Knife jugglers and fire eaters face West End ban from next month in new curbs on street performers

Max Stephens
·2-min read
Fire Edinburgh Festival Celebrated On The Royal Mile...EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 07: A street entertainer performs on Edinburgh's Royal Mile during the city's Festival Fringe on August 7, 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The city is in full swing with hundreds of entertainers performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which runs from the 2 - 26 August and is one of the largest arts festivals in the world, dating back to 1947. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Fire Edinburgh Festival Celebrated On The Royal Mile...EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 07: A street entertainer performs on Edinburgh's Royal Mile during the city's Festival Fringe on August 7, 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The city is in full swing with hundreds of entertainers performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which runs from the 2 - 26 August and is one of the largest arts festivals in the world, dating back to 1947. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Knife jugglers and fire eaters could be banned from London's West End next month under plans to curb street entertainers in the capital. 

Under new rules proposed by Westminster City Council, hundreds of potential busking sites would be cut to only 25 spaces and buskers could have their kit confiscated if found without a license. 

If approved in early November, entertainers would no longer be allowed to use sharp objects and fire in their shows.

Authorities have claimed the measures are to tackle complaints from local businesses and residents of “overcrowding” and “excessive noise” caused by street entertainment.

The proposals have prompted a backlash from campaigners who warn the measures could be the death knell for West End’s culture of street performance along with the livelihood of thousands of street performers. 

Organisations including the Musicians' Union, Equity, Keep Streets Live, The Busking Project, The Magic Circle, and two local street performers' associations have co-signed a statement opposing the council’s plans. 

Mark Rothman,53, a former (prop) chainsaw-wielding street performer and founder and owner of the Top Secret Comedy Club in Covent Garden said: “Covid-19 is not as damaging as this new policy will be.”

“It will destroy street performing in the West End. We will not be able to make enough money to live in London, if it’s implemented.” 

“I have worked in Covent Garden for 15 years and without my chainsaw it would be pretty hard to create attention necessary to get a crowd," Mr Rothman added. 

The New West End Company, responsible for monitoring footfall in the area, has estimated the sector will lose between seven and eight billion pounds worth of sales by March next year.

Cllr Heather Acton from Westminster City Council and Cabinet Member for Public Protection and Licensing said: “We deal with around 1,800 complaints a year from residents and businesses over excessive noise and overcrowding caused by street entertainment and have created these proposals to try to address such concerns.

"We want to be clear that we are not banning street entertainment, we are making proposals for pitches in an effort to strike the right balance so that people can continue to enjoy performances on our streets.”