gibraltar is red and white all the way through, there is 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.
And it’s not only on National Day that Gibraltarian identity is celebrated.
“Our identity and heritage should be celebrated and remembered all year round as it plays such a key role in defining Gibraltar and all that is Gibraltarian. We wish everyone a Happy National Day 2017,” said Gibraltar Heritage Trust CEO, Claire Montado.
The Queen may not have made an appearance since 1954 but, four years ago, with the Gibraltar flag flying over the Foreign Office in London, then PM 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 revolving around an ever present theme – sovereignty.
Before the day itself kicks off, the Rock will be treated to a huge classical concert the night before.
Performing will be the prestigious Philharmonic Orchestra and a face we all recognise – Wynne Evans – the talented tenor behind the quirky moustache touting Go Compare mascot.
The next day will begin with a live music performance at Casemates Square from 9.30am followed by a fancy dress show and the iconic political rally at 12.25pm.
After a summer of stunning weather, an open-air concert was a no-brainer for organisers. Local band Breed 77 will get the crowds in Casemates Square dancing from 9.30pm.
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 10.30 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?
Well it all kicks off with the MTV Gibraltar Calling on September 2 and 3, this year’s celebrations are set to blow any previous event out of the water.
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 Victoria stadium (which is due for a revamp), the festival gives Gibraltar a chance to show off its ever-evolving education system, a twist on the best of British in beautiful surroundings.
The Sunborn, the world’s first five-star superyacht hotel, is going from strength-to-strength with popular bar La Sala playing host to exclusive events and acts.
The boat symbolises all that’s great about Gibraltarian business: innovation, inspiration and sublime customer service plus attention to detail.
Gibraltar is also establishing itself within the growing fintech industry, showing that it can stay abreast of modern innovation.
While the World Trade Center is a project that has cost tens of millions of pounds and stands proud next to Victoria Stadium – yet another example of Gibraltar’s refusal to rest on its laurels as it continues to innovate.
Indeed, it has 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.