London is no stranger to cocaine – far from it. In the capital, coke has effectively become beer-plus. It’s slipped under tables after a second pint like an espresso after pudding and offered out like a booster after two vaccines. The internet’s blissfully awash with coke memes, it’s as rife at the football as pies and bald men, there’s even NFTs “kilos” of the stuff being sold. In 2019, Londoners reportedly got through around 23kg of the stuff daily.
Hyde Park itself is a bit of a spiritual home for weed, given its 4/20 celebrations have practically become tradition for thousands of weed smokers every year. But surely there’s no Class As at Winter Wonderland. It’s not like the carol goes: “Eyeballs ping, are you listening? / In their brain, snow is glistening / A nose full of white, they’re happy tonight – buzzing in a winter wonderland”, right? Surely, “The World’s Best Destination For Festive Festive Fun – In The Heart of London” isn’t chockers with the naughty kind of flake?
I decided it was my Christmas duty to find out. As I arrived at Hyde Park Corner in the early evening, a rickshaw was belting electro-swing through crumbly speakers, and a few people were cutting shapes to it like they were in a Dalston basement at 4AM. This increased my suspicion that, just perhaps, it wasn’t only the Lapland-style snow that was setting in on Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland this year.
Upon entry, security were diligent with searching bags and checking COVID passes. It was pretty busy and it didn’t not feel like a party, even with the Omicron variant rife. Some people weren’t wearing masks, which, despite it being outdoors, felt kind of naughty. Of course, that didn’t mean that they were naughty enough to do coke at the kind of fun-for-all-the family place that features a Santa Land train and a Christmas Tree ride.
As it was 7PM on a Thursday – London’s favourite post-work drinks night of the week – I headed straight for the bar. The Circus Bar was warm thanks to an array of heaters, and I sat on a bench in the corner (a classic spot for sneaky activity). I pulled out a pink cocaine wipe and started to swab the table, the bench and even the floor. According to the instructions, “an immediate colour change indicates the presumptive presence of cocaine”. There was no colour change, which suggests no charlie on this particular bench. Guess nobody would quite batshit enough to do coke off a table top at before 7PM.
Swabbing for coke at the Circus Bar.
There was, however, someone standing on a bench singing along to “Rocket Man” by Elton John next to a dozen or so of his mates. Inspired by his rousing rendition of the line “And I’m gonna be high / As a kite by then”, I continued the search at the next bar. The Explorer’s Rest – a wooden shack-cum-beer garden with long Bavarian beer benches. There were about fifty people across a dozen benches, spread out fairly well – came up clean. Just as well, as cocaine isn’t very known for its restful qualities.
I decided that 7.30PM was pretty early for people to be getting on it, so we went to get some dinner at Halal Bros. Cocaine doesn’t exactly encourage the appetite, but I figured I might as well give the bench a thorough swab. To my surprise, the cloth turned a dirty green and greyish blue when I swiped the part of the bench that customers sat on to eat their festive German-style hot dogs. Maybe a couple of specks had dropped off a card, or perhaps somebody’s hands rubbed against the bench, leaving a trace of Christmas spirit in powder form.
The wipe from the toilet, showing blue streaks.
The fairly subtle change in colour didn’t exactly feel conclusive, so I went for a piss and tested the surfaces there. In the toilets near the Apres-Ski Party funhouse, a swipe of the toilet roll holder – which comes up about chin height if you’re 5”8 and sat on the bog – came up with streaks bluer than a WKD consumed by a Smurf, suggesting that cocaine had been present there very recently.
From there, quite a few surfaces were clean, but benches in the corner of the Alpine Bar ended up showing a similar colour change to the street food hall – albeit slightly bluer. Were people having a bit of artificial yuletide cheer on the side of their mulled wine? On the floor near the toilets, We also found a plastic baggie with faint traces of white powder – but as I didn’t want to spend Christmas in A&E, I declined to determine exactly what it was for myself.
The empty baggie outside the toilets.
A spokesperson from Hyde Park Winter Wonderland told me: “The safety of our visitors and staff is our priority. Any antisocial behaviour, including the use of illegal drugs, will not be tolerated. Our security team carries out bag checks at the entrance and specially-trained staff inside the event monitor for signs of drug use, problematic behaviour or anyone who may appear unwell.”
Now look, I’m not actually coming at this like a snitchy Randal from Recess. It might not snow here in London in the meteorological sense, but the streets are generally washed white with the substance. Back when VICE swabbed the toilets in Parliament – and found signs of coke use in more than one loo – one manufacturer of cocaine wipes told us that there is so much cocaine in our water supply that trace amounts are “extremely unlikely” to show up on their tests.
A used cocaine wipe.
In 2015, around 2.5 million people visited Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland – that’s over a quarter of London’s population. And though my photographer’s bag was searched properly upon entry, that’s a lot of people to screen.
The Winter Wonderland spokesperson also told me: “In the rare instance that visitors are found carrying, using or appear to be under the influence of illegal substances, we would either refer them to one of our wellness areas for a wellbeing check if required, ask them to leave the event and / or refer them to the authorities on a case-by-case basis. Any staff found to be using drugs will be dismissed and investigated appropriately by our internal team and the police.”
Being in possession of coke can technically get you “up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine or both'', according to the government’s website. That’s over half a decade without Santa Claus and without Winter Wonderland. Aiming for that extra-special buzz while hanging out near the Apres-Ski Party funhouse seems like a risky business – not when you can always deck the halls in the privacy of your own home.