15 Years Since the Last Legendary Party on the London Underground

Before Boris banned drinking on the tube (booooo, hiss) there was a final, Facebook-initiated, blow out on the Circle line.
A photo of chaos on a tube carriage - a man pouting beer into his topless friends mouth, a topless man with nipple tassles standing, a girl shouting, everyone dripping in sweat.

Photo: Daniel Berehulak

Hurtling beneath the city at 60mph, the party was packed with a motley crew: Groups of lads cracked open beers, nudging up against women sipping champagne in full 50s garb. They mingled with hippies, pirates, posh girls, half-naked men, and someone who inexplicably decided to bring their terrier. Despite their surface-level differences, each of the partygoers had joined the hordes pouring into Liverpool Street Station that night, boarding the Circle line with one unifying goal in mind – to get absolutely wankered


The “Last Orders on the Underground” tube party took place 15 years ago, the night before drinking on the tube was illegalised on 1 June 2008. The ban was announced by Boris Johnson (Mayor of London at the time) as part of his initiative to crack down on antisocial behaviour and minor crime. 

In the decade and a half since, the ban has remained in place. And after years of lockdowns and social distancing, the idea of a full-blown bash on the London Underground feels… unfathomable. Remember Diane Abbot and her can of M&S mojito on the Overground? It was just slightly more extreme than that. 

A photo of a huge crowd at Liverpool Street station drinking beers in costumes, having a party.

Photo: Daniel Berehulak

But back in 2008, a raucous party on public transport was just another Saturday night out in London, really. All you needed was a Facebook event and a dream. Enter James Darling, a 20-year-old software developer, leading the rabble and drinking “home-made sloe gin” from a hip flask. 

Boris Johnson Went to a Party by Mistake

“I was inspired by a Space Hijackers party I’d been to,” says Darling, now a 35-year-old director of a digital public services company. “They’re an anarchist group that used to throw parties on the Circle line.” When the booze ban came in, Darling decided to throw his own knees-up using Facebook to organise the event. The social network was still in its infancy then, with this being one of the first viral events of yesteryear, paving the way for moments such as the ill-fated Dalston McDonald’s rooftop opening of 2017. 


Darling intended for the Circle line party to celebrate the last night of booze-drinking, tube-travelling freedom. “I just thought it’d be fun,” he says. “I remember thinking the ban was a mildly authoritarian move by Johnson, so I wanted to poke fun at how silly it was.” It wasn’t a protest, he assures, it was just an “opportunity to enjoy something before it was taken away from us”.

What began as a bit of fun, turned into something pretty enormous when Darling realised the attendees on his Facebook event had risen to 10,000 people. “Naively, I suggested we meet at the rear carriage of the Circle line train,” he continues. “It ended up being a lot bigger than that.”

A photo of two drunk men standing outside Liverpool Street Station in party hats, with bottles of Strongbow cellotaped to their hands.

Photo: Daniel Berehulak

By around 7.45PM, Liverpool Street station was rammed. “I had to run over to Moorgate and join the train there,” says photographer Alex MacNaughton, who was on the clock taking photos for a newspaper.

“It was chaos, but fun chaos,” adds Ann Törnkvist, a Swedish photojournalist working as a photo editor for Getty Images at the time. She ended up taking photos of the event that night on a whim. “At the time, there was this atmosphere of like, ‘Why would Boris do this? What’s the benefit of being a killjoy?’ So everyone there was ready to have a good time.” 

While most of the revellers were harmless drunk people in costumes, MacNaughton claims the chaos sometimes got out of hand. “People did start trashing the carriages and pulling stuff off the walls. I remember someone saying that some Underground staff were punched, too,” MacNaughton says. “It’s a bit like that SantaCon thing they do in Trafalgar Square at Christmas. Most people are having a good time but there are always a few who get aggressive. The thing about the tube is that if things start going wrong there’s nowhere to go.” 


But from Törnkvist’s perspective, the merry-making seemed to be all in good spirit. “In the carriage I was in, someone brought a bongo drum and people were standing on the seats, which – other than being unhygienic – was fine,” she says. 

Törnkvist wasn’t there all night, but the only fight she saw break out was between a police dog and the terrier. “One of the cops brought a huge, tough-looking Alsatian with him, wearing these little slippers to protect his paws from the broken glass,” she says. “He freaked out. Not because of the drunk people, but because he decided to show the terrier who was boss. But you know what small dogs are like, they don’t give a shit.” 

In one iconic photo Törnkvist took that night, police are seen leading a shirtless man out of Liverpool Street station. He’s facing the camera as he’s being arrested, mouth wide open in hysterical laughter. “I think you can tell from the photo the guy is there for the havoc, but he’s not aggressive,” she says. “Drunk and disruptive, maybe, but not violent.” 

A photo of a topless man being escorted away by police officers in uniform, his face is laughing.

Photo: Ann Törnkvist

It wasn’t long, though, until the police broke up the revelries for good. “We managed to get a few stops round before the Circle line was shut down because of overcrowding,” says Darling. “The media tried to suggest afterwards that it was really rowdy, because they’d made some arrests. But in my mind, it was just another Saturday night out in London – that’s pretty standard.” 


MacNaughton recalls the police clearing everyone out of the station. “The whole party went on for about two hours total before it was shut down and I was carted out with everyone else,” he says. “I remember the organiser [Darling] being quite shocked at how many people turned up.”

Despite his surprise at the event’s virality, Darling remembers the festive atmosphere fondly that night. “I wouldn’t necessarily do it again now – I’m older and less reckless,” he says. “But I’m glad it happened.” 

Darling might’ve rejoiced over his lack of legal repercussions, but little did he know losing the privilege of drinking on the tube was just the beginning of the government’s general crackdown on fun. As the UK’s nightlife – from tubes to literal clubs – disappears, what will be next to go? Our basic human (British) right of going to the pub? Well, luckily it’s even easier to launch a viral event these days – just look at the recent TikTok birthday party in Dalston. Remember, Tories, a party on the Circle line is really just a TikTok away.